CHARLESTON, W.Va. — In the wake of three water outages in Dunbar in less than a week, Kanawha County leaders held a news conference at City Hall Tuesday that harshly criticized West Virginia American Water Company.
Charleston Mayor Danny Jones, Dunbar Mayor Terry Greenlee and county commissioners Kent Carper and Dave Hardy were on hand to speak out against the outages, and to say that a recent 28 percent rate hike requested by WVWAC is unfair. The Kanawha County Commission previously said last week that they would fight the rate hike before the Public Service Commission in the fall.
“They call that a reasonable rate of return? They’re entitled to a reasonable rate of return?,” asked Carper, the county commission president. “I think people are entitled to a glass of water. I think people are entitled to fire protection.”
WVAWC Spokesperson Laura Jordan defended the rate hike request, saying that the request before the PSC right now is for work that was already done.
“The way that rates are set in West Virginia are such that companies have to make investments in the system first, and then ask to recover those costs from their customers later,” she defended.
Charleston Mayor Danny Jones spoke on behalf of the western part of Kanawha County who lost water, even though Charleston was not affected this time.
“I thought somebody ought to stand up here and say something about it,” Jones said. “Because if we don’t; if we don’t stand up together, if we don’t stand as one on this, they’ll just continue to run over us. And that’s exactly what’s happened. I can’t believe what happened down there in Dunbar.”
Over the last week, the same 36-inch main line broke three times. Last week, over 25,000 customers mostly in Putnam and Kanawha counties west of Dunbar lost water or experienced low pressure. When the main broke again this week, more than 3,000 customers were affected.
Jordan said she knew about the press conference, but commenting on what was said wasn’t her concern today.
“I’ve heard secondhand of a few of the comments that were made, but it’s very easy to have a knee-jerk reaction to inflammatory comments that were made,” Jordan said. “At this point in time our company’s priority today was getting our customers back in water. We’re not going to make any immediate response.”
Carper was confident in winning fight before the PSC, saying that WVAWC’s system “leaks like a sieve on the best of days.”
“I think we’re capable, even though I know they’ve got warehouses full of lawyers,” Carper said. “I think we’re capable of explaining how unfair this is. You shouldn’t charge a household a higher rate than a company.”
If the company’s rate hike were to be approved, the average customer would pay about $12 more a month for water.
As of Tuesday afternoon, the main break was fixed for a third time. Many customers had their water back, but in higher elevations restored pressure could take longer.
“The only impediment we have to getting our water and a steady flow of it, and having it clean, is West Virginia American water Company,” declared Jones.