Lawyer: Mississippi capital’s water issues to be best handled by court system

(UC) — A New York City-based attorney who has filed federal lawsuits against Jackson, Mississippi, since October 2021 thinks the court system is best suited to handle the decades of neglect that led to the current infrastructure crisis.

Corey Stern, a partner at Levy Konigsberg LLP, continues to represent more than 2,500 children impacted by lead poisoning from the Flint, Michigan, Water Crisis. The law firm’s website describes him as “an advocate for the environment and children’s’ rights.”

Stern filed a lawsuit again Jackson, Mississippi, on behalf of about 1,800 children in October 2021, saying city leaders found out lead levels were going up in the well water in 2014 and didn’t make sure it was safe when switching to a new water source, WJTV reported. Stern told the news station that the crisis is tied to income levels.

“It happens to the people who are the most susceptible to harm because they cannot afford governmentally to do all the things that are required of them … All the cases are very similar. They’re all streamline. We have a judge who has kind of taken this thing by the horns and he wants this done quickly. I’d be shocked if this could be done in less than three years, I’d also be shocked if it takes seven like Flint,” Stern said, according to the article.

Stern told Bloomberg Law that the suits he’s filed — three over the past year — should help resolve the crisis because the nature of litigation can have an effect on the way things are done. The three suits regarding the lead pipes and failure to comply with the Environmental Protection Agency’s Lead and Copper Rule were consolidated into one, called J.W. v. Jackson.

“That litigation isn’t directly related to the most immediate crisis in Jackson—the city has been under boil-water orders since July and lost water pressure following a flood in August,” Bloomberg Law reported. “But the lawsuit could help to fix the underlying problems that led to both crises because all levels of government are now on ‘high alert’ with the public spotlight shining on the city’s long-term problems, he said.”

The large number of people suing a government brings serious attention to the issue, Stern said.

But some lawyers disagree, Bloomberg Law reported, saying the current infrastructure crisis and others like it are best resolved through political and administrative action. The Biden administration’s Justice 40 initiative is directing infrastructure funding to underserved or rural communities, and Mississippi is eligible to receive $19.3 million in Drinking Water State Revolving Fund money this year from the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, plus another $38 million to address contaminants and lead service lines, according to the EPA.

The EPA Office of Inspector General is investigating the EPA’s response to the Jackson water crisis and how it has overseen the city’s water system, as well as how the agency administered the Clean Water and Drinking Water state revolving funds, Bloomberg Law reported.

EPA Administrator Michael Regan has also visited the city to discuss plans for stabilizing the city’s water system, long term and short term, the article states.

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