‘Finally, finally, finally’; Residents, business owner optimistic about federal takeover of Jackson’s water system

Published: Nov. 30, 2022 at 6:35 PM CST
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JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - Just three months ago, problems with Jackson’s water system had some business owners saying they may have to leave the city and take their restaurants somewhere else.

Now that the federal government is taking over the capital city’s water system, that sentiment is changing.

“We’re excited for change, you know,” said Steven O’Neill, managing partner of The Manship. “We hope it can make a lasting impact.”

O’Neill said he and others in the business community are optimistic about a third-party manager coming in to run the city’s water system for the next year.

“I hope the EPA stepping in isn’t just another talking point for a news cycle. I hope that we effectively have great results and not just focus on the water plant itself,” O’Neill said, referring to issues with the city’s pipes and other infrastructure concerns.

In early August, O’Neill and other business owners told Jackson City Council members that the water crisis could end up being what makes them decide to move.

That opinion has changed somewhat with news of the takeover.

“We’re in our 10th year of business now. We’ve got a few years left on our lease. I’m getting a little bit older. Do I want to go through another round of bank debt and debt servicing to move a restaurant or expand? There are certain things in our careers that we do and don’t want to do and we are focused on pushing forward with some other things and other opportunities,” O’Neill said.

One of those opportunities, O’Neill said, will be an expansion of his other Jackson restaurant: Aplos.

While Tuesday’s order detailing the water system takeover from the EPA and Department of Justice is a precursor to another consent decree, it represents a turning point in the crisis, too.

Neither the state nor the city will be in charge this time around.

All eyes will be on the federal government, news that has some residents excited, too.

“Finally, finally, finally, we’re at a point where it appears that we will have the right path forward to resolve our issues, once and for all. I know that no government has an endless supply of money or resources. But I know that the federal government has large divisions that engage in this type of work,” said North Jackson resident Carol Blackmon. “And so I’m relieved that we’re at this point.”

As part of the federal government’s involvement, a third-party manager will be brought in and given broad sweeping authority over Jackson’s entire water system, including capital improvements and billing services.

In fact, the person appointed to take over the system -- longtime professional engineer Ted Henifin - will also be given the authority to raise water rates without the city council’s consent.

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