On Aug. 18 at 2 p.m., after years of complaints, fundraisers, volunteers and prayers — the people who live in Prenter celebrated a groundbreaking ceremony on the much-needed waterline extension to their area.
“It’s a great day for Boone County. It’s a great day for Big Coal River area,” Senator Ron Stollings, D-Boone, said to a round of applause from community members.
The Prenter water project, a
private-public partnership, has been a long-time coming.
“We’re sorry it has taken so long to get you this water,” Gov. Joe Manchin was heard telling several women residing in the Prenter area who had come out to hear the Governor speak about the waterline project.
“Not one of us could have done it without you. This is the first time you all came together, to make this happen,” he said.
“My number one priority is
infrastructure; there should not be one person in West Virginia that we can reach with clean water that we should not be able to meet their needs. I have never heard from any of this county’s leadership that we can not get that done,” Manchin said.
“Chris Jarrett is the one who is going to help me change the face of West Virginia so that every family and child has safe and clean water and sanitation. That is our goal.”
“You should be proud of the leaders of this county,” Manchin said, praising the Boone County Commissioners.
“I is sinful that we haven’t had clean drinking water,” Manchin said, further stating that he has placed the Prenter water project on a fast track to completion.
“We want this done by March,” the Governor said.
Manchin commented that if the state of West Virginia had started infrastructure projects in the 1940s and 50s, the state would not be ahead in more ways than it is now.
“We all can’t do these types of projects by ourselves — we don’t have the resources, manpower, or money alone; when all of you come together and tell us it’s the highest priority.
“Prioritize what needs to be done,” he said.
In addition to meeting the basic needs of clean water and sanitation, Manchin said the Big Coal area’s future generation needs broadband and high speed internet access.
“If we’re going to turn this economy around, they have to be able to connect and do business anywhere,” he commented.
“I think this a model to the rest of the state,” Manchin said of the Prenter community’s grassroots private-public partnership efforts to meet the needs of the citizens. “We’ll follow it [the waterline extension project] and stay on top of it,” the Governor promised the people.
The March 2010 deadline represents a substantial completion date of the first phase of the project to serve the Prenter area. The project scope consists of 41,000 feet of 8-inch, 6-inch, and 2-inch water line pipe, 17 fire hydrants and 155 service connections.
Approximately 155 homes will receive quality water service and fire protection from this project. Customers to be served will pay rates identical to West Virginia American Water’s statewide water service rates.
“What a great time for the people in this area called Prenter,” Commissioner Athol Halstead told the crowd. “It’s been a long time coming, but working the paper work, it’s understandable. This is phase I of this project. Down the road, there might be other phases.”
The project’s $2,237,500 is funded from a HUD Small Cities Block Grant in the amount of $1,500,000; a contribution from the Boone County Commission of $300,00; and $437,500 from the West Virginia American Water Company.
“West Virginia American Water will operate and maintain the project facilities under the long-term operations and maintenance agreement with the Boone County Public Service District. West Virginia American Water assures quality water that meets all federal and state requirements,” County Commissioner Mickey Brown said.
The Boone County Commission, Boone County PSD, Office of the Governor, WV Development Office, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, WV American Water, are all working as a private-public partnership to complete the water project.
“Efforts to access clean, safe water are to be commend. Such project have proven to create jobs and stimulate economic growth in our community,” Senator Stollings said.
“Boone County sees a lot of money from coal severance tax. We’re in the black because of our energy taxes, and the Boone County Commission uses it wisely for infrastructure,” Stollings said.
“There are some health issues in this community,” the Senator and local physician said. “There will be no more new slurry injections from here on out,” Stolling said to a round of applause. Stollings praised the work of Prenter resident Maria Lambert, whose photo essays helped give a visual voice to the problems plaguing the area. “I appreciate that grassroots approach and it goes to show that the old adage, the squeaky wheel gets the grease, is correct,” he said.
“From what I understand, the water project is on a fast track; we want to put Boone County in the top four or five counties in the state to help transition away from a coal dependent county,” Stollings said. “We need to do that now.”
Representatives with the American Water Company told the Coal Valley News that hopefully, they will be able to connect some residents to the waterline before the March 2010 deadline – as the waterline is laid and tested, the homes can be hooked up, and hopefully many residents will have clean water by Christmas.
“Anytime you have a groundbreaking, you do it so that people know that something better than what you have today. Thank you for keeping faith,” Governor Manchin said, reiterating that the main object is to get clean water to the people at Prenter.
One such resident, Jennifer Massey, knows first-hand what it is like living without clean water. “We’ve had a lot of health problems in the community because of what we believe to be bad water. There have been a lot of medical problems like gall bladders needing removed, and cancer – a lot of people with tumors. My 29-year-old little brother died from a brain tumor.
Andrew Chojnacki, the contractor overseeing the construction of the waterline, told the Coal Valley News that construction will possibly start the first of September. “That’s when we’ll actually begin,” Chojnacki said.
“This is just a great day. Everyone who was involved in helping us get clean water is greatly appreciated. The County Commission and West Virginia American Water, and anyone who has helped, we appreciate. We also most appreciate the prayers of the people,” Lambert said.
The Coal Valley News recently reported that the water project had recently come to a halt because of a clause in one right-of-way agreement between the county PSD and the land company, Federal Coal.
"For some time now, we have been trying to work with Federal Coal to secure access to a 1,000 foot section of roadside," Boone PSD Chairman Fred Riggleman had told Coal Valley News reporter Lawrence Keeney. "We have funding, the designs are ready, and we have easements for everywhere on the route up to that point. Essentially, this relatively small section of road is little more than ‘a ditchline’ parallel to the road."
Federal Coal, according to officials, was insisting on a clause that says the company can order that a water line placed anywhere on their land be moved at anytime, and at the expense of the PSD. "In this 1,000 foot section of road, it would cause us to have to spend upwards of $50,000 to $100,000 to move the lines which is money we don’t have on hand to spend. In essence, if we cannot come to an agreement with the company, the 10 customers living on Federal Coal Property probably won’t get served by us," Riggleman reported to the Coal Valley News.
“I have no information personally, on a problem with the Federal Land Company,” Manchin told the Coal Valley News when questioned August 18. The Governor said the State has never had a problem in the past working with a land company while working on an infrastructure project.
“I don’t anticipate one in the future. If there becomes a problem with a land company, we always have the option of eminent domain if we need it,” Manchin said. “And if there are any future problems, I want people to call me,” he said.