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Where’s your water plan? – Brospar Daily News

Jackson Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba said Tuesday the city has “many, many programs” to fund repairs to its ailing drinking water system.

But as of this week, Lumumba has not shared with state and federal leaders a comprehensive long-term vision for improving the city’s water infrastructure system — only those who can afford repairs and replacements. necessary to ensure safe and reliable water. coming.

Generations of Jackson’s elected officials have ignored the capital’s water system, culminating in the failure to produce running water last week. For decades, state and federal leaders ignored dire warnings and requests for funding from municipal leaders who moved quickly to restore water service to the city’s more than 150,000 residents.

With running water once again flowing through the capital, state leaders are now turning to key negotiations over how — or even if — they can ensure Mississippi’s largest city doesn’t lose more money. water.

Jackson City spokesman Justin Vickery said Jackson officials were caught in a “fluid” planning cycle. In recent years, the city has planned its spending based on available state and federal funding. Meanwhile, state and federal officials say they need Jackson’s plan to free up the cash.

Just last week, Lumumba mentioned forming a committee to formalize a new long-term strategy. Although mum on many details, he said part of the new plan would include seeking to outsource operations and maintenance services to support water treatment.

But without the plan, state and federal officials face several fundamental unanswered questions as they begin to negotiate a long-term solution: Which repairs are the highest priority? Is patchwork repair possible or is system replacement the only option? How much, or even roughly, could a long-term solution cost?

The mayor has repeatedly estimated that it would cost $1 billion to fix the city’s water system, though none of Jackson’s announced spending plans come close to that total.

During a meeting with the Mississippi mayor and congressional delegation at Jackson State University on Wednesday, EPA Administrator Michael Reagan was asked about the plan.

“When I think of a plan, I think of what it takes to unlock federal funding,” Regan said. “If we want to access the resources of the state revolving loan fund, which currently exist[from the state revolving loan fund]to be competitive with the bipartisan infrastructure funding that will exist, we need to see a proper plan to demonstrate that these resources will be how they will be used and what they will be used for.

Reagan said Jackson currently has $43 million in funding from the EPA’s state revolving loan fund, while Mississippi will receive more than $26 million through the program later this year.

In recent days, Democratic U.S. Representative Benny Thompson and Republican Gov. Terry Reeves have both called on city leaders not to come up with a long-term water improvement plan. The city’s Democratic representatives in the state Capitol, Senate Leader Lt. Delbert Horsman and House Speaker Philip Gunn, also said they had not seen a plan.

“I haven’t seen a plan. I’ve heard the mayor and others say they have a plan and are working on it, but I haven’t seen a plan in person,” Thompson told Mississippi TODAY last week. “…Without a verifiable plan, it will be difficult to obtain the resources needed to repair Jackson’s water system.”

“Unfortunately, we never received a real plan from the city of Jackson on how to improve their water system so the state could continue to fund it,” Reeves said Monday.

Read more: Rep. Bennie Thompson: Do justice to Jackson, but if he can’t run the water system, let someone else

The mayor disputed those claims at a press conference on Tuesday. In response to Mississippi TODAY’s request for public documents, the mayor’s office on Tuesday sent out several documents outlining funding ideas for near- and medium-term water systems. The longer-term spending announced in this new batch of documents comes from a 2020 report establishing a five-year spending plan for water.

On Tuesday, Lumumba specifically responded to Reeves, pointing to his March 3, 2021, letter to the governor asking for $47 million after the latest winter storm disrupted water service for thousands of Jacksonians. Legislative delegations from Hosemann, Gunn, Thompson and Hinds counties were transcribed on the letter. State officials never responded to the letter, Lumumba said.

“I know a big part of the story is the lack of planning for the city,” Lumumba said. “You the media have raised questions about this and we have shared that we have many, many plans.”

Lumumba’s office shared several documents with Mississippi Today for the first time on Tuesday, detailing specific needs, including upgrades to the city’s largest water treatment plant, replacing water pipes and Wage increases for city water operators.

But it’s unclear what Jackson’s current spending proposal is.

One of the documents the city shared with Mississippi TODAY on Tuesday was 45 page commission report From 3 private engineering firms with proposed water expenditures of $80 million over 5 years. The $80 million project primarily includes repairs to electrical distribution lines and plumbing, as well as improvements to some overhead water tanks.

separate file The plan released by the city is one Lumumba said he presented to the Hinds County legislative delegation last year, prioritizing spending of the city’s U.S. Rescue Program Act funds. The slide lists proposed repairs to the OB Curtis water plant of approximately $21 million, JH Fewell water plant repairs of approximately $15 million, and electrical distribution system repairs to about $34 million.

Another guidance document the mayor shared with Mississippi TODAY on Tuesday is Maintenance list The EPA outlined the agency’s agreement with Jackson in a 2021 Executive Order with Jackson. While the list includes timelines for each repair, Lumumba said the EPA has been flexible in negotiating timelines.

The mayor added Tuesday that the city plans to complete the rollout of its new water meters by next March — a source of Jackson’s inability to bill customers, leading to a $90 million settlement with Siemens.

The city provided several documents about an hour after Mississippi Today filed a document request for the plan the mayor discussed on Tuesday.

However, three weeks ago, when another journalist Find out about town planningthe mayor made no reference to the documents, saying, “We look forward to sharing our comprehensive plan — backed by expert guidance from the American Water Alliance and the Kellogg Foundation.”

When WJTV reporter Richard Lake asked the mayor’s office for a copy of all the plans, a city staffer told Lake, “You need to file a registration application.

Ten days later, the application was returned to the city’s automated filing system because “no records exist.” When Lake asked a city employee for clarification, reporters has been saidsimply: “There is a plan under review.”

At the same time, many people outside Jackson City Hall — Democrats and Republicans, black and white officials, state and federal officials, journalists and Jackson taxpayers — are increasingly asking why the city is not hasn’t adopted a plan, which has raised questions about whether the city can function. The water system itself is no more.

“If the (city’s) plan shows they can run a system and get state health department approval and an enforcement order from the EPA, then we’re in the running,” Thompson said. “But you can’t put the lives of your citizens at risk…we just can’t do it in good conscience.” If this is not available, then you could seek alternative management.

“…I know there are other interests here who want to help the city with its plans,” Thompson continued. “Once completed, I would encourage the program to be broadcast as widely as possible. It also convinces the audience that something is being done.

exclusive: Rep. Bennie Thompson talks about the water crisis in Jackson

Editor Adam Ganucheau contributed reporting for this story.

Editor’s note: Mississippi Today is one of five newsrooms headquartered in Jackson since 2021 Spotlight on the Mississippi, a local news partnership independently funded by Microsoft Corporation and the WK Kellogg Foundation in partnership with the Mississippi Community Foundation. The partnership’s current project—approved by the team’s newsroom managers and independent of supporting donor management—is Jackson Water Crisis. As with our editorial policy since our launch in 2016, Mississippi TODAY donors have no influence or control over editorial decisions.

Republish our articles for free, online or in print under a Creative Commons license.

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