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Long-awaited PSC water crisis hearing begins

By KEN WARD JR.

Charleston Gazette-Mail

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The long-awaited and much-delayed state Public Service Commission investigation into the January 2014 water crisis in the Kanawha Valley is set to kick into high gear this morning, with testimony beginning at the PSC headquarters in Charleston.

Commissioners launched the general investigation in the wake of repeated complaints by West Virginia American customers about the company’s response to the Jan. 9, 2014, chemical spill at Freedom Industries.
(AP photo)

First on the stand this morning is scheduled to be Jeff McIntyre, the president of West Virginia American Water Company, according to the latest witness list field with the PSC.

 McIntyre will face cross-examination by lawyers for the PSC’s staff, the agency’s Consumer Advocate Division, the local group Advocates for a Safe Water System, and a collection of area businesses that intervened in the commission case.
Commissioners launched the general investigation in the wake of repeated complaints by West Virginia American customers about the company’s response to the Jan. 9, 2014, chemical spill at Freedom Industries, which contaminated the company’s regional drinking water intake, located just 1.5 miles downstream on the Elk River.

Critics have complained that West Virginia American didn’t adequately prepare for the spill by finding out more about what toxic chemicals Freedom stored at its facility, not having more advanced monitoring systems, and not keeping sufficient backup water supplies on hand or having an alternate intake. They also question why the water company didn’t simply turn off its intake pumps until the worst of Freedom’s MCHM spill flowed beyond the Kanawha Valley intake.

The PSC probe has been repeatedly stalled, partly by arguments in which West Virginia American has tried to narrow the scope of the investigation and keep some records out of the public record, by turnover in the commission itself, and by the recusal of commission Chairman Mike Albert, who was a longtime water company attorney before being appointed to the PSC. With Albert not taking part, the case is being heard by Commissioners Brooks McCabe and Kara Williams.

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