Biden administration moves to appoint manager for collapsed Jackson water system

NAACP Civil Rights Jackson
FILE – This image shows the City of Jackson’s O.B. Curtis Water Plant in Ridgeland, Miss., Sept. 1, 2022. The NAACP said Tuesday, Sept. 27, that Mississippi is discriminating against Jackson’s majority-Black population by diverting badly needed federal funds for drinking water infrastructure to white communities that needed it less. (AP Photo/Steve Helber, File) Steve Helber/AP

Biden administration moves to appoint manager for collapsed Jackson water system

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The Justice Department filed a proposal in federal court Tuesday that, if approved, would grant it the authority to appoint an interim water manager in Jackson, Mississippi, as the city attempts to recover from the near-collapse of its water system earlier this year.

Both the city and state health departments tasked with overseeing Jackson’s water supply have signed off on the proposal, the Department of Justice and the Department of Energy said in a statement.

The goal of the proposal is to have someone in place while the federal government, the city of Jackson, and the Mississippi Health Department attempt to negotiate a judicially enforceable consent degree to achieve long-term sustainability for the city’s water system, officials said.

If approved, it would install a third-party manager, Edward “Ted” Henifin, a professional engineer with 40 years of public works experience, in the interim. Henifin would have the authority to operate and maintain the city’s drinking water system (in compliance with the Safe Drinking Water Act) and to oversee the implementation of near-term priorities, such as a winterization project to help protect the system against winter storms.

A cold snap in Jackson last winter froze pipes in the city and left thousands of residents without access to running water.

Henifin would also be given temporary authority to run the city’s Water Sewer Business Administration, which oversees user billing, and to implement capital improvements to Jackson’s public drinking water system.

Henifin formerly served for 15 years as the general manager of the Hampton Roads Sanitation District in Virginia Beach, Virginia, which provides wastewater treatment to 18 cities and counties in the region, and as the director of public works for the city of Hampton, Virginia.

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After extreme flooding this summer, more than 160,000 Jackson residents were left without access to potable water to use for drinking, basic hygiene, and safety purposes, such as showering, fighting fires, flushing toilets, washing hands, or washing dishes.

Mississippi health officials declared a state of emergency in September. The following month, Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Michael Regan announced a civil rights investigation into the state of Mississippi due to the crisis.

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“I pledged that EPA would do everything in its power to ensure the people of Jackson have clean and dependable water, now and into the future,” Regan said in a statement Tuesday. “While there is much more work ahead, the Justice Department’s action marks a critical moment on the path to securing clean, safe water for Jackson residents.”

© 2022 Washington Examiner

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