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Survey indicates water crisis impact not so bad

A column by Phil Kabler of The Charleston Gazette 

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Having reviewed the details of the Repass and Partners consumer survey regarding the impact of the Jan. 9 water contamination event on leisure travel to West Virginia, all I can say is, thank goodness for Chris Christie and Bridge-gate.

In the immediate aftermath of the chemical leak that affected the water supply in Charleston and a nine-county region, the national media was obsessed with the investigation of the politically motivated closure of the George Washington Bridge between New York City and Fort Lee, N.J., and any evidence of knowledge or involvement in said closure by the New Jersey governor.

The chemical incident got some national coverage, most of it over the first weekend, but interest waned, probably because (a) it happened in West Virginia, and (b) there were no fatalities.

Perhaps as a result, the survey of 1,468 adults, ages 25 to 64, in 11 state tourism markets — Charleston; the rest of West Virginia; Charlotte, N.C.; Cincinnati; Cleveland; Greensboro, N.C.; Lexington, Ky.; Pittsburgh; Roanoke, Va.; and Washington, D.C. — found that outside of West Virginia, the chemical leak didn’t register much of an impression on the public.

Asked if they recalled reading, hearing, or seeing anything about West Virginia in the news in the past couple of months (the survey was conducted in March), overall, 51 percent of those surveyed said they recalled nothing about the state in the news.

Fewer than one in three (31 percent) mentioned the chemical leak, while 3 percent cited other negative news items, and 17 percent recalled positive news about West Virginia.

In markets outside of West Virginia, awareness of the chemical incident ranged from highs of 40 percent in Lexington and 37 percent in Roanoke — which makes sense, since those are the two closest markets to the affected region — to lows of 24 percent in Pittsburgh, 21 percent in Cincinnati, and 19 percent in Charlotte.

The survey, not unexpectedly, found awareness of the chemical leak was higher among college graduates and among those who described themselves as environmentally active.

It also found that the chemical incident did not change impressions of West Virginia, compared to past surveys…


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