State ends talks to bring on operator for Jackson water system, official says

O.B. Curtis Plant entrance
O.B. Curtis Plant entrance(WLBT)
Published: Nov. 28, 2022 at 1:28 PM CST
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JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - The state has called off talks with a firm to manage Jackson’s water system, an official with the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency (MEMA) confirmed on Monday.

“While the selection process was started, it’s null and [was] never executed because the city of Jackson made their selections and hired their own contractor,” said MEMA Chief Communications Officer Malary White.

The agency was seeking a contractor to take over maintenance and operations of the city’s water system for the next 12 months. While the state would play a role in choosing the vendor, the city would have been responsible for paying the contract.

MEMA was in talks with a company but called off those talks after Jackson approved its own emergency staffing contract earlier this month.

On November 10, the city council hired the California-based WaterTalent LLC, to provide four temporary Class A water operators to help run the city’s treatment plants when the state’s emergency declaration governing them ran out.

Gov. Tate Reeves signed an emergency declaration on August 30 temporarily taking control of Jackson’s water system after equipment failures at the O.B. Curtis Treatment Plant left tens of thousands of people without water.

The governor extended the emergency until November 22 but would not extend it further despite requests from Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba. The governor’s failure to extend the declaration further prompted the city to take action.

MEMA issued a request for qualifications in October seeking a vendor to operate and maintain Jackson’s water treatment plants, well water system and elevated storage tanks, in part, to help staff the facilities in the year following the emergency.

White said just one contractor responded to the RFQ, and negotiations with that company ended when the city hired WaterTalent.

It was unclear whether the state’s RFQ could move forward anyway, with Lumumba saying the city would not participate in the process, nor would it recognize the firm the state eventually would choose.

Under the state’s RFQ, a member from the city’s Department of Public Works would serve on a three-member team that would evaluate and score the technical proposals submitted by firms. That score, along with the score received during the financial review, would determine which company received the contract.

The city issued its own request for proposals on October 18, saying they did not have a say in drawing up the state’s RFQ. So far, Jackson officials have not chosen a firm, and it was not known how many companies responded to the city’s request.

A consultant told the city council earlier this month the city was still 30, 60 or 90 days out from selecting a vendor, meaning the emergency staffing contract was necessary.

Jackson city officials declined to comment.

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