Ms. JACKSON (AP) — Congress is investigating the crisis that left 150,000 people in the Mississippi capital for days without running water for days in the late summer, according to a letter sent to Governor Tate Reeves by two Democratic officials.
Representatives Bennie Thompson, of Mississippi, and Carolyn Maloney, of New York, sent the letter Monday requesting information about how Mississippi plans to spend $10 billion from the American Rescue Plan Act and from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, and $429 million “specifically allocated to improve the state’s water infrastructure.”
The letter signals “the start of a joint investigation” by the House Homeland Security and Oversight and Reform committees into a crisis that deprived Jackson’s 150,000 residents of running water for several days in late August and early September, Adam Comis, a staffer of the commission, The Associated Press told.
Thompson’s district includes most of Jackson and he chairs the Homeland Security Committee. Maloney chairs the Oversight and Reform Committee.
Jackson has had water problems for years, and the latest issues began in late August after heavy rainfall exacerbated problems at the city’s main sewage treatment plant, leaving many customers without running water. Jackson had been reporting boiling water since late July because the state health department found cloudy water could be making people sick.
Running water was restored within days and a boiling water report was lifted in mid-September, but the letter to Reeves states that “the city’s aquatic plant infrastructure remains precarious and risks to Jackson residents persist.”
The pair of congressional Democrats asked for a breakdown of where the state sent money from the American Rescue Plan Act and the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, including “the racial demographics and population size of each” community that received aid. They also asked for information on whether Jackson faced “tough hurdles” in receiving additional federal funds. The letter asked Reeves to provide the requested information by October 31.
Mississippi has not yet announced how it will spend money from the US Rescue Plan Act on water projects. Cities and counties had a September 30 deadline to apply for funding.
According to the letter, Oversight Committee staff learned in a briefing with Jackson officials that the state was trying to limit Jackson’s funding for its water system. The state reportedly planned to “bar communities of more than 4,000 people from competing for additional funding from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law,” the letter says.
In their letter, Thompson and Maloney also referred to reporting by the AP that Reeves had a hand in delaying funds for water system repairs in Jackson and claimed to have blocked funds. Reeves’ office did not immediately respond to AP’s request for comment on the letter.
The Environmental Protection Agency issued a notice in January that Jackson’s water system violates the federal Safe Drinking Water Act. In September, federal attorneys threatened… legal action against the city if it did not agree to negotiations over its water system. Lumumba said the city was working with the federal government on a plan to repair the water system.
Reflects the failure of city and state officials to provide Jackson residents with a reliable water system decades of government dysfunction, population change and dilapidated infrastructure. It has also sparked a political struggle between GOP state legislators and Democratic city officials.
That bitterness continued after the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency announced Friday that it is looking for a private contractor to run the Jackson water system for a year. The deal would be funded by the city of Jackson, according to the proposal released by MEMA.
In a press release on Monday, Reeves said his office was told by city officials that Jackson Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba plans to “functionally end the city’s partnership” by “refusing to participate in the process of selecting of a water company.
“While politics is clearly his priority, we’re just trying to make sure Jackson’s waters don’t fail again,” Reeves said. “Ultimately, it may be up to the city council to curb this radical move.”
The rancor arose, though MEMA wrote that it asked for a private contractor “in a united warrant with the City of Jackson.”
Reeves threatened to withdraw state aid if the city did not change course. City officials said they “no longer want state aid and insist on going it alone,” Reeves said.
In a statement, Lumumba replied that the city “had done it alone” after years of soliciting state aid” and that Jackson “has made no mention of ending the city’s partnership” with state and federal officials. The mayor said the city would not agree to the request for a private contractor until given a chance to review the language in the proposal.
“The city, with the support of those who have really invested in the repair and maintenance of the water treatment plants, will have the final say,” Lumumba said. “We look forward to productive conversations that lead to an actual agreement rather than a headline.”
Michael Goldberg is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a national, not-for-profit service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on classified issues. Follow him on Twitter twitter.com/mikergoldberg.
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