CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Two members of the state Public Service Commission are scheduled to tour West Virginia American Water Company’s Kanawha Valley Plant Wednesday as part of an ongoing general investigation.
The PSC is looking into how the water company reacted to the January 2014 spill of the chemical MCHM from the Freedom Industries tank farm just upstream from the Charleston plant on the Elk River. The spill created a water emergency in parts of nine counties. A ‘Do Not Use’ order was issued.
In an PSC order last November, the commission said it would be getting “the standard tour of the Plant from the intake to final output of finished water, as made available by WVAWC to members of the public.”
PSC spokesperson Susan Small told MetroNews Tuesday the plant tour would help the commission understand the way the water plant works.
“It’s to put all of the testimony in context,” Small said. “This is a very technical case as are a lot of cases before the Public Service Commission and this will just help them sort of put how things happened at the water plant in context so that they can more fully appreciate and understand the testimony.”
The tour will not be open to the public or the media, Small said. The commission’s previous order said the number of people on the tour would be limited to the two commissioners, their advisors along with one representative and one attorney from each party involved in the general investigation. No written materials will be distributed and the visit will not be recorded or transcribed, the commission’s order said.
Public Service Commissioner Kara Cunningham Williams, who is chairing the general investigation, and fellow commissioner Brooks McCabe will be part of the tour. PSC Chair Mike Albert recused himself from the general investigation case months ago.
Meanwhile, the commission entered a separate order last Friday rejecting West Virginia American’s motion to “exclude certain testimony and constrain the scope of evidence” in the evidentiary hearing in the case scheduled for later this month.
The company has argued the investigation should only include a review of its actions that took place after it was notified of the spill. State Consumer Advocate Jackie Roberts called that “the most ridiculous argument, frankly, that I’ve ever heard,” in a Dec. 21 status hearing.
“How they responded on Jan. 9 (2014) is informed by their preparations,” Roberts told the commission.
The PSC’s order rejecting the water company’s motion said the company “has been afforded the opportunity to respond fully to the pre-filed testimony that it seeks to exclude, and because the propriety and weight of the evidence to which WVAWC objects can best be determined in the context of a full record, as further developed at the evidentiary hearing.”
The first day of the evidentiary hearing is scheduled for this Thursday, Jan. 5, with one witness only. The hearing will resume Jan. 24-26. The PSC will take public comments in two separate hearings scheduled for Jan. 17.