Jackson water users speak out in support of new sewer clean-up decree

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DOJ-EPA panel holds two days of hearings Monday and Tuesday at JSU e-Center and at Tougaloo College to receive public comments regarding new Stipulated Order that places Jackson sewage system under control of Jackson water system Interim Third-Party Manager Ted Henifin. Assistant U.S. Attorney Mitzi Dease Paige, left, was the moderator, along with Karl Fingerhood, senior counsel for Department of Justice Environmental Enforcement Section; Carol Kemker, acting deputy regional administrator, EPA Region 4; and, right, Chris Sanders MDEQ director of Office of Pollution Control. (Photo: Earnest McBride)

The figure was a mindblower to John Wade of Jackson – 4.4 billion gallons of untreated and undertreated wastewater pouring into the Pearl River from the city’s wastewater treatment plants.

“I said that must be millions,” Wade told the 60 people gathered Monday evening at the JSU e-Center Discussion on the Sewer Overflow Issues in the City of Jackson. “It said billions. That’s incredible. It’s clear that our city is incapable, presently, of operating a sewer system.”

That outlandish number was just one of many the City of Jackson had reported and was used by EPA and the Justice Department to justify the July 26 Stipulated Order that would place control of the city’s sewer system under the control of the Interim Third-Party Manager (ITPM) Ted Henifin. He has been in charge of the city’s water system since last November under an earlier Interim Stipulated Order. 

In the two years between March 1, 2020, to February 28, 2022, the city reported 460 sewer system overruns (SSOs) that released over 111,081,920 gallons of untreated wastewater; 13 system overruns at its main sewer line, the West Bank Interceptor, which released over 95,219,768 gallons; and 27 Prohibited Bypasses from the Savanna Street Wastewater Treatment plant that allowed the previously quoted 4,465,590,000 gallons of untreated or under-treated wastewater to discharge into the Pearl River.

Wade was just one of a dozen Jackson residents and business owners participating in the in-person discussion period on the Stipulated Order on the Sewer System. The earlier Stipulated Order governing the restoration and interim management of the city’s water system has been in effect since November 29, 2022 with Ted Henifin as the Interim Third Party Manager. The stipulated order for the sewer system, which will also be under the control of Henifin, has been fully agreed to by the plaintiffs – the U.S. Department of Justice, the EPA, and the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) – and the defendant City of Jackson. 

A core feature of the Order governing the sewer system is the inclusion of a 30-day period for public comment and criticism effective through August 31. Public comments can be made via email to pubcomment-ees.enrd@usdoj.gov or by mail to Assistant Attorney General, U.S. DOJ – ERND, P.O. Box 7611, Washington, DC 20044-7611. Comments must be received on or before August 31, 2023. Comments should refer to DJ# 90-5-1-1-09841 and Docket Number is 36. The DOJ will review the public comments and file them in a document submitted to the court for incorporation into the Stipulated Order. Comments from the Aug. 21-22 in-person sessions will be included in the overall study.

There was no indication that the Stipulated Order on the Jackson Sewer System might be blocked or suspended because of the information obtained during the public comment period.


Assistant U. S. Attorney Mitzi Dease Paige was facilitator of the in-person hearings that began Monday evening at the JSU e-Center. Karl Fingerhood, senior counsel for the Department of Justice Environmental Enforcement Section; EPA Region 4 Acting Deputy Administrator Carol Kemker; and Chris Sanders, Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) director of Office of Pollution Control, each gave a summary of their agencies’ roles in implementing the Stipulated Order.

While the DOJ, as the legal enforcement agency for the EPA, the Mississippi Department of Health and the City of Jackson agreed to appoint Henifin as the Interim Third Party Manager of the crippled Jackson water system as the means of settling the EPA lawsuit against the city that had been in violation of the Clean Water Act since 2013, the November 29, 2022, Interim Stipulated Order would effectively deprive the city of the direct control over the water system. Henifin, the ITPM, however, is required to meet regularly with the Jackson Public Works director to keep the city abreast of all operations and management developments. Henifin was recognized as an officer of the court and was able to circumvent some state and local statutes governing the workforce and contracts. 

With over 215 sewer line disruptions, 11 sewer priority projects, a broken down metering system, and a lack of equipment and personnel in the sewer maintenance department, the parties requested the court to issue a Stipulated Order on the Sewer System that would allow Henifin to manage the sewer system also, only this time with an allowance for public criticism and comment before implementation. The sewer repair operation would initially have funds supplied through a partnership with the Army Corps of Engineers ($125 million), American Rescue Plan Act ($8 million), and local matching funds, where available. Unlike the federally-funded water restoration system (in excess of $600 million), the Jackson sewer system is expected to develop its own regular source of funding once it has been restored.

The duration of the Stipulated Order is projected for four years but may be extended if necessary. The third party manager is required to issue quarterly reports available to the public. Disputes between the City of Jackson and the third party manager will be resolved through the federal court currently under the jurisdiction of Judge Wingate. 


What was clear underneath all the big numbers and the enforcement issues of state and federal Clean Water laws is that the City of Jackson has been in default on a 2013 consent decree with federal and state regulators that required it to clean up its sewage system.

There was little evidence of support for the city’s continued maintenance of the sewer system during Monday’s hearing. Most of the comment supported the new plan – the stipulated order – that takes the sewer system out of the hands of the city and places the responsibility for it in the hands of the Interim Third Party Manager who is already in charge of the city’s long-plagued water system.

Jeff Good, the owner of three restaurants in Jackson, told the panel the 2013 consent decree signed by then-mayor Harvey Johnson with the EPA and DOJ in 2013 was “a masterful plan.”

“We had no money in 2013,” Good said. “And he got us out of the trap to get us moving forward to begin fixing things. But 10 years later, we’re here and nothing has been fixed. Ten years later things are far worse. We’ve watched the water system break down. And the sewer system has been a much larger problem than the water system.” 

Good wants to see full implementation of the Stipulated Order for the sewage system. “It seems to me that we are ready for fundamental change in our city,” he said. “And perhaps this is the opportunity for doing so.”

State Representative Ronnie Crudup Jr., from District 71 and a South Jackson resident, said his constituents have frequently complained about the lack of response from the city and the inability to communicate with city officials. 

“It’s been difficult sometimes to get somebody on the phone from the City of Jackson,” Crudup said. “For some of my neighbors, every time it rains they face sewer overflows. I’m here today on their behalf. It has been so bad, they tried to sell the property they owned for a little of nothing and they couldn’t get anyone interested in buying the house because anytime it rains they get sewer backed up in the house. I’m in favor of turning this over to Mr. Henifin to try to get some relief, not only for my constituents but for a lot of other residents.”


Monica Butler, of Midtown Partners Inc., focused on the sewer repairs on Mill Street. Midtown Partners has concentrated on developing affordable housing in midtown Jackson. Currently they have 30 houses under development, Butler said.

“We want housing development,” she said. “We’ve got to bring Mill Street back, and we’ve got to bring back those thoroughfares that are critical to communities and families.

Mill Street sewer repairs have been hobbled by the railroad tracks that block access to the degraded sewer pipes. “We’ve been dealing with this issue for many moons,” Butler said. “Years ago, we were told that the railroad would not allow the city to go underneath it. But Mill is a critical thoroughfare to the City of Jackson. Eventually it’s going to affect the railroad. But more importantly, it’s been causing so much sewer backup in the houses and businesses in that community. And we’re trying to add additional roofs in that neighborhood. We’ve invested about $200,000 in tearing down 20 dilapidated properties. 

Wheelchair-bound Scott Crawford lives on State Street. He moved back to Jackson in 2016 and plans to stay. 

“I care a lot about Jackson and want it to be the best it can be,” he said. “I just want to add that I’m speaking on behalf of my neighbors who experience flash flooding when the sewers back up. It backs up into their homes and they get sewage inside their homes. And it’s just an environmental disaster. 

“I’m lucky, I’ve got a power wheelchair. But I have friends who have manual wheelchairs. They have to touch their wheels. They have to go out there and push their manual wheelchairs thru filth and they have to carry it home. I just want everyone to be considerate of that,” Crawford said. 


Realtor Jimmie Sandifer, an MBA, CPA and a proud graduate of JSU, reported that his family owns several commercial businesses along Highway 80, on Northside Drive, and on I-55 Frontage Road. He has been in real estate for the past 35 years, he said, but a lot of the value of properties he has on the market is greatly reduced because of the water and sewer problems that have increased over the years.

“I’ve had issues at buildings I own,” Sandifer said. “And I can hardly ever get someone to show up. I know that most people don’t have the assets to invest in this city or in our community. But I do have. And so does my family. And we’ve been trying to close (complete sale) on one commercial building since this time last year. We did end up closing on a couple of other properties, but we did it with cash. We couldn’t get any further because of the sewage problem.” 

Shirley Richardson lamented the lack of reliable information on life in Jackson. 

“A recent study shows that Jackson is the fastest decreasing city in America,” Richardson said. “We lost 49,000 people. No one said what the measurable outcome of this water crisis has done to our homes, our schools, and our neighborhoods. We call in and report all this, but no one showed you how to report it. 

“There was no information given in any community on how to report the sewage. There was no feedback on how it was going to be cut within the hour. And even today when I called the office and asked where this meeting was today, they said we don’t know which room it’s going to be in.”

The residents of Jackson have seen three increases in their sewer bills in three years, she said. The large number of people who work in Jackson but live elsewhere should be required to pay a proportionate amount for their use of Jackson’s water and sewer systems, she said.

The City of Jackson will be required to comply with the duties set forth in the Stipulated Order and within three years will resume negotiations with the DOJ and the MDEQ for a superseding consent decree or a consent decree modification, the summary of the Stipulated Order says. 

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Jackson water users speak out in support of new sewer clean-up decree

By Earnest McBride
August 28, 2023