Because of leaks in the city of Jackson's sewer lines, rainwater has caused sewage to overflow into Eubanks Creek, which empties into the Pearl River. Credit: Courtesy of Chris Lockhart /MCIR

A federal court Wednesday morning released a proposed agreement that would shift control of Jackson’s deteriorating sewer system under the control of Ted Henifin, who is already overseeing the city’s water system as a third-party manager.

The stipulated order wouldn’t take effect until after a public comment period that will go until Aug. 31, and will include meetings for residents to attend. The Jackson City Council already approved the change in a vote two weeks ago.

“Under today’s agreement, expedited measures will be taken to address the City of Jackson’s deteriorating sewer infrastructure and inadequate operation and maintenance, which have caused residents and businesses to endure sewage discharges that threaten public health and the environment,” Assistant U.S. Attorney General Todd Kim said in a press release.

The proposal comes about a decade after Jackson entered into a consent decree with the Environmental Protection Agency over violations including over 2,300 sanitary sewer overflows — times when raw sewage escaped the system —as well as repeated prohibited bypasses, which are when the city lets untreated or under-treated sewage spill into the Pearl River.

From March 2020 to February 2022, the city allowed over 4 billion gallons of untreated or under-treated wastewater to flow into the Pearl from its Savanna Street treatment plant, according to Wednesday’s court filing.

The city has made little progress with the EPA consent decree, citing a lack of funding to make the required improvements.

Just as with the stipulated order for the water system, this proposal lays out priority projects for Henifin to tackle should he take control. The 11 priority projects include rehabilitating the city’s treatment and interceptor facilities, as well as addressing over 200 sewer line failures throughout Jackson (a list of sewer failure locations are at the end of the proposal).

The filing estimates the projects would cost $130 million, which could be paid for from a few different funding streams: the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers authorized $125 million to help fix the sewer system as part of the Water Resources Development Act. Jackson also received over $8 million in money from American Rescue Plan Act, part of which will be matched by the state, according to the filing.

The proposal was signed by the plaintiffs in the case — the EPA and the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality — as well the defendant, the city of Jackson.

“This agreement is an appropriate next step in our enforcement efforts to ensure that the City of Jackson lives up to its responsibility, pursuant to the federal Clean Water Act and Mississippi law, to address and correct issues with its sewer system,” MDEQ Executive Director Chris Wells said in a statement.

Similar to what U.S. District Judge Henry Wingate approved for Henifin with the water system, the third-party manager won’t have to comply with state contracting laws, as long as he’s not spending money administered by MDEQ, which would include the state’s matching program for ARPA funds.

Once the comment period wraps up, the federal government can withdraw the proposal or ask the federal judge for approval.

The order would require the parties to modify the terms of the 2013 consent decree within three years. Should the stipulated order stand, Henifin would maintain control of the sewer system for four years (until 2027) or until he finished the priority projects.

The proposed order includes a budget of about $1 million for the first year of the order, which includes: $96,000 for Henifin’s salary, living and travel expenses; $280,000 for staffing; and $750,000 for contracting and consultant support.

The EPA said one public meeting for residents to offer feedback will be held on Aug. 21 at the Mississippi e-Center at 1230 Raymond Road in Jackson, from 6 to 8 p.m. The agency said more meetings will be announced later.

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Alex Rozier, from New York City, is Mississippi Today’s data and environment reporter. His work has appeared in the Boston Globe, Open Secrets, and on In 2019, Alex was a grantee through the Pulitzer Center’s Connected Coastlines program, which supported his coverage around the impact of climate change on Mississippi fisheries.