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Water safe, but choice to drink personal, SC engineer says

By Marta Ree Tankersley

SOUTH CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- South Charleston City Engineer and Sanitation Board Manager Steve DeBarr told City Council members Thursday night that he had discussed the question of water safety with several agencies and believed it to be safe for consumption.

"Having said that, at my house, we are going to drink bottled water for a while," DeBarr said. "Not that I don't believe them, but we are going to make a personal choice to drink bottled water."

It is normal to see sediment from hot water tanks and water lines after completing the flushing process, he said.

"Smell is not an indicator of the amount of chemical present in the water," DeBarr said. "It's not proportional. It depends on your sensitivity, and, with time, the smell will go away. The smell is not going to hurt you."

The South Charleston Community Center, which acted as the distribution staging area for bottled water during the first day of the water ban, had been shut down but has since reopened.

"The pool and Jacuzzi have been drained and refilled," said Arnett Hostonm, the center's director. "We are getting the chemicals adjusted and heating it up. It should reopen on Saturday or Sunday."

While West Virginia American Water has agreed to issue each customer affected by the water ban a 1,000-gallon credit on their bills next month, Mayor Frank Mullens said that the city's sanitary board has never been out of commission and has continued to "treat everything that has gone through it."

"State law doesn't give us a choice to give credits," Mullens said. "If the Public Service Commission gives us the option, we may be able to."

According to DeBarr, the PSC is meeting this week to discuss the situation.

"It would be good if they would take the lead and tell us what to do," DeBarr said. "It should be a uniform decision in all municipalities."

Mullens extended appreciation to the many city employees, businesses and volunteers who helped with clean water distribution during the crisis.

"There are lots of people to thank for this community effort, from filling up water buffalos [tanks] at St. Albans, to the Red Cross, who brought in food and drinks, to volunteers who got out of their cars and helped," Mullens said.

"You are judged not by what's planned, but by what is unplanned. This chemical leak into our water supply gave us an opportunity to pull together and help the community."

In regular business, Mullens reported that he and City Treasurer Hannah Pettitt met with representatives of the U.S. Postal Service, U.S. Sen. Jay Rockefeller's office and the city of Charleston regarding the address and taxation issue first reported in October when some South Charleston businesses incorrectly applied the city of Charleston's 0.5 percent sales tax to purchases.

In order to resolve the issue, the post office asked the city to prepare a list of "every house and building in South Charleston" for submission to the post office. The post office will then send a survey form to each individual to verify the city in which they reside and/or operate their businesses, Mullens said.

Residents and business owners must return the survey for this make a difference, according to Pettitt.

"The surveys will be used by the post office to make corrections in their system," Mullens said.

The mayor warned, however, that many companies are contracted to provide addresses to agencies and organizations so it will take time to see the situation completely corrected.

"The addresses being wrong is the common denominator in the taxation and identity issue," he said. "Get that fixed and other issues will fall into place. We'll keep fighting the fight."

Mullens also recommended the city endorse Service Line Warranties of America, of San Diego, to provide insurance against water and sewer line disruption to residents.

"It's like insurance for water and sanitary lines for homeowners," Mullens said. "You pay a monthly premium of $7.75 for sewer line and $5.75 for water line protection. If there is a break between the meter and the house, the company hires a local contractor to repair it at no cost.

"The West Virginia Municipal League recommended this highly," he said. "I think it's a good program for our citizens."


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