WVAW president: ‘The repairs just didn’t take’

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The president of West Virginia American Water Company is on the defensive.

Despite public criticisms from several Kanawha County elected officials, Jeff McIntyre said the company took the appropriate steps to restore water service in parts of Kanawha County and Putnam County following repeat problems during the past week and, on a separate matter, is requesting a justified 28 percent rate increase.

“Their statements are wrong and I don’t think getting into a back-and-forth is helpful to the community that has been out of water,” McIntyre said when asked for a response on Wednesday’s MetroNews “Talkline.”

“Trying to understand rates without reading our rate case submission is very difficult, is a very complex process, but there’s been a lot of comments made that I’ll leave unresponded.”

By Wednesday morning, full water service had largely been restored to WVAW’s service area located west of Charleston.

The problems started last Tuesday, June 23, when, for some still unknown reason, a chunk blew out of the side of a 36-inch concrete main water transmission line. “The pipe’s in really good shape,” McIntyre noted. “So we don’t know why it failed, particularly at that spot.”

A repair was made, according to McIntyre, but that repair failed later in the week at one of the joints when, under an estimated 120,000 pounds of pressure, a valve shifted about an inch causing a water leak.

Earlier this week, that second repair failed during settling causing another leak because there was not adequate support under the 5,000 pound valve, the company said.

“We did industry standard effective repairs, the repairs just didn’t take,” McIntyre said. “That pipe is well within its useful life….The concrete is in good shape. The steel liner is in great shape. We don’t know why that one piece failed.”

Though WVAW attempted to divert water from other areas to lessen the impact, as many as 25,000 homes and businesses had no water or low water pressure for a day or more last week. Public water distribution sites were set up throughout the affected region.

On Tuesday, Kanawha County Commission President Kent Carper, Kanawha County Commissioner Dave Hardy, Charleston Mayor Danny Jones, Dunbar Mayor Terry Greenlee and others had harsh words for WVAW during a press conference.

“I thought somebody ought to stand up here and say something about it,” said Jones of the problems that were outside of Charleston city limits. “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.”

A 28 percent rate increase request for customers of WVAW is pending with the state Public Service Commission.

“They call that a reasonable rate of return? They’re entitled to a reasonable rate of return?” asked Carper. “I think people are entitled to a glass of water. I think people are entitled to fire protection.”

Now is an “emotionally charged” period for affected customers, according to McIntyre, and because of that he argued it’s not the time to discuss utility rates.

“I feel for our customers. No, we don’t want to have customers out of service, but these things happen,” McIntyre said.

Since 2012, McIntyre said $105 million has been spent on WVAW system improvements and another $98 million will be spent before February 2017. “Our rate case is based on those numbers. We spend the money and then have to ask the (state Public Service) Commission for a recovery in rates,” he said.

McIntyre said discussions of infrastructure reliability are not possible without “the recognition of rate impact.” He continued, “You cannot spend enough money to ever say that you’ll have no service disruptions — it just doesn’t happen.”