City working on infrastructure plan

By ANTHONY WARREN,

Jackson could soon have a better picture of its infrastructure needs.

The city is now putting together a comprehensive infrastructure plan.

The plan will include water, sewer, road and other needs, and give estimates on what the city will need to address them.

Chief Administrative Officer Robert Blaine said officials are now doing a “gap analysis” to review information that is currently on file and what is lacking.

“We’ve been working on it since we got in office. We’ve been in conversations with all of our partners and have reviewed plans from the previous administration,” he said.

He expects the plan to be completed by the end of November and says the new public works director, Robert Miller, will be involved in the process.

Miller is expected to begin in his new role on October 16.

Previous estimates have placed the city’s infrastructure needs in the billions.

IMS Engineers, the city’s former one-percent program manager, told the one-percent oversight commission that Jackson would need to spend $2 billion on roads over the next decade.

The report, which took data from 2013, stated that 73 percent of the city’s 1,200 miles of roadway were rated “poor,” “very poor” or “fair.”

At least a billion more is needed for the city’s water and sewer system.

City officials estimate it will take between $615 million and $800 million to make repairs associated with the city’s consent decree.

Jackson entered into a sewer consent decree with the U.S. Department of Justice and Environmental Protection Agency in 2012.

As part of the initial agreement, the city was given 17.5 years to make some $400 million in repairs to bring its sewer system into compliance with federal water quality laws.

 

However, at a recent city council meeting, officials said improvements associated with the decree now could run twice as much.

In August, Blaine told the council the administration was attempting to modify the agreement, including asking for additional time to complete the work.

“It’s a case where the consent decree does not match up with our financial ability to deliver. We’re looking to modify (the decree) so we can still meet the goals of the decree, but align it more with the ability of the city … to meet its financial obligations,” he said.

Jackson is eligible to renegotiate the deal because the city qualifies as an “environmental justice case,” Blaine explained.

Over the years, several executive orders have been handed down by presidents related to “environmental justice.”

Terry Williamson, the city’s consent decree attorney, said at the time that the orders essentially look at how environmental compliance impacts minority communities.

In Jackson’s case, the EPA and U.S. Department of Justice want more information on how the city’s $400 million decree will affect Jackson’s poorest residents.

Typically, cities raise water and sewer rates to cover consent decree costs, which would place greater strain on lower-income households, he said.

Previously, the EPA determined consent decree amounts based on the area’s median income. However, that mechanism did not show how those living below the poverty line would be affected, Williamson explained.

 

Sewer aside, another $405 million was needed in 2013 to address the city’s water needs.

The report, which was conducted by Neel-Schaffer, said age, exposure to the elements and a lack of maintenance over decades were reasons for the system’s decline.

Jackson has approximately 1,100 miles of water pipelines. Of that, larger transmission lines account for 220 miles, and smaller mains total around 800 miles. Twenty percent of the city’s lines are 100 years or older; 30 percent are 60 years or older; and 30 percent are 40 years or older.

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