Not So Fast, Suburbs


Former Mayor Harvey Johnson Jr. says he doesn't believe the city should have to lose ownership of its wastewater treatment plant in order to fix it.

"I don't know who (Council President Ben Allen) has been talking to, but I don't think the issue is as frightening as he might think," said Johnson, who helped hammer out a 30-year plan with the suburbs on sewage management during his administration.

Allen said last month that the city could be left holding a huge renovation bill for the plant if it does not act on a proposition by suburb cities to form a regional authority to cover repair costs.

The city's waste-treatment plant is not up to modern Environmental Protection Agency standards. Waste from the Jackson facility is still too dangerous for the EPA to allow more than a few thousand gallons to be dumped into the Pearl River each day. Jackson's current plant, Allen says, has already reached its limit, and the strain on the plant to process more waste is growing with the burgeoning population of Madison and Rankin County.

Allen characterized the impending problem as "the most important issue the City Council will face as far as the economic future of Jackson," saying last week that if the suburbs pulled out, the city would have to go it alone on the renovations.

At a recent water and sewer committee meeting, attorney Trudy Allen, who represents the West Rankin Regional Authority, told City Council that Madison and Flowood were considering building their own waste-treatment plants and cutting funding to the Jackson plant on Savanna Street.

"We just have to start on this now, because these other places, they're already looking at sites to build their own plants," Councilman Allen said.

Madison Public Works Director Denson Robinson said the Madison County Wastewater Authority was already considering a site that would dump waste into the Big Black River, which drains separately into the Mississippi River without crossing paths with the Pearl River.

Flowood Public Works Director Gary Miller said the city of Flowood was also considering building a plant almost across the river from the Savanna Street plant.

"The West Rankin Utility Authority is looking at all their options," Miller said. "Right now, we're under contract with Jackson to treat and transport wastewater ... but we can opt out of that contract in 2015 if we notify the city by 2012. We are considering a site almost across the street from the Jackson plant." Miller added that it would be cheaper to update the current plant than build a new one.

Teelah Jones, who lives on Savanna Street in Jackson, said she dreaded the idea of a second plant being built near the same location as the other.

"The smell coming from that plant over there is unbearable on some days. I can't even imagine what it would be like if there were two of them," she said.

Further, Jones said she believes a second plant affect her property value.

An alternative to building new plants is to update the existing plant so it produces cleaner waste that won't risk as much environmental damage to the Pearl River.

Flowood and Madison would be willing to help Jackson finance the costly renovations if the city enters into a regional authority with nearby cities, but the authority would require ownership of the Jackson plant.

Ward 2 Councilman Leslie McLemore and Chief Administration Officer Robert Walker said they are hesitant to relinquish ownership of the plant.

"I just don't think giving up the plant, right now would be in the best interest of the city," McLemore said.

Walker said he and the mayor wanted to "find out what the facts and numbers are," and make "an informed decision" later.

Johnson thinks the city has more leverage than the suburbs would have it believe.

"The other cities are free to pursue their plans, but I don't think it would be cost effective," Johnson said, adding that he believed the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality would take a dim view of multiple sewage outlets draining into the Pearl River.

"There are two drainage basins: the Big Black and the Purple Creek," Johnson said. "Madison knew they would annex Annandale, and they were looking to build a plant in that area, which would drain in to the Big Black basin instead of the Purple Creek basin. But it's going to be very difficult for DEQ to look at a plant upstream on the Pearl River, of any sizable proportion ... because we're using the reservoir for drinking water. There are not a lot of options there."

Harry Wilson with MDEQ's environmental permits division did not return calls for comment.

McLemore said the city could work out a deal with the surrounding counties, though the issue of Jackson's representation on the board would be a deciding factor.

Allen, however, insists that the city needs to immediately get to work on the problem.

"(T)his isn't just about the other areas looking to go their separate ways. This is about us being at our maximum capacity and needing to do more," Allen said.


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