Jackson, Mississippi agrees to interim third-party sewer system manager

July 28, 2023
Jackson has entered an agreement that appoints Ted Henifin as a temporary manager of the city’s sewer system, acknowledging the city’s failure to achieve significant progress under a 2013 consent decree.

The U.S. EPA announced that the City of Jackson, Mississippi has agreed to a proposed stipulated order to expedite sewer system repairs and to address spills of raw and undertreated sewage.

The agreement included EPA, the Justice Department, the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) and the City of Jackson.  Under the terms of the agreement, the federal court would appoint Ted Henifin as interim third-party manager of the city’s sewer system. Henifin would manage, operate and maintain the sewer system. Henifin has also been serving as interim third-party manager for the city’s drinking water system since November 2022.

The proposal is an interim measure until the parties negotiate modifications to a judicially enforceable consent decree to achieve the sewer system’s long-term compliance with federal and state regulations. The proposed stipulated order is subject to a public comment period through August 31, 2023, during which public meetings will be held in Jackson.

“In November of last year, the Justice Department filed a proposal to appoint a third-party manager to oversee and implement improvements to Jackson’s drinking water system,” said Larry Starfield, principal deputy assistant administrator of EPA’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance. “Today, we continue to protect the health and safety of Jackson residents by proposing the oversight and programs needed to restore Jackson’s sewer systems.”

The agreement acknowledges that the city failed to achieve significant progress under a 2013 settlement among the parties that was entered by the federal court as a consent decree, and that the sewer system has further deteriorated over the last ten years, resulting in violations of the settlement, the federal Clean Water Act (CWA), the Mississippi Air and Water Pollution Control Law (MAWPCL) and the city’s National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permits associated with the sewer system.

“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,” said Todd Kim, assistant attorney general of the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division. “This action shows the continuing commitment of the Justice Department to seek justice, health and safety for the residents of Jackson, Mississippi, and to prioritize enforcement in the communities most burdened by environmental harm.”

The agreement requires implementation of certain programs and capital projects to improve the sewer system’s condition, operations, and maintenance that are anticipated to bring near-term relief to the city’s residents and businesses.

The interim third-party manager would have the authority to, among other things: 

  • Operate and maintain the city’s sewer system in compliance with the CWA, MAWPCL, and NPDES permits;
  • Implement capital improvements to the city’s sewer system. This includes a set of priority projects to investigate and repair certain areas of the sewer system (including 215 areas previously identified by the city as emergency sewer failure locations), and certain repair work associated with the Savanna and Trahon wastewater treatment plants; and
  • Implement or continue implementing programs to post signage about sewer overflows for which there is a reasonable expectation of public exposure; keep fats, oils, and grease out of the sewer system; and clean and inspect lines on a recurring schedule.

Under the proposal, the EPA, the Justice Department, the MDEQ, and the City of Jackson will resume negotiations within three years to modify the 2013 settlement to achieve long-term compliance with the CWA, MAWPCL and NPDES permits.

A copy of the proposed stipulated order and instructions for submitting public comments is available on the Department of Justice website. All comments must be electronically submitted or postmarked by August 31.