"We can't expect to attract and keep citizens and businesses if we can't do the most basic things like provide them with clean water."
The state's reputation is on the line, too. A friend told Ward when the NPR game show "Wait, Wait ... Don't Tell Me" asked a contestant where the site of the chemical spill was, the answer wasn't Charleston.
"It was West Virginia," Ward said. "People's perception around the world and around the nation isn't that it's Charleston. It's West Virginia."
Jeanne Mozier, vice president of Travel Berkeley Springs, signed the letter for that reason. Travel Berkeley Springs -- the town's convention and visitors bureau -- received calls daily following the spill from potential visitors. While those inquiries have somewhat tapered off, Mozier said she worries about the outside associations of the state and its water quality. The town, known for its warm mineral springs, is about a four-hour drive from Charleston and sits nowhere near the Elk River.
"This is primarily people who don't quite grasp the scale of West Virginia," Mozier said. "They don't understand how far away it is, that it isn't a threat to our water at all. So that's been sort of an ongoing challenge."
When Ward spoke at a hearing hosted by the House of Delegates last week regarding a chemical storage tank bill, she wondered why "a few, select businesses should have such an effect on the rest of us."
"I don't want to make industry feel like they can't partner in this," Ward said. "There are responsible businesses out there. I want to make sure those who are not responsible are regulated under new laws or that we enforce laws that already exist."
People have "been asleep," when it comes to water issues, Ward said.
"We've ignored this," Ward said. "It's been easy to look the other way because something horrible hasn't happened. I think this is a wake up call.
"Businesses are demanding they make a real change. We don't want a narrowly focused bill that doesn't address all contamination."
Burns and Ward are collecting signatures until Feb. 15. They are planning to deliver the letter to Tomblin and legislators Feb. 19. The letter can be accessed online at bit.do/readletter. For more information, email wvc...@gmail.com.
Reach Rachel Molenda at rachel.mole...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5102.