Government Shutdown, Frozen Funds: A CoBank Remedy Keeps a Mississippi Sewer Project On Track

July 2019 -

In 2017, the City of Durant, Mississippi (pop. 2,700) learned they would receive $6 million in loans and grant funds to overhaul their 50-year-old water and wastewater system from the USDA Rural Development Department. Just weeks after construction began, an impasse in Congress set off a record 35-day government shutdown. Durant Mayor Henry Robinson, Jr. tells what happened next.

How did the government shutdown affect your sewer rehab project?

Even though we had interim financing with CoBank while USDA completed its loan process, we couldn’t draw from those CoBank funds once the government shut down. That’s because USDA Rural Development must approve all draws. But from Dec. 22 to Jan. 25, its phones and website were shut down. Neither the City of Durant nor CoBank could reach USDA. By January, we owed our project contractors more than $400,000. They were not happy, and we were in trouble.

Did you have to stop construction?

Fortunately, no. Our project engineer, Jess Wiygul of Cook-Coggin Engineers, reached out to CoBank for help. CoBank’s water team of Hunter Hook and Michael Griffiths went to the bank’s loan committee and asked for emergency financing for us. They got the approval and we got the funds.

What’s the status of the sewer rehab now?

We are about 30 percent complete. We expect to be finished by October 2019. Replacing six miles of old and collapsing sewer lines will alleviate our maintenance issues and customer complaints.

What else is the USDA loan-grant package being used for?

We began installing 1,039 new radio-read meters in early April 2019. Our existing meters were outmoded, and as often happens with old equipment, they would often fail or misread water usage. By replacing them with the new meters, we’ll have more accurate readings and be able to account for every drop of water. We can be sure we’re not overcharging customers and they won’t be getting water they’re not paying for. Meter reading will be much easier. We expect a boost in revenues for our city.

How is it that, as mayor, you’re so deeply involved in Durant’s water and wastewater activities?

I’m responsible for all the city’s day-to-day activities, including water, electricity, garbage pick-up and street maintenance. I also work on ways to boost economic development for Durant.

What’s next for the City of Durant?

Once we complete the sewer renovation and radio-read meter installation, we will seek financing to upgrade our water treatment plant, bring one of our wells back online, and improve our electricity infrastructure. We will definitely be calling CoBank again. We have a very good relationship with them. We had worked with the bank before on equipment leasing for some of our city trucks and lawn mowers. CoBank has always been there for us. They’re there when other banks are not. CoBank goes the extra mile and works expeditiously. We really appreciate them.

City of Durant

Durant, Mississippi

Mayor and City Services Manager 
Henry Robinson, Jr.

Number of Water Connections 

Total Miles of Sewer Pipeline;

Number of Employees