Officials: Katrina recovery-funded infrastructure will be used

JACKSON COUNTY — The Jackson County Utility Authority has spent its Hurricane Katrina recovery project funds on water and wastewater projects that will be well utilized across the county, leaders say.

An Associated Press investigation revealed that the Harrison County Utility Authority used millions of dollars to build sewage plants that are underused or sitting completely idle.

That’s not a problem in Jackson County, JCUA executive director Tommy Fairfield said.

“When we set about doing the final design on these projects, we discussed that usage at completion needed to be sufficient to operate the system in a way that would be fair and equitable for the users,” he said.

“We wanted to make it affordable for the people and also give us some room to grow.”

Fairfield said it was a requirement of the program for each project to be financially viable.

Since 2006, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has approved $655.7 million in Community Development Block Grant funds for the program in Jackson, Hancock, Harrison, Stone and Pearl River counties.

Jackson County was allocated $119 million for engineering and construction, and it has spent more than $108 million of its share.

“We’ve spent practically all of our funds, and all of our systems are running,” Fairfield said.

According to a November 2011 Performance Evaluation and Expenditure Review report to the Mississippi Legislature, all of Jackson County’s water projects will use 50 percent to 70 percent of their capacity.

At completion, water projects in west Jackson County will be at 60 percent to 70 percent capacity, and water projects on the east side will be at 50 percent to 60 percent.

Fairfield said while the projects and main lines are mostly complete, the authority is still connecting individual homes to the system. In some areas, he said, there is a waiting list for hookups.

“Demand for water is especially high on the west side of the county,” he said.

In Harrison County, usage estimates for water projects run from less than 1 percent to 30 percent, the report shows. In Hancock County, they run from 20 percent to 50 percent.

Wastewater project usage estimates are at 57 percent in west Jackson County and 37 percent for the decentralized systems in the northern area of the county, the report shows.

Usage of the decentralized systems will jump by about 20 percent, Fairfield said, once the Jackson County School District’s facilities in the area are hooked into it.

“These systems are smaller, and one big user can take up a lot of capacity,” he said.

In Harrison County, usage estimates for sewer projects run from less than 1 percent to 87 percent, the PEER report said, and in Hancock County they run from 25 to 27 percent.

Jackson County has used its funds to build new facilities and make improvements on existing ones.

Water projects include western and eastern Jackson County regional water supply construction work. On the west side, new transmission lines, wells and tanks bring more water to Gautier, Ocean Springs, Vancleave, Big Hill Acres and Latimer.

On the east side, a centralized supply and transmission facility brings water to Hurley, Wade and Big Point, areas that had no community-wide potable water supply or distribution systems.

Wastewater projects include:

— Decentralized wastewater treatment facilities in Hurley, Wade and Big Point.

— Improvements to the Escatawpa and Gautier regional wastewater treatment facilities.

— Transmission system improvements in Gulf Park Estates and Ocean Beach Estates.

— Expansion of the West Jackson Regional Wastewater Treatment Facility and transmission main to serve Vancleave, Latimer and Big Hill Acres.

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