CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Gov. Jim Justice says West Virginia American Water Company is to blame for the natural gas outage impacting several thousand residents and businesses on Charleston’s West Side.
“For what we know right now…clearly from what I know, this responsibility for this terrible gas outage is 100 percent the responsibility of the water company,” Justice said at his Thursday media briefing.
Justice declared a state of emergency for the West Side Wednesday which includes staffing from the National Guard. He also called for a full investigation into what happened by the state Public Service Commission.
“The responsibility does lie with the water company and we should do something about it and I’m trying with all in me and I have directed our PSC to do a complete investigation and that’s what I expect them to do,” Justice said.
Mountaineer Gas has said its distribution system filled with thousands of gallons of water after a water company line broke last Friday and the pressure from the water pierced a hole in the distribution line. The company is working to remove water from 46 miles of line that crisscross the area of the West Side known as the Flats.
Justice said you can’t blame the gas company.
“This is not their fault, not as I can see it,” Justice said.
In a statement to MetroNews, West Virginia American Water said an speculation as to what caused the outage is “premature until an investigation is complete.”
Company spokesperson Megan Hannah also said, “Following a water main break on Charleston’s West Side on Friday afternoon, West Virginia American Water acted with urgency to identify and repair the water main and restore full service the following day while communicating with customers using our emergency notification system as well as the City and applicable agencies.
We will fully cooperate with the Public Service Commission, local officials, and our community agencies in any investigation to determine a cause.”
The PSC officially launched an investigation Thursday evening.
Mountaineer Gas making progress
Mountaineer Gas Senior Vice President Moses Skaff told MetroNews Thursday the company is making progress. As of Thursday evening, 350 of the original 1,100 customers who lost service have had that service restored. Mountaineer said another 50 customers were ready for final inspection.
He said 31 crews totaling more than 125 workers are getting the water out of the lines plus going door-to-door checking gas lines to homes and businesses. He said they’ve already replaced a lot of hot water tanks that were damaged with the influx of water through the residential gas lines and they’ll replace furnaces and stoves if they have to. He said their customers will not have to pay for the damages.
“Additionally, Mountaineer Gas will be issuing credits for future bills. There may be some bills that go out that may not have the credits on them but they will be seen as soon as we get through the billing cycle,” Skaff said.
This outage is unlike anything the company has seen and that’s why it’s taking so long to restore service, according to Skaff.
“Certainly we have had outages but they’ve been contained in certain areas,” he said. “The pressure of the water and the make up of this system and the lower-lying areas, it’s just hard to drain all of the water out of there.”
Mountaineer Gas is still sticking with its estimates that service should be restored to most customers by the middle of next week.
“This is literally a door-to-door process,” Skaff said. “We’re still going to have a few customers out (past the 7 days) if their furnace was destroyed. It’s going to be unfortunate for those customers who have to have furnaces replaced.”
Mountaineer Gas is supporting all of the community efforts that are assisting residents, Skaff said.
National Guard on scene
State Adjutant General Bill Crane said the National Guard is helping in distribution of food and supplies and will continue to do so.
“The number one priority is to make sure we are taking care of the citizens of West Virginia and the citizens of the West Side,” Crane said.
School to reopen Friday
Mary C. Snow West Side Elementary School will reopen Friday.
Kanawha County School Superintendent Tom Williams said gas service has been restored and checked. He said preschool would also be in session Friday.
The school system will be providing meals for students and their families in two distributions beginning Friday afternoon, Williams said.
“We’re going to be handing out three-day meal boxes that will have breakfast, lunch and dinner for three days (on Friday afternoon) and then on Tuesday we’ll be handing out seven-day meal boxes that will cover breakfast, lunch and dinner (through the Thanksgiving holiday),” Williams said.