UPDATE: Council Approves Trilogy for Water Corrosion Study; Emergency Loan to Fund It | Jackson Free Press | Jackson, MS

UPDATE: Council Approves Trilogy for Water Corrosion Study; Emergency Loan to Fund It

Public Works Director Kishia Powell explained to the Jackson City Council the different sources of funding the City can use to pay for a corrosion-control study the State of Mississippi requires.

Public Works Director Kishia Powell explained to the Jackson City Council the different sources of funding the City can use to pay for a corrosion-control study the State of Mississippi requires. Photo by Imani Khayyam.

UPDATE: The contract with Trilogy Engineering was approved by the City Council on Tuesday, April 5, placing the city into compliance with the state's plan to address the corrosion control issues. The next step is for the firm to create a corrosion control study to submit to the Mississippi Department of Health. Phillip Gibson, head engineer on the project and part-owner of Trilogy, said after the vote that he was "happy" and that work would begin on the project the very next day.

Mayor Tony Yarber introduced a $291,989 contract with Trilogy Engineering for a corrosion-control study to the Jackson City Council yesterday during its work session, with the means to pay for it through an emergency state loan. Trilogy is the same contractor for the water study that the council rejected at its March 10 meeting, due in part to a hefty $400,000 price tag.

"We were actually informed by the Health Department that we had an opportunity to get some emergency funds to begin some work out at the plant, and I think there were three other areas," Yarber said. The Department of Public Works sent in paperwork, he said, "that will keep the City of Jackson as a priority in terms of being able to receive those funds."

"I appreciate the administration finding a funding source," Ward 4 Councilman De'Keither Stamps said. "My opposition last time was because, as we see now, the water-sewer revenue isn't at the point to be doing unfunded mandates. When you do talk to the state, that we appreciate their assistance in helping us find a workable solution."

Philip Gibson, engineer and part owner of Trilogy Engineering Services LLC, said that the contract would begin with the drafting of the corrosion-control study plan, which would take a few weeks. From there, the state would have to approve it. Altogether, he said, that would take a month.

During this period, Gibson and the team would also make suggestions for interim solutions while the study is taking place over the next six months. He said "the interim is going to focus on lime," in an effort to maintain the pH of the water to prevent leeching from the pipes.

After the plan is submitted to the MSDH, the engineering team would build several different testing apparatuses to test the water. Gibson said the tests would be 30 gallon containers of water, some treated with different chemicals, like lime and soda ash. The engineers will place metal "coupons" into the containers, and city workers will flush water through the containers daily.

'A Fairly In-depth, Broad Study': How It Works

The engineers plan to take samples of the water to test weekly, and the engineers would oversee this operation at both the surface water treatment plants, O.B. Curtis and J.H. Fewell. They would then remove the metal coupons to inspect them for wear or erosion. This process would continue for the next several months in order to formulate a plan for treating the water to prevent corrosion in the pipes.

"During the same time frame, we will be reviewing the existing sites ... to make sure they are as reliable as they can be until the final decision is made on how to move forward," Gibson said. He said they would also look at how the chemicals put into the water might affect other areas of the system, like wastewater facilities.

Gibson also said that even if the pH and alkalinity of the water, the two biggest determinants in the potential for corrosion, pass tests as they leave the plant, that the engineers would have to consider changes the water goes through as it is distributed throughout the system.

"It is a fairly in-depth, broad study, to make sure it is good for the entire system," Gibson said.

Director of Public Works Kishia Powell said Monday that the City would be able to pay for this contract out of a $500,000 emergency loan from the Mississippi State Department of Health. The remainder of the funds would be used to address "interim improvements" that could be identified before the study is finished.

The city applied to be placed on a "priority list" with the state health department last fall, Powell said, and they were informed of their placement on March 2 of this year. The "priority list" allows the city to apply for large loans from the federal level, but these application processes can take months.

So in the interim, Powell said, MSDH Director of Health Protection Jim Craig, who visited with the council two meetings ago, has appealed to the State Board of Health to secure the emergency loan of $500,000 from the Drinking Water Systems Emergency Loan Fund. The City then will begin applying for the larger priority loans with the plan to pay off the emergency loan with those funds.

Powell said these larger loan amounts were determined during the fall to address renovation needs of the two plants and the water distribution system. She said that O.B. Curtis would need $3.5 million, that J.H. Fewell Plant would need $4.9 million, and the first phase of the distribution system would need $2.4 million. Improvements to the liquid-lime systems as well as others were included in this estimate, formulated months before the City received notice about the elevated lead levels in the water.

Council President Melvin Priester Jr. of Ward 2 asked if Public Works knew that the lime system was the source of the corrosion issues back in the fall.

"We knew that because of clogging of the lines, that the system was not the most efficient system, but we did not have any data that told us that ... the water leaving the plant is creating a problem out in the system," Powell said. "We just received the test results back in January."

Ward 1 Councilman Ashby Foote asked if the difference between the $400,000 amount the council previously rejected and the $291,969 was because of "price gouging" by Trilogy.

"I don't think it's a matter of price gouging," Powell said, explaining that she asked them to include additional services in the first estimate. "We went through it again and cut those tasks out."

More Details about Trilogy

Documents used the council work session Monday reveal more about the proposed contract and Trilogy Engineering for the corrosion-control study the Mississippi Department of Health requires to address the lead in the water.

The contract as delivered to the council Monday breaks down the total amount into how much each of the four firms receives.

Seven tasks are listed under the contract, along with amounts for each. Developing the engineer-designed corrosion control study plan for the two plants and the water distribution system will cost $49,088. The actual study itself will cost an estimated $188,000.

The firms listed are Trilogy Engineering, Southern Consultants Inc., Q Solutions Inc. and CDM Smith, with whom Gipson used to work.

The documents show that Trilogy would receive the majority of the funds from the contract with a total of $91, 240 in fees for a total of 972 hours of work from the "chief engineer" Gibson and 188 hours in "administrative" hours. Their 10-percent profit margin for the entire contract is $18,248.

Southern Consultants Inc., represented by its president, Susan Lunardini, at the meeting, would be in charge of scrutinizing the distribution system. The senior engineer for that company, and Susan's husband, Robert C. Lunardini, said that they bring their experience with the Jackson distribution system to the table, whereas Gibson and Trilogy would focus on the water-treatment facilities. Their portion of the contract would be $32,015 in costs, with a 10-percent profit of $5,300.

Q Solutions, a company out of Tucker, Ga., did not have a representative at the work session, but the proposed project budget shows that the company would be responsible for preparing the corrosion-control study and basis of the design report. For this, they will receive $1,260 in fees and $252 in profit. Their president is listed as Thuykieu Chang of Tucker, and their in-state representative is Michael Bell, the Mississippi secretary of state's website shows.

CDM Smith Inc., also not present at the work session, would be involved in what Gibson described as a "quality assurance, quality control" capacity. For this, the company out of Boston, Mass., would receive $17,007 with a profit of $2,637. Gibson lists the company on his Linkedin page as a past employer.

The council did not vote on the contract, but it is on the agenda for tonight's regular meeting at 6 p.m. in the council chambers in City Hall.

Email city reporter Tim Summers, Jr. at tim@jacksonfreepress.com. See more local news at jfp.ms/localnews and more on the Jackson water situation at jfp.ms/jxnwater.

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