An unfamiliar utility truck with taillights and yellow caution lights flashing on one side of the road, and three cars on the opposite side, were parked along the quarter-mile stretch of West Fortification Street running southeast of Woodrow Wilson, jutting past the North Prentiss Street T-junction and farther on into an increasingly wet area on the west side of the road.
The men in the cars were crew members expecting to begin work. But they were sitting inside their cars at 9:15 Monday morning and a little puzzled about when they would be getting to work and what exactly they would be doing.
Two of the men said they expected to be working on the busted water lines on West Fortification and were waiting for the contractors to arrive with instructions on how to proceed. They also said some work would be done on the broken sewer line a short distance away on N. Prentiss, either by them or another work crew.
On Prentiss Street, just west of the Capers Street intersection, a tow truck was pulling a small sedan out of the ditch into which it had run on the east side of the road. A lone Jackson police officer was walking towards the vehicle and the tow truck driver with very few words being exchanged at the time. When questioned, they said they knew nothing about what was supposed to happen to the road on which they were standing.
Not far away from the tow truck, three of the four traffic barrels surrounding a collapsed sewer pipe stood in the middle of Prentiss Street. A fourth barrel had fallen into the foot-and-a half deep, four-foot wide depression caused by the collapsed sewer pipe.
This was the beginning of a new chapter for both the Jackson Water System, under the control of Interim Third-Party Manager Ted Henifin since November 29, 2022, and the Jackson Wastewater Collection and Transmission (WCTS) system, the sewer system, that had also been assigned to Henifin on July 26, 2023.
JXN Water is the Mississippi corporation formed by the appointed Interim Third-Party Manager to fulfill the goal of restoring Jackson’s water and sewer systems to the standards required under the federal court orders.
Busted water line along West Fortification near North Prentiss St. and Woodrow Wilson about to be replaced along with the surface streets. (Photos: Earnest McBride)
On August 4, 2023, a JXN Water contractor alerted media that work was about to begin at four specific locations at some point between Friday, August 4, and Monday, August 7.
The work crew had arrived on the scene Monday morning, and so a brand new experience was in store for them and the truck driver waiting for word from the new contractor.
The streets described above were just a part of the four areas to be closed for at least two months while new crews would adjust to the work routine on the project. The complete list of streets in the designated areas are:
• West Fortification Street, between Woodrow Wilson Avenue and Martin Luther King Jr. Drive
• North Prentiss Street, between Capers Street and West Fortification
• Longino Street, between Capers Street and Campbell Street
• The intersection of West Fortification and Watson Street
The work remains somewhat of a mystery to many Jackson residents. But it is just the beginning stage of a long-range plan to replace the defective sewer and water lines citywide.
According to a communications officer working with a systems subcontractor, the six goals to be accomplished in this phase of the operation are:
• Point repairs to existing leaks west of Prentiss Street
• A 20” main replacement from Prentiss Street to Palmyra Street
• Repairs to a long-standing leak near Town Creek
• Boring for a new 20” crossing under the railroad at Thompson Street/MMC Materials concrete yard
• Repairs to a collapsed sewer main on Prentiss Street
• A street reconstruction at the Prentiss and Fortification intersection
Ameerah Palacios, Strategic Communications Business Class Leader for the contractor HDR, Inc., revealed the name of the company that is charged with removing the dilapidated pipes from both the water lines and the sewer system.
“Stantec Engineering is the contractor for the repairs listed,” Palacios said via email in response to questions about the project.
“Due to the emergency nature of the repairs and the unknown extent of the work fully needed,” she added, “the total costs are unknown at this time and will be determined on a time and materials basis. This helps the contractor work diligently and quickly to address the repairs needed.”
The major contractor in charge of the Jackson water system is Jacobs Solutions, the nation’s largest professional water operations company, according to reports Henifin presented during the earliest stages of his establishment of JXN Water, Inc.
Federal Judge Henry Wingate, who has proclaimed his trust in Henifin’s ability “to get the job done,” has essentially signed off on the designation of Henifin as the Interim Third-Party Manager of the Jackson sewer system. A list of 11 priority projects, and a complete list of 215 sewage failures that must be repaired at some point, are included in the Judge’s order.
Among the list of 11 priorities is the clean-up of the polluted water that is being discharged from the city’s three main wastewater treatment plants: the Savanna Street plant, the Trahon/Big Creek plant, and the Presidential Hills plant. Those plants were cited for regularly pouring millions of gallons of untreated wastewater into the Pearl River.
Judge Wingate has allowed a 30-day period for comments and complaints from organizations and individuals who might differ with elements of the court’s order. Changes in the order are subject to be made if the judge finds them compatible with the goals of his order.
The next meeting on the court’s sewer order is set for August 21 at the e-Center.
Jackson currently is facing penalties for its failure to live up to the terms of a 2013 consent decree it had signed with the EPA and the U.S. Department of Justice. A growing list of violations of the Clean Water Act, including pollutant discharges into the local rivers and streams, kept getting longer and longer over the years. Jackson faced a possible shut down of its entire water system for not being in compliance with the federal and state orders.
Henifin says the cost of repairing the sewage system will be around $130 million. The Army Corps of Engineers has about $125 million that can be used toward the sewer clean up, the published reports indicate. Another $8 million might come from the ARPA funds available to the City of Jackson, in addition to some state matching funds. But the maintenance of the sewer system will be the responsibility of the users of the system who must pay their bills on a regular basis, Henifin said. There is no federal assistance for the sewer system anywhere near the $600 million allocated to repair the water system in an omnibus bill passed in 2022. The two systems – water versus sewer – have separate means of revenue and funding.
While the management of the water system under Henifin drew a barrage of complaints and negative comments about his alleged disregard for community inputs and interests during his first seven months at the helm, Judge Wingate has written into the new order that Henifin must meet with the city’s public works director, or the representative of the office of Public Works, on a weekly basis. The JXN Water, Inc. office must also present a regular system of informing the public of developments inside the operations and management of the system.