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State Threatens $75,000 Daily Fine Against Jackson Over Garbage Crisis

trash bags with trash strewn outside a home
Since April 1, 2023, garbage has been piling up in front of homes across Jackson after trash pickup services ended in the capital city, with wild animals tearing bags and strewing their contents. The issue remains unresolved amid an ongoing standoff between Mayor Chokwe A. Lumumba and the Jackson City Council over which company should hold the City’s garbage contract. Photo by Kayode Crown

JACKSON, Miss.—With no garbage pickup at John Benedict’s home in Mississippi’s capital city since the beginning of the month, the 19-year-old plans to burn it all up in a barrel behind his house, he told the Mississippi Free Press Wednesday morning.

“I’m fixing to make a pallet, set it on fire in my barrel in the backyard, and light everything up,” he said.

The City of Jackson is now facing the possibility of up to $75,000 in daily fines from the State because residents have had to go without garbage pickup services since April 1, after the Jackson City Council rejected Mayor Chokwe A. Lumumba’s proposed six-year contract with Richard’s Disposal.

The mayor pulled the same contract at a council meeting Monday, saying the city attorney advised him not to take it up again since the company is suing the City for the contract rejection.

MDEQ: City’s Plan ‘Inadequate’

As the impasse between the mayor and the City Council continued on April 5, the City presented a temporary plan to put four 40-yard dumpsters at the Metrocenter Mall parking lot from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Thursdays and Fridays along with seven to nine 40-yard dumpsters at the mall from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturdays.

But those measures are not enough, the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality said in an April 7 letter to the mayor.

The temporary measures the City of Jackson put in place for garbage disposal are inadequate, Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality Chris Wells said in an April 7, 2023, letter. Photo courtesy Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality.

“Based on the limited number of drop-off locations and the distance of the drop-off locations from affected City residents, MDEQ considers the current Solid Waste Collection Action Plan inadequate for the collection and disposal of garbage from city residents,” MDEQ Executive Director Chris Wells wrote in the letter. “Furthermore, on Friday, April 7, 2023, MDEQ personnel conducted visual observations of neighborhoods within all seven wards of the City of Jackson.”

“These observations revealed that garbage and other solid waste has been dumped, stored, stockpiled, and otherwise placed curbside and in streets by residents of the City. These conditions are a result of the lack of adequate collection and disposal services being provided by the City.”

The department is threatening the City with daily fines of up to $25,000 each for three technical violations, including failure to provide for the collection and disposal of garbage within its jurisdiction, causing wastes to be placed in locations where they are likely to cause state water and air pollution and failure to abide by its plan for residential garbage collection through a third-party contractor.

“Therefore, MDEQ requests that the City take all reasonable and prudent actions to reestablish curbside solid waste collection as stipulated by the City’s Solid Waste Management Plan and provide for adequate garbage collection as required by State law,” MDEQ Executive Director Chris Wells wrote in the letter. “In the interim, MDEQ insists that the City immediately submit a revised ‘Solid Waste Collection Action Plan’ which proposes adequate, temporary solid waste collection services to City residents as required by Miss. Code Ann. § 17-17-5.”

“Such collection services could be located in each Ward or on a geographical basis that would provide waste collection receptacles within ‘a reasonable distance’ from every household in Jackson.”

The City of Jackson cannot follow the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality’s requirement for locating a collection service in each of the seven wards in the City because of limited resources and personnel, Mayor Chokwe A. Lumumba said on April 10, 2023. Photo courtesy City of Jackson

The City cannot meet any requirements to place collection services in the seven wards because of limited human resources, Lumumba said at a City Council meeting on Monday after he pulled the Richard’s Disposal contract.

“We haven’t put a garbage bin in every ward… because we don’t have the ability to tote it away. We don’t have the trucks, we don’t have the personnel in order to monitor that,” he said.

On the agenda for a special City Council meeting today at 1 p.m. is the mayor’s proposal by the mayor for the Council to approve another emergency one-year garbage disposal contract for Richard’s Disposal.

But also on the same agenda is a proposal from four city council members “urging the mayor to enter into a 90-day agreement with a suitable solid waste company registered with the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality service solid waste and sanitation in the state of Mississippi.” Jackson City Council President Ashby Foote (the Ward 1 councilman), Ward 3 Councilman Kenneth Stokes, Ward 5 Councilman Vernon Hartley and Ward 6 Councilman Aaron Banks put the language forth.

The same council members either voted to reject the six-year contract with Richard’s Disposal on April 1 or voted present. The Council is also suing the mayor before a special Hinds County Chancery Court and asking for permission to negotiate a garbage contract, Foote told the Mississippi Free Press on April 3.

‘We Got Rotten Food There’

A 30-year-old car painter, Mike McDonald, sees roads with trash as he drives around Jackson, he told the Mississippi Free Press on Monday as he was with a crew towing a vehicle on Raymond Road.

“I feel like they should do something about it. People shouldn’t have to worry about how their trash is not getting picked up, that doesn’t make sense. I mean, the City of Jackson needs to do better.”

Michael Wilks said trash has been piling up in front of his home since April 1, 2023, after trash pickup services ended in Jackson. Photo by Kayode Crown

Michael Wilks, 43, lives on that road and was part of the crew this reporter saw towing the car on Monday morning. He pointed at trash piled up in front of his house.

‘It’s been out there (for) about two weeks. We got rotten food there, it’s going to stink, maggots come, and you know, it’s just going to be stinking shit,” he said. “I’m thinking about just finding something to do with it. Maybe go—they said—take it to the metrocenter, and they got a dumpster up there. That’s what I’m planning to do.”

You can read more of our reporting on the Jackson garbage issue dating back to September 2021 here.

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