CROSS LANES, W.Va. — It was clear how residents in Cross Lanes feel about West Virginia American Water Company (WVAWC) potentially purchasing the sewer system from the Union Public Service District.

At one point, residents in attendance for a public meeting Tuesday evening we’re all asked who was in favor of the water company purchasing the Union PSD and who was opposed. 99% of people raised their hands when asked if they were against it.

The proposal from the water company is to purchase the sewer system from the PSD for $24 million. Brooks Crislip, the director of Business Development for West Virginia American Water, said the company would then make investments totaling around $15 million over the first five years of controlling the system. Crislip also said an estimated $360,000 would be created in additional tax revenue for Kanawha County.

A possible close date is December 2024. It appears that a rate increase would be at just over 77% over 3 years until December 2027. The current monthly rate for the average customer’s bill is $39.91.

One resident said that number is too great to ignore.

“77% in three years is significant, I don’t care who you are.”

The Union Public Service District, a non-profit organization, employs at least 11 people, which WVAWC, a for-profit company, says they would retain if they end up taking over the wastewater system.

Crislip said the PSD is “in pretty good shape.” Right now, the water company only serves around 1,500 wastewater customers.

There are a total of 5,190 residential customers with the PSD in Cross Lanes, according to Marissa Wagner, who is an officer manager with the PSD. She spoke on behalf of PSD board members, agreeing that the PSD is in decent shape and has overcome some recent financial situations with bonds.

The PSD wanted a public meeting to display the facts of the proposal and get input from the public.

“We want what is best for the community and for the district,” said Wagner.

Cross Lanes resident Mike Stephens said he has never had any issues with the Union PSD in the close to 30 years that he’s lived there. After attending the most recent PSD board meeting with representatives from WVAWC there too, he asked them if the PSD was a failing one to which they both told him “no.”

He said he would rather WVAWC not take over the PSD.

“Even if they need to have their rates raise, I would rather see Union PSD keep control of it because they are a community-based, Kanawha County entity,” said Stephens.

Whether or not the purchase goes through is ultimately up to the PSD board. Their decision would then go to the state Public Service Commission for their approval, to which they could add a rate increase of their own on top of a rate hike proposed by the water company.

“The only way that it could be technically blocked is if the PSC agrees not to proceed,” said Wyatt Hanna, Kanawha County attorney.

Board members of the Union PSD are appointed by the Kanawha County Commission. Lance Wheeler, Commission President, who was at the public meeting, also took questions from the public.

“It’s their decision at the end of the day,” Wheeler said about the PSD board.

“The commission is focused on finding a way to get this (PSD) where it needs to be five, ten, fifteen years from now,” he added.

Wheeler also said rumors swirling around that the Kanawha County Commission was going to dissolve the Union PSD board were not true.

Tracy White, President of the Kanawha County Board of Education and longtime Cross Lanes resident, said the community needs to stand behind the PSC board, no matter their decision.

“I need this community to understand that whatever this board decides, we have to stand behind them,” said White.

Glasgow mayor Donald Fannin said the water company helped his town in 2020 when they purchased the town’s water system.

“Every promise that they’ve made to me, they’ve fulfilled,” he said. “They came in, bought everything out, fixed everything and I couldn’t be happier.”

Over 700 people signed a petition in the Union PSD office going against the water company making this purchase.