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PSC order may finally bring water to northern Putnam residents

By By Ryan Quinn
Staff writer

The state Public Service Commission’s order Monday that West Virginia American Water continue public water projects may benefit rural northern Putnam County residents.

The Putnam County Commission is considering lowering the Small Cities Block Grant amount it is requesting this year to extend water lines to about 50 households in the Manila Ridge area, which borders Mason County. This would be the fourth consecutive year the county has requested the grant for the project. Commission President Steve Andes said the county has asked for about $1.5 million each year and has not received funding.

In 2012, West Virginia American decided not to contribute $200,000 for the project. Water company officials slashed funding for public-private water partnerships all over the state in 2011, not long after the PSC turned town $10 million of a requested $15 million rate increase.

The Putnam County Building Commission joined other entities from other counties in filing a complaint with the PSC.

But now that the PSC has ordered the water company to continue helping such projects, the county might need less money to complete the project.

“A few weeks ago, the Putnam County Commission informed us that they were considering the Manila Ridge project in a different scope,” West Virginia American spokeswoman Laura Jordan wrote in an email.

“We are awaiting the revised project information from the county’s engineer so that we can understand the overall project cost and updated customer count.”

She wrote that the company could better propose an investment level once it receives this information.

County Manager Brian Donat said it’s too early to predict the impact of the PSC’s order.

“But we want to work with the water company and we need to work with the water company on extension of water service to residents that don’t have it,” Donat said. He said the order helps all parties know what their contributions to the project will be.

“So it’s easier to plan projects and make grant applications,” he said. He said he hopes the grant request this year will be much less than $1.5 million.

Commissioner Andy Skidmore said the county may drop its request to $1 million this year.

“We’re just trying to make our application more attractive,” Skidmore said. He said he didn’t think any of the projects that received grant funding in 2013 got more than $1 million.

A lower grant request this year would not be the first time the commission has adjusted its requests for water extensions in northern Putnam. The Manila Ridge extensions were originally part of a larger approximately $6 million request. Donat said the full project would have provided water to residents in Manila, Jim and Bee ridges.

County officials said that, after trying for more than a decade to get funding for the full project, the commission decided to break the request up. Terry Martin, who is helping the county apply for the Manila Ridge grant as project coordinator for the Regional Intergovernmental Council, said the county was then finally able to achieve funding to extend service to about 95 households in the first portion, which Donat said served Jim and Bee ridges.

Martin said when that project finished in 2010, the extended lines provided the opportunity to expand to the adjacent Manila Ridge. He said the county has to extend water lines to Manila Ridge before it can provide water to the roughly 50 to 60 residents in a third section. He said income surveys are currently underway to gauge whether more than 51 percent of Manila Ridge residents meet the low-to-moderate income requirement to qualify for the grant, which provides federal funds.

Reach Ryan Quinn at ryan.quinn@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1254.


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