Jackson to use ARPA funding to repair N. Mill Street sewer overflows

Acting City Engineer Robert Lee discusses plans to use ARPA funds to address sewer needs.
Acting City Engineer Robert Lee discusses plans to use ARPA funds to address sewer needs.(WLBT)
Published: Aug. 8, 2022 at 4:08 PM CDT
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JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - Jackson city leaders say they’re going to use COVID-19 dollars to repair sewer failures that have caused 20 million gallons of waste to enter Town Creek.

“That’s going to be one of our ARPA projects to design and construct because what we need to do is get that sewer line from underneath the rail yard, under Mill Street, run it down and then cross at a lower point,” said City Engineer Robert Lee.

“We are working on trying to get a better interim solution now that we know we’ve had another section fail that caused the pump to not work at all,” he added. “The sewer’s not even making it to the pump.”

Friday, WLBT reported that 19.7 million gallons of untreated sewer water were released into the environment between April 1 and June 30 due to a sewer break and sewer pump failure along Mill Street.

That sewage entered a storm drain there and eventually flowed into Town Creek.

Data on the Mill Street overflows were included in the city’s July 31 quarterly report submitted to the Environmental Protection Agency.

Jackson must submit regular reports to the agency as part of its sewer consent decree mandates.

The report said more than 52.6 million gallons of untreated waste were leaked into the environment in the second quarter of 2022 due to broken sewer mains, clogged lines, and the like.

“That is a state of our ongoing legacy challenges. That’s why we’re under a consent decree to begin with, because they are things that got out of hand with the city, and we’re trying to catch up to them,” Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba said.

The city entered into the decree with EPA and the U.S. Department of Justice in 2012, in large part, due to a large number of SSOs. Under terms, the city has to spend hundreds of millions of dollars to fix the sewer system and bring it into compliance with federal water quality laws.

The Lumumba administration is currently working to renegotiate the terms of the agreement, citing shrinking revenues and high costs.

Lee said the city plans to focus much of its American Rescue Plan Act funding on addressing sewer needs, including the N. Mill failures.

The city received more than $42 million in ARPA money to help it recover from the COVID-19 pandemic. Funds can be used on everything from shoring up critical infrastructure to giving first responders bonus pay for working during the outbreak.

During the 2022 legislative session, lawmakers passed a bill that would provide matching funds to cities and counties that use ARPA money on certain water and sewer needs.

The Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) released guidelines for projects recently and is expected to begin accepting applications on September 1, Lee said at a press conference Monday.

“Because it is an application and a [waiting] process, we’re going to look at that more for our sewer work,” he said. “Those complaints about sewer backups, sewer overflows... it would be a better fit for the ARPA funding than the water plant, given the process and procedure with those ARPA applications.”

Lee went on to discuss why the Mill Street failures have yet to be fixed.

“[It’s] a little complicated in that the collapsed line is under the rail yard. And it’s not an easy bypass at all,” he said.

Currently, a bypass pump is located at North Mill Street and Livingston Street. The pump went down on April 22, according to Jackson’s quarterly report. The pump was brought in to carry sewer from one manhole to another, to bypass a collapsed section of sewer line.

Since then, another portion of the sewer line has collapsed, causing the pump to no longer work, Lee explained.

“We’re going to get with our consultant today and kind of look at some other options in the interim,” he said. “That’s going to be a pricy sewer project and having to deal with the railroad makes it cost more, usually.”

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