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City to consider water testing proposal

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Charleston Mayor Danny Jones will consider a proposal to test the city's water following the Jan. 9 chemical leak that contaminated drinking water for 300,000 state residents, he told finance committee members and attending City Council members Tuesday.

The city should receive a proposal today from an Ohio company outlining how many places should be tested, how it should be implemented and what the water should be tested for, Jones said. No plan has been put in place, but Jones said he wants to test the water in hotels, the Charleston Town Centre and homes in each of the city's 21 wards.

It's not yet known how much the testing would cost the city, Jones said.

"This is not going to be cheap, but I don't know how we can avoid doing this," Jones told council members.

The mayor, who has repeatedly expressed concern for Charleston's image because of the leak, said the city's "brand has been damaged."

Jones said he personally believes the water is safe to use, but recognized not everyone feels that way.

Following Tuesday night's council meeting, Jones said the testing serves a dual purpose: to let those interested in visiting Charleston know what the water's status is and to quell the public's anxiety about its water quality.

"It's not just about Charleston's brand, but that message went out there just to try to tell these hotel operators I'm thinking about them, because they've really been hit hard by this," Jones said. "It's for the public health of this community."

While federal and state officials, along with West Virginia American Water, have said water in the nine-county affected area is usable for more than flushing toilets and fighting fires, many residents aren't convince it's safe for use or consumption.

Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin announced earlier this month the state would come up with a plan for testing the region's home plumbing systems for levels of Crude MCHM -- the chemical that leaked into the Elk River in January.

Jones -- a state legislator in the late 1980s -- was critical of state lawmakers' and regulatory agencies' work regarding the environment and public health and safety.

"We thought about environmental issues," Jones said of his time in the Statehouse. "I'm not sure who's doing that up there now. Somebody should have been looking out for us and looking out for those nine counties."

City Council members also heard from Sharie Dale, chairwoman of the Girls On The Run advisory board. Girls On The Run is a nonprofit that promotes getting elementary school-aged girls to exercise and engage in a healthy lifestyle.

In its second year, the group -- which organizes 5K runs with program participants and the community -- has been met with challenges regarding new city policy that would charge organizations $500 to set up races in Charleston. Dale said the charge is unaffordable for small groups.

"Most 5Ks are small and benefit local charities and children and supported completely by volunteers," Dale said.

City Councilman Adam Knauff said he invited Girls On The Run to the meeting and shared Dale's concern about the policy.

"Right now they're hearing $500 or nothing," Knauff said during the meeting. "Until we get a policy established, can we not work with these groups . . . with the fee and location and things like that?"

City Manager David Molgaard said the policy hasn't been implemented yet, but the cost to the city to close streets and provide law enforcement for races "is a problem."

"In trying to resolve and to balance our budget, we're looking at areas that continue to impact," Molgaard told council members. "These races are a growing phenomenon."

Molgaard said his office has come up with two standard race routes -- one on the East End and one in Kanawha City -- that would be options for organizations looking to keep their costs low. If a group wants to close down Kanawha Boulevard or several streets throughout the city for a race, Molgaard said, the city "is going try to recoup our costs to do that."

The city is building into its budget -- available at the next council meeting -- a proposed fund that would provide assistance to groups in need that want to organize races, Molgaard said. The Parks and Recreation Committee would distribute that money -- about $20,000.

In other news, the council:

• Heard from Charleston Convention and Visitors Bureau President Alisa Bailey regarding the upcoming Travel South Showcase. Next week, Charleston will play host to about 550 tourism industry professionals, who are learning about various destinations throughout the Southern part of the country.

• Reappointed Lew Tyree to the Charleston Urban Renewal Authority. Tyree's new term would expire March 3, 2019.

• Approved an application to the Victims of Crime Act grant program for $31,000. Those potential funds would contribute to the salary of the Charleston Police Department's victim services coordinator, Kim Engle. The city is required to provide a 25 percent match of those funds.

• Authorized an application for a Justice Assistance Grant of $87,000 that would fund a Prevention Resource Officer assigned to Stonewall Jackson Middle School, Capital High School and George Washington High School. The city would also be required to match 25 percent of those funds, should they be awarded.

• Approved an application for a Justice Assistance Grant of $280,000 that would provide funds for MDENT -- the Metropolitan Drug Enforcement Network Team. The city would be responsible for a 25 percent match for supplemental salary and benefits costs for each participating agency.

• Authorized the city to administer $130,000 from the Transportation Alternatives Grant program to Piedmont Elementary School for improving sidewalks, crosswalks and removing obstructive plants on Lee Street. A portion of the funds also would provide education and outreach regarding walking and biking to school.

Reach Rachel Molenda at rachel.molenda@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5102


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