BYRAM, Miss. (WLBT) – For years, Byram Mayor Richard White has wanted his city to come off of Jackson water.
He hopes to have Byram a big step closer to that goal by the end of his current term in office.
White said Byram is prepared to offer Jackson $5 million for the water infrastructure currently serving his city.
He met with Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba last week, where he made the offer, and is now urging Lumumba to move forward with the transaction before the qualifying deadline for the 2025 municipal elections.
“As we speak right now, we have people looking for what is the best spot for the water pumps, the wells,” he said. “We get this water found, we’re going to go ahead and start drilling our wells, we’re going to put our tank in, and then we can convert over.”
“We’re going to be able to turn a big turnoff valve off,” he continued. “We shut them down and turn ours on.”
He followed up his meeting with a September 8 letter, telling Lumumba he would like both cities to have appraisals of the system completed by the end of the calendar year, so negotiations could begin.
“I just want him to know that we can’t wait,” he said. “I just wanted to make sure we didn’t have two or three years to do this.”
Lumumba said it’s too early to ask whether Jackson would accept Byram’s offer, saying he wants to make sure Jackson would be “appropriately compensated.”
“As an independent city, they have the right to autonomy if they want that. They have the right to operate their own system, but we have a right to be appropriately compensated for the investment that we’ve made,” he said. “So, at this point in time, there really shouldn’t be a question as to whether the city of Jackson is willing to sell off the infrastructure. It is a conversation about us getting commensurate value out of what we have invested.”
The infrastructure in question includes miles and miles of underground water distribution lines used to provide water to homes and businesses.
White has been working to come off of the capital city’s system for years and was spurred on in large part by Jackson’s numerous system failures and line breaks that have left residents in his city without water.
He says the water outages have impacted Byram’s ability to bring in new business and maintain the ones it has.
Thousands of residents in the city of 12,500 lost water in 2021 during the winter water crisis. They also lost water during two water system shutdowns in 2022.
“The surface water on my side of the interstate was out last week,” he said. “A contractor dinged the pipe because they didn’t mark it. They didn’t mark the water. They asked them to mark the water when they came down here. That’s the kind of stuff that aggravates me.”
White said an assessment of the pipes was conducted recently to determine their value and that he’s willing to share it with Jackson once he talks to the firm that did the valuation.
As for Jackson’s investment, he points out that many of the pipes were installed years ago and deeded to the capital city prior to Byram’s incorporation.
He also says corners were cut on some pipe installations, pointing to a major transmission main that runs under Siwell Road from I-55 to Raymond Road.
That line was installed in the early to mid-1980s, but because it was not wrapped, it has been corroded by the area’s acidic soil.
Evidence of that incorrect installation was apparent by the number of breaks, including one back in January when a break occurred in front of the Chick-fil-A.
Despite its condition, assessors value the 20-inch main at around $8 million. But it’s a line that White says Byram isn’t interested in purchasing.
“We don’t want it,” he said. “We will replace it off the bat.”
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