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

Jackson, miss. (WLBT) – Just three months ago, after problems with Jackson’s water system, some business owners said they might have to leave the city and take their restaurants elsewhere.

That sentiment is changing now that the federal government is taking over the capital’s water system.

“You know, we’re excited about the change,” said Steven O’Neill, managing partner of The Manship. “We hope it will have a lasting impact.”

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

“I hope the EPA’s involvement is not just another topic of the news cycle. I hope we can effectively get good results and not just focus on the water plants themselves,” O’Neill said, referring to the city’s plumbing problems and other infrastructure issues .

In early August, O’Neill and other business owners told Jackson City Council members that the water crisis could ultimately be behind their decision to move.

That view has changed with news of the acquisition.

“We’re now in our 10th year. We have a few more years left on our lease. I’m getting a little older. Do I want to go through another round of bank debt and debt repayments to move or expand the restaurant? Things are what we want to do and don’t want to do, and we’re focused on moving forward with other things and other opportunities,” O’Neill said.

One such opportunity, O’Neill said, is to expand another of his Jackson restaurants: Aplos.

While Tuesday’s order detailing the takeover of the water system from the EPA and Justice Department was a prelude to another consent order, it also represented a turning point in the crisis.

Neither the state nor the city will be responsible this time.

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

“Finally, finally, finally, we seem to have the right path forward to solve our problems once and for all. I don’t know of any government that has a steady stream of money or resources. But I do know that the federal government has a large department that does this kind of work ,” said North Jackson resident Carol Blackmon. “So I’m very relieved that we’ve gotten to this point.”

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

In fact, the man appointed to take over the system – longtime professional engineer Ted Henifin – will also have the power to raise water rates without council consent.

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