Accumulating household waste continues to sit unbothered across the state’s largest city as local officials repeatedly fail to choose a garbage collector.
The city’s emergency contract with Richard’s Disposal, the company who the mayor and a minority of the city council are endorsing for a long-term contract, ended on April 1. Six days later, the state environmental department issued Jackson an official notice that the city was in violation of Mississippi pollution law.
The notice says that by not collecting garbage, “the City has caused wastes to be placed in locations where they are likely to cause pollution of the air and waters of the state,” violating state law, and opening Jackson up to $25,000 in fines for each day it doesn’t collect trash.
Jackson spokesperson Melissa Faith Payne said on Monday that, as far as she was aware, the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality hasn’t yet levied any fines against the city. MDEQ spokesperson Jan Schaefer declined to comment on the agency’s enforcement.
While it’s unclear what punishments Jackson will face from MDEQ, the idle piles of garbage threaten local habitats as well as the creeks that flow through the city’s residential neighborhoods, a local conservation expert explained.
“When we do our cleanups, a lot of the trash that enters the (Pearl River) comes from our storm drains from our neighborhoods, not just Jackson, but from all our neighborhoods,” said Abby Braman, executive director of Pearl Riverkeeper.
During heavy rain events like Jackson saw last week, rainwater carries trash left on the street towards the city’s storm drains. The waste then either blocks storm water from getting into the drains, or it goes into the drains and flows out into the city’s creeks. Once that happens, Braman explained, the garbage not only goes into the wildlife habitat in the creeks and the Pearl River, but it also creates a flood risk for Jackson residents.
“We have, depending on where you count from, about 11 creeks that run straight through Jackson into the river. All of those run through neighborhoods” she said. “A lot of them, particularly Lynch Creek, that creek’s already clogged up with debris, including trash. It’s already overtopping its banks several times a year and causing a lot of problems in that community, and destruction of public and private property.”
Lynch Creek starts just past Interstate 220 in west Jackson, and runs south near Ellis Avenue and the Washington Addition neighborhood before meeting the Pearl River just below Interstate 20.
The section of the river near Jackson, as well as several of the city’s creeks, are under a contact advisory from MDEQ because of overflows from the city’s overwhelmed and depleted sewer system.
When residential garbage pickup will return to Jackson is up in the air.
On Monday, city council members were unable to vote on a new contract for Richard’s Disposal after the mayor pulled the item from the agenda, after learning that Richard’s was readying a lawsuit against Jackson. The company is arguing it won the city’s bidding process and that the city council has wrongly voted against awarding Richard’s the contract, Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba explained.
Lumumba has argued for the last year that Richard’s deserves the contract. Through the blind bidding process, Richard’s received the best score for options that include twice-a-week pickup and a trash bin for residents. The company’s bid was also the cheapest of any offering twice-a-week pickup.
Opposing city council members have made a wide-range of arguments against the Richard’s option: They argue that the company is less experienced than the previous vendor, Waste Management, and also that Lumumba is trying to steer the council towards his preferred choice. They’ve also argued that the 96-gallon bins included in that option would be a nuisance for residents.
Despite the majority opposition to Richard’s, Lumumba has refused to present another contract for the council to vote on. The mayor argued that not picking the “winning” bid would open the city to a lawsuit, since the city is legally required to use the bidding process to pick its vendor.
On Monday, Lumumba said he was meeting with MDEQ on Wednesday to explain the city’s position. He also hinted at calling another council meeting this week to vote on an emergency contract for Richard’s to collect garbage in the interim while the dispute lingers on.
The city last week opened a site at the Metrocenter Mall for residents to bring garbage during limited hours. Officials have yet to announce any drop-off times for this week. Some wards have offered alternate sites to bring trash.
This most recent standoff over garbage pickup comes a month after Jackson officials launched its citywide cleanup campaign, called “Stop Trashing Jackson.”