By C.V. Moore
A public service district in northern Fayette County says it is being “held hostage” by West Virginia American Water and can’t make any more progress toward providing its residents with water until a dispute with the company is resolved.
Several rural areas near Saturday and Sunday roads in New Haven District lack access to public water and want to apply for public funds to build water line extensions to their homes.
But the New Haven Public Service District (NHPSD) says it lacks the operation and maintenance support for new projects that were promised from West Virginia American Water when it entered into a public-private partnership with the company.
No agency will provide funding for an extension project without an operation and maintenance partner, says Kenny Hayes of the NHPSD.
“They’ve put us in a position of having nowhere to go,” said Hayes.
Beverly Walkup, who lives in Ramsey, told the Fayette County Commission on Friday the well water in her area tests high for manganese and is unsafe to drink.
“I’m asking you not to forget us in our plight and know that we do need water in northern Fayette County,” she told commissioners.
She and several others from New Haven came to Friday’s public hearing for a Small Cities Block Grant application by the Armstrong Creek PSD, which has troubles of its own.
The Armstrong PSD is asking for $1.5 million from the grant program to replace an aged water tank and degraded lines that currently lose half the water that flows through them on a daily basis.
Walkup said she would not speak against their application, “because everybody deserves clean, fresh water. But we are in dire straits and we’d like you to look for other funding in this area and push West Virginia American Water to get them to open up and give people the water they need,” she said.
Eleven of West Virginia American Water’s “public partners” filed a suit against the company before the West Virginia Public Service Commission (WVPSC) last year, claiming the company had backed out of its end of the partnerships by stating it would not be providing any more financial support for new projects.
Many of the PSDs have stripped their staff to bare bones with the assumption that operation and maintenance would be taken care of by the company.
W.D. Smith of the Region 4 Planning and Development Council says New Haven’s situation is replicated at each of the public partners and that there’s a lot of pressure being put on the PSC to get the situation resolved.
“Until it is resolved, extensions are going to be few and far between. It’s going to be hard and maybe impossible until the PSC orders them to continue the relationship or they cave in,” he said.
Walkup plans to ramp up a letter-writing campaign to the PSC.
The county commission approved Armstrong Creek PSD’s application.
The Powellton tank serves approximately 300 households and was condemned in a 2008 report by the health department, which also highlighted a number of other violations. Judson Wallace of the Armstrong Creek PSD says subsequent upgrades have cleared up all the problems but the tank.
The PSD expects to borrow the remainder of the $2.2 million total project cost, though no funds have yet been secured.
Fayette County Commission President Matthew Wender said Small Cities Block Grant funding has dwindled in recent years. In the past, the commission expected to receive a grant roughly every other funding cycle.
“Those days are behind us unless domestic funding gets better attention from the government,” said Smith.
The result of the recent special school levy was certified by the commission on Friday, with a special thanks expressed to the staff of the Fayette County Clerk's office, which coordinates elections.
Fayette County Clerk Kelvin Holiday reported an 11 percent turnout rate for the election. The grand total of votes for all precincts include 2,083 votes (71 percent) for and 849 votes (29 percent) against.
County 911 Director David Neal gave the commission an update on a communications tower being built for the county’s new 911 center. It is behind schedule and the county is scrambling to get it finished.
Neal also followed up on a November discussion with the county’s towing service operators, who say the rotation method used by emergency dispatchers is unfair.
The county has a wrecker rotation policy in place, but the towing companies say it’s not followed by municipalities. Neal is charged with enlisting the support of emergency responders in towns and plans to send letters to them.
Commissioner Denise Scalph requested a follow-up meeting with the wrecker companies to check on progress.
Ann Skaggs of the Fayette Historical Society thanked the commission for its support of the group’s upgrades to Contentment, the Col. George Imboden House in Ansted. She also expressed hope for future support of the day to day expenses of the building, used as a museum and the society’s headquarters.
Fayette County extension agents provided the commission with updates on their current work.
Brian Sparks, Agriculture and Natural Resources Extension Agent for Fayette and Nicholas counties, spoke about the Fayette County Farmland Protection Board, a new beekeeper’s group, the Fayette County Farmer’s Market, and educational programs.
Andrea Bowman, the 4H Youth Development Extension Agent, discussed 4H programs, a cyber bullying awareness program, a financial simulation program called the Reality Store, and the Energy Express summer enrichment program.
The New River Master Gardeners presented the commission with plans for three native plant gardens at the Fayette County Park, constructed with the help of volunteer Boy Scouts who will perform a day of service during the 2013 National Scout Jamboree.
The project includes a woodland garden, meadow garden, and rain garden. The latter is the largest at 5,200 square feet, with plants estimated to cost $3,903.
“Our goal is not just a beautification project ... but we also want to provide some areas for education of the hundreds of kids who go through the park in the summer,” said Marion Tanner.
The Fayetteville Convention and Visitor’s Bureau received permission to lead a service project with the Boy Scouts of America at the county’s historic jail during the Jamboree, with the condition that an insurance certification and current lease be provided.
The Scouts will repaint the interior of the building, with the exception of any historic graffiti on the walls.