A crisis without Mingo County involved?

Last updated: January 14. 2014 2:08PM - 1551 Views
Ron Gregory ronjgregory@gmail.com

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How can West Virginia have a state of emergency and MIngo County is not somehow implicated?

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What if they gave a press briefing and told us nothing? Oh well, that happened more than once during this water crisis. On the other hand, most of those involved did an admirable job of attempting to keep the public informed.

Freedom Industries, the company whose chemical apparently escaped triggering the “do not use” order by West Virginia-American Water was certainly less than candid about its role in the event. When the company’s president addressed the media, he was evasive and the company’s public relations representative made every effort to curtail questions and the time allocated for the press conference.

West Virginia-American, on the other hand, appeared to be as forthright as they were capable of being concerning the potential health risk of their water in a nine-county area. Confusion did exist as to exactly which were problem areas but those were clarified after a few hours.

The water company also seemed to suffer from a lack of knowledge that the dangerous chemical was being stored and used just feet from its Elk River intake lines.

Most of the territorial confusion came from local media unfamiliar with where West Virginia-American water is used as opposed to the smaller public service districts and municipalities that serve some of the region.

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As chairman of the Lincoln Public Service District (what a minute, how can I be chairman when The Charleston Gazette said I was removed from the board?), I knew it is confusing enough to even figure out which areas of our customer base might be affected. And the PSD has just over 2,000 customers as opposed to the 100,000 affected by the “do not use” orders.

The Lincoln PSD has long operated a water treatment plant on the Coal River at Alum Creek. That plant was not affected in any way by the leak on the Elk River or the West Virginia-American problem.

However, a section of the PSD’s territory is now served with water from West Virginia-American by virtue of the fact that the district buys water from WV-A to supply those roughly 600 customers. It was necessary, then, to notify the customers in the latter area that they were also under a “do not use” order even though bills for service come from the Lincoln PSD — not WV-American.

As if that was not hard enough to explain in robotic calls and short media messages, the PSD suffered a main water line break that affected some of our customers that are not served with WV-A water. That meant three separate orders were out. Folks in the immediate Alum Creek area could use their water since nothing had happened to it; those from Stevens Point to Breedlove Road had to boil their water to use it due to the leak; and those on the Hamlin side of Breedlove Road were under the “do not use” command.

Anyone can imagine how many calls we fielded from confused customers. Frankly, I remained confused for a period of time myself (I know, I know; I’m always confused).

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As always, the response to this emergency will be analyzed and diagnosed by “experts” in and out of state government. TV reporters were giving the Freedom Industries president a rough time, even during his brief press appearance. Kanawha County Commission President Kent Carper, always forthright and candid in his remarks, mostly blamed the water company. Others were just perplexed by the entire matter.

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One thing that definitely does need resolved is which county works with the Alum Creek entities responsible for providing help in times of need. It took additional effort to get Kanawha County emergency officials to recognize that the Alum Creek Volunteer Fire Department serves hundreds of Kanawha County homes and, thus, should receive a shipment of bottled water. Originally, Kanawha officials told the fire department that citizens from Alum Creek were listed as South Charleston residents and would have to pick up their one case of bottled water in South Charleston.

Lincoln County emergency officials were slow, too, to provide water to the ACVFD after giving it to the Duval and Hamlin departments. Eventually, help arrived from both Kanawha and Lincoln but there should have been no delay. In a genuine life-threatening situation, there is not enough time to work out bureaucratic snafus. This time, there was.

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None of this is meant to criticize any of the emergency responders and public officials who, all in all, did a fabulous job under difficult conditions. It is only meant to clarify that something needs to be done to make sure Alum Creek is not the orphan child of two counties.

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One can only applaud Governor Earl Ray Tomblin for his quick and biting response to a reporter who wanted to somehow blame the water problem on coal companies.

“This is a chemical company, not a coal company,” Tomblin said as the man kept trying to implicate big coal in the problem. The governor was referring to the company responsible for the leaked chemical.

“The material may be used to clean coal but this was not a coal company,” Tomblin repeated.

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Good for the governor.

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Some detractors are calling it “taxation without representation” while supporters of Republican Boone County Delegate Joshua Nelson are concerned whether Democrat opponents really respect the military.

The issue is Nelson’s absence from legislative duties due to active service in the WV Air National Guard.

Nelson has missed numerous interim sessions and has been absent since the current regular session of the legislature convened last week. He told me, via cell phone, that he is actively deployed with his unit. Because of security concerns, he was able to provide few details and said he “might” be home before the current session ends.

Those who support Nelson point out that the man made no attempt to hide his military service during his campaign for the house seat. That prompted one to say, “if an active military person cannot vote and represent his or her district, then the legislature should make it illegal for one of them to run for the office.” That person suggested it is the fault of legislative leadership for “not designing a system where Josh can vote just like everybody else.”

The situation brought to mind that State Senator Erik Wells is also an active duty military member. Only once during his active service was Wells permitted to vote and that was when a new senate president was selected. Otherwise, he sat out as well.

Nelson said bills are being circulated that would allow a member absent for military duty to vote. He pointed out that he can still respond and work with citizens in his district on issues of concern; he just doesn’t get to take part in recorded votes.

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If Democrats plan to make Nelson’s situation a campaign issue, they may want to tread lightly. Appearing to be anti-military would not play well in Southern West Virginia.

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Nelson’s father, by the way, will appear on the Fox News Network’s John Stossel program, Monday, January 23, to plead the case of coal miners in the region.

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Meanwhile, one legislator told me a bill will be circulated that would allow the missing representative to designate his or her spouse to vote by proxy in his or her absence. That could really open a can of worms, particularly if the spouse has a differing opinion than the elected representative.

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In my experience, wives have a tendency of not ALWAYS agreeing with their husbands.

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Residents along Coal River Road in Alum Creek, Lincoln County, are blaming former Delegate Greg Butcher for woes that led to the closure of that roadway.

All that is apparent is that a slippage in the road surface has caused all traffic to be rerouted just beyond Alum Creek Lions Club Park. Those who live along the road say Butcher excavated on some property he owns near the slip and caused it to occur.

In any event, many are not happy with the result.

“Highways will just fix it and not place blame,” said one disgusted legislator. “Of course, that probably won’t happen until spring.”

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Speaking of Lincoln County, where corruption is spelled with a capital “C,” one observer suggested county commission candidate Phoebe Harless, a Democrat, use the slogan, “Let’s elect Phoebe — AGAIN.”

Harless is one of those not-so-unusual Lincoln candidates who got the most votes on election day when she ran for county commission four years ago, but due to absentee ballots was declared the loser.

Three elected officials eventually went to jail as a result of the scandal.

She was set to file at 9 a.m. on the first day of the 2014 filing period Monday.

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Speaking of Mingo County, rumors were rampant last week that new indictments would be forthcoming this week. I doubt that anyone knows for sure what might be going on behind closed grand jury doors.

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Some have written and called me asking about the likelihood that medical marijuana legislation will be passed this session. As I noted last week, it would surprise me to see the legislature pass anything controversial in an election year.

My best guess is that medical marijuana will not pass in 2014 but could well be approved in 2015.

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With the filing period for candidates beginning, it is always safe to say there will be some surprises before all is said and done on Saturday, January 25. Republicans will, I predict, see a second district congressional candidate that none are contemplating at the moment.

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On the filing subject, Democrat Gary McCallister of Lincoln County resigned his position on the county school board last week. McCallister has said he will file for the house of delegates from the district currently represented by Democrats Josh Barker of Boone County and Jeff Eldridge of Lincoln.

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Keep the rumors, story ideas and comments coming. Use my email or call my cell, 304-533-5185.

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