Jackson mayor discusses plans to keep water running once governor’s emergency declaration expires

Published: Oct. 31, 2022 at 5:37 PM CDT
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JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - Jackson Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba offered more details Monday about the city’s plans to keep its water plants running if a long-term operator isn’t in place when the state pulls out.

“We may pursue standing up a temporary maintenance contract so we can maintain all of the critical parts of the water treatment facility,” he said. “We’re prayerful that won’t be the case, but... one thing I’ve learned is that this is a fast-pitch sport. You have to be prepared for anything.”

The mayor’s comments come just days after Gov. Tate Reeves announced his emergency declaration governing the city’s water system would end on November 22.

The declaration was expected to run out on November 17. However, the governor extended it an additional five days to allow for a transition period between state managers and a private operator, which the city is expected to bring on to oversee water operations.

“At that point, the state of emergency must, by statute, end as the water system can be managed solely by local control,” Reeves wrote in a statement.

Reeves took the stand after he and the mayor got into a public spat over who would select a vendor to manage the city’s water treatment facilities.

The state issued a request for qualifications on October 14, seeking a company to take over operations of the city’s water system for the next 12 months.

Jackson issued its own request for proposals days later, with the mayor saying, in part, the administration did not get to help draw up the state’s request.

Responses to both requests are due on November 7, meaning the city and state have just over two weeks to get an operator in position before the emergency expires.

Lumumba is hopeful the city can do it. “We have adequate staff that deals with procurement, deals with contracts on a regular basis. [But] we will not push [a contract] through just for the sake of pushing it through,” he said.

According to the RFP, proposals will be evaluated between November 8 and 10, with the city beginning negotiations with the highest-rated vendor on November 11. Pending negotiations, the contracted start date would be November 17.

However, the contract still must be approved by the Jackson City Council. For months, the council and administration have been embroiled in a legal battle over a contract over who would pick up the city’s trash.

Meanwhile, the state says it hopes to choose a water system operator by November 15.

Mississippi Emergency Management Agency (MEMA) Chief Communication Officer Malary White said the state is proceeding with its RFQ, even as the city moves forward on its own.

“Those that toured the plant are eligible to respond to our request,” she said in an email.

Mandatory site visits for both plants were slated for Thursday, October 27.

The city also conducted plant visits last week, with representatives from about eight firms participating, city officials told WLBT.

Whether MEMA can hire a contractor under terms of its RFQ, though, is unclear.

Provisions state that qualifications would be evaluated by the state’s Unified Command Team, which would then take proposals to a three-member committee, which would then conduct technical evaluations.

The RFQ says that the team would include subject matter experts from the Mississippi State Department of Health and Environmental Protection Agency, as well as a staffer from the city’s Public Works Department.

Jackson Director of Communications Melissa Faith Payne said the city would not be participating in the state’s evaluation process.

In other news, Lumumba says Jackson’s water is safe to drink. “The EPA, in conjunction with the Mississippi State Department of Health, performed a series of tests on our drinking water over the course of the last several months. the final results are in, and reveal that our water is, in fact, safe to drink,” he said. “The city of Jackson is in compliance with the Safe Drinking Water Act.”

Findings did not include the results of the lead and copper testing. Those results are expected by mid-November, the mayor said.

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