In this breaking news segment of Black Headline News, news producer host, Julia Dudley Najieb explains the scandal behind Jackson, Mississippi's water troubles.
JACKSON, MISS.--About 83 percent of the residents of Jackson, Miss. are Black: As the overwhelming flooding is destroying the residents' properties and lives due to the torrential rains overflowing the Pearl River, backing up the OB Curtis treatment plant, thousands are still without safe water. Whether it's the low water pressure or the boil-water order, the wretched, rusted water pipes underneath Jackson' soil and foundation can no longer be ignored. The problem has been covered with weak band aids throughout the decades, as money allocated for water infrastructure in Jackson seems to disappear or get misappropriated.
Many people continue to inquire about how the water woes of Jackson, Miss.'s have gotten so deep; the continual flooding matters have a troubled history. By following the money trail, the answers become crystal clear as to why the city's water and sewage infrastructure is still not fixed--millions of dollars later.
Although the city council of Jackson, Miss. has had over 4 decades of issues concerning their water treatment facility, lines, and infrastructure and quality water-report issues, the Mississippi Free Press and Jackson Free Press organizations both detailed the questionable money trail of problems, beginning in 2009.
The prime contractor, Siemens Industry Inc., a subsidiary of German infrastructure conglomerate, Siemens AG, was recommended to the Jackson City Council by the Mississippi Development Authority (MDA). According to their website, MDA is Mississippi’s premier economic and community development agency helps from homegrown Mississippi start-ups to international corporations with business development assistance, support with business incentives and access to talent from workforce training programs, colleges and universities. MDA provided a list of approved energy-service companies which included along with Siemens, a Cleveland, Ohio-based company called Amersco Inc., Indianapolis-based ESG Laboratories, Milwaukee-based Johnson Controls and Schneider Electric, a European conglomerate headquartered in France.
Elected in 1997 as the first African American Mayor of Jackson, Miss. in 2012, Mayor Harvey Johnson, Jr. signed off on the $90M+ contract with Siemens Industry Inc. after he was given the green light by the MDA. According to the Jackson Free Press Johnson was criticized for going too slow in moving to sign the deal. However, Johnson was hoping to continue a fourth term in office as mayor by 2013, where he said he was at the forefront of the project and was going to hire a project manager for oversight. This key missing factor to the project would remain as the biggest detriment for the Jackson City Council over a 10-year period.
Siemens Industry Inc. provided a “guaranteed savings” plan for the city's largest contract in the city’s history. The smart meters were faulty due to the battery and over-billed, under-billed or no-billed frustrated customers.
From 2013 to 2015, a wild series of unfortunate events took place on the Jackson City Council, from unexpected, mysterious deaths to political scandals, there were a couple of special elections and short-term interim mayors who were trying to catch up with the basic day-to-day operations of the city--leaving a lack of oversight over the continuing Siemens Industry Inc. operation.
According to the Jackson Free Press, February of 2015, it would be a Department of Public Works employee who would find a water meter calibrated to read gallons instead of cubic feet, which could make a water bill more than six times larger than it should be. After that discovery, a city official halted all new meter installations
However, this halting of all operations in 2015 would not fix Jackson's dilemma with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) cited violations; on Nov. 21, 2012, EPA, the U.S. Department of Justice, and the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) cited Jackson for violating the Clean Water Act. Between 2010 and 2012 alone, Jackson dumped 2.8 billion gallons of barely treated sewage into the Pearl River, the EPA found. The EPA consent decree also charges Jackson for unauthorized bypasses of treatment at the Savanna Street Wastewater Treatment Plant, the city's largest wastewater treatment facility.
Under the terms of the Siemens contract, $26 million was earmarked for consent-decree compliance, including upgrades to the wastewater plants--of course this never happened; the contracted company never completed the proposed work tasks.
In 2017, Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba became the 53rd mayor of Jackson; members of the city council had already lost trust in Siemens Industry Inc., fulfilling the proposed contract they had already been paid millions of dollars to complete.
In total, the city of Jackson has lost roughly $175M and it will still take another $75M to repair the disastrous project. Lumumba, a former lawyer, made sure the lawsuit was pursued against Siemens Industry Inc., originally suing for $225M, doubling to $450M. The final outcome of the winning lawsuit through a settlement would reward the city of Jackson almost $90M, although they lost so much more money from the start of the project in 2012.
Meanwhile by 2022, more winter freezes and heavy downpours caused more pipes to burst and more flooding. Even with the recent win of the lawsuit, the city's water infrastructure is obviously still a disaster; at least there is a better understanding of why.