Web Dateline: CHARLESTON, W.Va. --CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- More than 60 businesses have signed a letter supporting the passage and enforcement of legislation that would aim to better protect West Virginia's waterways in the wake of the January chemical spill that shut down businesses and left 300,000 people without potable water for more than a week.
"I believe big businesses' right to do business should not detrimentally affect small businesses' right to do business," said Jennifer Pettigrew Burns, one campaign organizer and owner of Ms. Groovy's Catering on the city's West Side.
Businesses have a responsibility to act in the best interests of the public, something that didn't happen when Freedom Industries -- the company storing Crude MCHM -- allowed the coal-processing chemical to leak into the Elk River last month, Burns said.
"Freedom Industries, for whatever reason, did not maintain their facility in a way that prevented their tanks from leaking," Burns said. "That's just the right thing to do as a business, is to maintain your facility, especially when you're holding toxic chemicals that could get in our waterway."
The letter outlines a number of concerns business owners have, such as "danger activities" upstream from drinking water sources; lack of confidence in planning and prevention procedures; loopholes in state law regarding aboveground storage tank inspections.
Those signing the letter are asking Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin and state lawmakers to "correct ... regulatory shortfall to instill confidence in the tourists, businesses and talent that we want to come into the state."
Burns is subject to quarterly inspections by the Health Department, which ensure the safety of her patrons, she said.
"Regardless of whether Freedom Industries was being inspected consistently by whatever agency that was supposed to inspect them, the right thing to do was maintain their equipment and ensure that the health and safety of the community you're in is at the top of your priority list," Burns said.
Burns said she believes government bears that same responsibility, and hopes that by delivering the letter to Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin and lawmakers, they understand "there's a lot of businesses like myself that look to government to protect the best interest of its citizens."
Partnering with Burns in collecting signatures is Nancy Ward, who owns Cornucopia on Bridge Road in Charleston. While Ward didn't say specifically how much business declined following the chemical spill, she said the shop hasn't seen a drop off to such a degree in its 27 years.
Ward said customers expressed they or those they know are seriously considering moving away from the affected area, if not leaving the state. Those people are ones who own businesses and have made investments in the community. Ward said she's not sure Tomblin and legislators are aware of that.