Disagreements about where to dump sludge byproduct from the O.B. Curtis Water Treatment plant ended in a stalemate between the two branches of the city government during Tuesday's meeting of the Jackson City Council.
"So we are going to allow the sludge to stay at the water treatment plant? Is that correct?" Mayor Tony Yarber asked the council. An amended form of a contract to dispose of the waste byproduct was voted down by council members.
Ward 4 Councilman De'Keither Stamps opposed the measure, stating that he would not support an order to enter into a contract with BFI Water Services LLC, doing business as Republic Services of Jackson, unless some of the sludge, when distributed, was put on at least 40 percent black-owned farms.
In a procedural dance, the council first approved the order to enter into a contract to remove the sludge, then ended up turning down the same order with an attached amendment after Stamps made it clear he would insist on the language regarding 40-percent black-owned farms.
"We will allow the legislative branch to do the legislating and the executive branch to do the executing," Stamps said after the measure failed.
"Apparently not," Yarber said. "So the sludge is going to stay at the water treatment plant."
The council rejected a contract presented by the administration for BFI to haul around 50,000 tons of alum sludge for an estimated total cost of $202,806.75. The terms of the agreement were that the city would pay $325 per 34-cubic-yard truckload to sites within Hinds, Rankin and Madison counties. Only two companies placed bids for the work, and BFI beat out Socrates Garrett Enterprises for this particular sludge contract.
"The alum sludge must be removed from our facilities so that we can continue to have room to remove the contaminants from the water as we treat it to make it potable," Anthony Harkless, a wastewater engineer with the Department of Public Works, said during the meeting. "This is necessary for us to comply with Safe Water Drinking standards."
"We will have considerable savings in doing that, as opposed to one of the other methods, which was to dispose of it in the sewer system, and it would go on to the wastewater plant, which affects us in other parts of the budget," Harkless said.
The contract is for three years, with the option of two one-year extensions during the term.
"Overall, this will generate savings. We are projected in this contract to come in well under our budget," Harkless said.
Harkless said that the sludge would end up on land farms across Rankin and Hinds counties. For the contract, around 50,000 tons of the sludge will be removed and relocated this year.
Stamps wanted to ensure that if the city was spreading sludge around, black farmers would receive some of the "free fertilizer."
"If we are going to give away 50,000 tons of free fertilizer, I want to make sure it is going to black farmers that need it," he said.
So then, even though the council then passed the order approving the contract, Stamps recalled the agenda item for reconsideration, proposing an amendment. The amendment placed a 40 percent goal for distributing the sludge to black-owned farms in the area.
Terry Williamson of the Department of Public Works informed the council that the sites themselves were not a part of the contract with BFI, and that the city could choose the plots as they please.
"So we can just do it internally," Yarber said.
Stamps disagreed, stating that "the city chooses, but I think that we should put our actual intent into the order, because it may slip through the cracks."
"So how do we enforce the goal?" Yarber asked.
City Attorney Monica Joiner said that the order had goals similar to an executive order, although it came from the city council. Yet it was still unclear to the mayor how his office would enforce such a legislative order.
"If I am going to be held accountable for something, I need to know how I want to enforce it," Yarber said. "It sounds good, and that's great, and I want to be able to do it. But if I don't have the tools to do it, it is more pomp and circumstance than real substance."
The mayor asked for more direction about how the city would direct the dumping. Director of Public Works Kishia Powell said that the amount of sludge disposed of would be in smaller amounts, although it would still add up to 50,000 tons, and that it would be disposed of not on farmland, but on a city-owned landfill.
"Since this is a smaller amount and since it is spread out over a year, they haul as needed based on production at the plant," Powell said. "Basically, there is an area in the landfill that solid waste has set aside for us to land-apply the material. So we are not trying to grow anything necessarily. We are trying to dispose of it in a way that we are allowed to by regulation."
Powell said that in the past, it had been taken to other landfills, including one that BFI owned, and that by dumping on city land, it would save money on the contract.
"It would stay at the facility, and they have got to get rid of material, because they are continually creating additional sludge through the treatment process," Powell said.
Since the city council turned down the contract, for the foreseeable future, O.B. Curtis is where the alum sludge will stay.
Email city reporter Tim Summers, Jr. at [email protected] See more local news at jfp.ms/localnews.