The residents of the tiny village three miles east of Martinsburg own the houses, but not the land on which they sit or the 82-year-old water system. The possible cutoff of water prompted many homeowners, the Blairton United Methodist Church and the Eastern Panhandle Training Center to file suit against Riverton on Nov. 20 in Berkeley County Circuit Court.
The suit said residents have spent "vast sums of money to improve their homes, to install septic systems, and ... to obtain easements for public utilities, including natural gas, electrical service, telephone and television cable."
The suit said generations of residents have lived in the 50-acre village "under reasonable belief that they may continue to enjoy their Blairton homesites without peril of eviction or loss of essential services."
Blairton was built by Blair Limestone Co. in about 1910 to house employees. The water system was built around 1915 to serve the 45 homesites, according to Riverton.
The quarry was taken over by James and Laughlin Steel Corp. in 1948, which sold the homes to the residents in the 1950s, according to Riverton. Riverton took over in 1976 and reissued the leases on the existing terms, which state it "has no obligation to supply water to the sublet tenants," according to Riverton.
Since the quarry shutdown in 1988, Riverton said it has continued to supply water free of charge as a "courtesy." Since 1976, Riverton said it has spent $350,000 to maintain the water system.
In 1995 the company announced its intentions to discontinue the service. Later that year it learned from the West Virginia Bureau of Health that the water system needed filtration and disinfecting facilities because of surface water contamination.
Along with Riverton, the suit names several individuals from Virginia who are owners of the property, according to court records.
Several residents have declined to comment on the suit. Joel Galperin, executive director of the Eastern Panhandle Training Center, said the center joined the suit because one of its 14 group homes is situated there.