CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Wood County officials have bills amounting to more than a million dollars to pass on to the state from a massive fire that burned for more than a week at a warehouse.
Gov. Jim Justice, speaking Monday, again pledged that state government will backstop Wood County on the cost, but said he expects the insurer for the warehouse owner to pay up in the longer term.
“We had a terrible fire in Wood County, did we not?” Justice said Monday, “and they didn’t know what to do. Somebody had to make a decision. They didn’t know what to do. Contractors were shooting water on the fire, and the county didn’t have any money and the county was on the verge of going bankrupt.
“Somebody had to make a decision. And I did. I made the decision the state would back them up and bridge ’em until we got the insurance money. And we’re hopeful that we’re gonna collect back every single dime that the state had to spend.
Justice said there was really no other decent choice to make.
“The alternative would have been as simple as mud. You don’t know what was going into the air, the place was burning and for crying out loud there were children and people of Parkersburg and everybody else around who could have been in danger and were in danger.
“We had to make a decision. We didn’t just throw our hands up and say there’s nothing we can do.”
The 420,000-square-foot property, which was storing recyclable plastics for a company called IEI Plastics, caught fire early Sept. 21, sending a plume of smoke billowing over the city and across the Ohio border. The fire burned for another eight days.
Wood County Commissioner Blair Couch said expenses piled up while the fire was being fought. In a telephone interview Monday afternoon, Couch said officials have been keeping track of expenses and are set to discuss them at a Tuesday meeting with Jeff Sandy, secretary of Military Affairs and Public Safety.
“Cabinet Secretary Sandy stated he wanted to take them in bulk. So our mission was to accumulate them all,” Couch said.
“The governor is going ot help us with the bills on this. The question is who is going to have to go to the courthouse and settle everything up.”
So far, Couch said, the bills have amounted to more than a million dollars.
A consulting company specializing in hazmat situations, Specialized Professional Services Inc., was brought in for expertise to put out the fire, contributing to expenses. Center for Toxicological, Environmental & Health, a consulting firm specializing in emergency response involving chemical releases, was also hired to provide air monitoring expertise.
More expenses also piled up, Couch said.
“Fire departments with equipment destroyed, lost or burned in the fire. Hoses, fittings, nozzles. They’ve been compiling bills as well,” he said.
Water pumped in from the City of Parkersburg added up to $42,000. Portable lights were rented to fight the fire in dim conditions. There were fuel expenses.
“I’m like one of those guys like after Christmas; you’re afraid to open the credit card bill,” Couch said.
He said he’s grateful the governor committed to stepping in, declaring emergency and covering the cost. Couch said the county had $1.3 million in reserves and would have gone bankrupt without help.
“All praise to Jim Justice. Without him, honestly it would have been four solid weeks this thing would have taken to burn out,” Couch said. “The environmental impact on our people and first responders would have been nightmarish. To say we would have been bankrupt is not an understatement.”
From here, Couch said, the challenge will be collecting from the warehouse owner or its insurer.
“The fight’ll be on to see how we collect,” he said. We know we’ll be presenting the bill to them as well. In the short term, we want to make sure our vendors get paid in a timely fashion. For me and for our whole commission, I don’t want to play the game where we’re stonewalling because we’re waiting on an insurance company.
“Even if there is no insurance, there is a bill that is owed by the owner of the at property for putting his fire out.”