Delegate, mayor at odds over moratorium
State Delegate Daryl Cowles and Mayor Susan Webster don't see eye to eye over the Town of Bath's moratorium on new water taps. The moratorium was approved by the West Virginia Public Service Commission in September 2005, retroactive to March 2005.
In a January 4 letter to Mayor Webster and the Bath Town Council, Cowles argued that town officials were exceeding their authority by maintaining the moratorium.
Cowles pointed out that the State Public Service Commission order stated that when the water project is substantially complete, the Berkeley Springs Water Department should request reopening of the matter.
Cowles said that since the completion of the water line replacement project in August 2007, the town has not asked the Public Service Commission (PSC) to reopen the case.
Cowles said the moratorium can only be legally extended by the state oversight agency.
In his letter to town officials, Cowles wrote: Therefore, I again request
the Town of Bath immediately file to reopen the case, work to improve our infrastructure, work to ease the current financial hardships on our area citizens, and promote needed economical development.
He wrote that if only 25% of the town's waiting list of 402 new water tap requests were completed, it would create a $20 million economic development injection to our local economy (100 new houses x $200,000 median value = $20 million). This total represents jobs and income for plumbers, excavators, carpenters, salesmen, realtors, secretaries, law clerks, service workers, laborers, and on and on.
But Mayor Webster said that even though the water line replacement project was completed in August 2007, the PSC will not make a decision without data.
Since the project was completed in the middle of a billing cycle, the town had to wait for a complete billing cycle on December 31 in order to gather meaningful statistics, she said.
Town officials consulted with
Geert Bakker of the Water & Waste-
water Division in November after
a study of the Water Works by the
I asked Daryl to, please, work with us rather than chastise us, as we are the group of people who have brought, expanded and maintained public water to Morgan County, Webster wrote in an email to the Morgan Messenger.
I told him the tone of his letter was unfortunate and not well thought out. We are his constituents who have worked for many years on water projects and have no reason to hold back unreasonably. We would sign up everyone if we could, Webster wrote.
We need to install more new pipes, build a larger plant and add another storage tank, Webster said.
The town council is preparing a letter with data from this billing cycle to the PSC to reopen the case and plan to send it by Monday, January 21. The Morgan County Health Department and Thrasher Engineering are also sending letters with their recommendations.
Water problems continue
Chief Water Operator Terry Largent recently reported to Bath Town Council that 56% of the water pumped by the Water Works this fall was lost to leaks. The leaks are said to be occurring outside of the area covered by the water line replacement project.
Largent said the cause is the increased water pressure in the system due to
the recent project shoring up lines in town.
Currently, the water department is pumping treated water into the system 24 hours a day, or at 100% of capacity.
But in his letter, Cowles said the pumps have variable speed motors and those figures may not be accurate.
Largent told council that a new project was needed to replace 22,000 linear feet of water line, mostly outside of town.
Webster asked Thrasher Engineering to provide an estimate of the cost of the project. The water line replacement project completed in town last year cost nearly $2.5 million.
Councilman David Crosby is drafting a new water rate ordinance that sets a flat rate of $9 per each 1,000 gallons consumed beyond the 6,000 gallon minimum. The ordinance also includes a $2,000 fee for each new tap plus the actual cost of installation.
Crosby said the rate increases are needed to generate new revenue so the town can show they are able to service debt on new loans needed to expand the water plant and replace faulty water lines.
Cowles said that if the rate increase goes into effect, the largest industrial user of town water (U.S. Silica) may find an alternate source. That would free up between 600,000 to 700,000 gallons a quarter that would be available for new water taps.
U.S. Silica is not the only large user of water on the system. Among the other major water customers are: War Memorial Hospital, Widmyer Elementary School, Warm Springs Middle School, Berkeley Springs High School, The Country Inn and the county's Community Services Center. They would all be affected by the new rates, as well.