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Town asks county to protect water supply

November 20, 1998|By BRYN MICKLE

MARTINSBURG, W. Va. - Berkeley County Commission President James Smith promised residents in the Blairton community that the county would not allow their water to be shut off.

"Your water is not going to go away," Smith said. "That can't happen and we won't allow it to happen."

Exactly how Blairton will get a new water source, however, remains unclear.

A contingent of Blairton residents, bolstered by the presence of two state delegates, showed up at the commission meeting Thursday morning and asked the county to intervene in Blairton's dispute with the Riverton Quarry.

"We're there," said Blairton Community Committee co-chair Harlan "Doc" Greenfield. "We want to stay there."

Blairton and Riverton are headed toward a Dec. 15 hearing in Berkeley County Circuit Court over Riverton's decision to stop supplying water to residents in the area.

Riverton has supplied water to about 40 homes in Blairton free of charge since the 1970s and continues to do so for now. But it announced in February 1995 it would no longer provide water and told the residents to find a new source.

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Blairton residents contend the company has blocked its efforts to get a new water source and have asked a circuit judge to void Riverton's lease on the land or allow Blairton residents access to right-of-ways on the property.

Frustrated by what they deem Riverton's refusal to find a solution, Blairton residents asked the commissioners Thursday to condemn the land needed for water service rights-of-way.

While the commission did not address the issue of condemning the land, it did draft a resolution urging Blairton and Riverton to settle the matter through mediation.

The decision was met with cautious optimism by some residents.

"I'm not sure the commission isn't on Riverton's side," Greenfield said. "What they do after today will really speak to if they are on our side."

Riverton, however, has not decided if it wants to take the matter before a mediator.

Riverton Treasurer Bruce Jolly said the company leases its land and lacks the authority to grant the right-of-way request. Jolly contradicted the contention of Blairton residents that Riverton denied an earlier request and said Riverton was never asked to provide a right-of-way for water lines.

Jolly said Riverton is not trying to drive residents from their homes and wants to help find a solution. The pending lawsuit has prevented the company from talking directly to the residents, he said.

"I think there should be a solution," he said. "But that solution has to come from the residents. I don't think the burden is on us to continue supplying free water."

Jolly would not comment on the mediation option pending discussion with company attorneys.

Del. Larry Faircloth, R-Berkeley County, who was at the commission meeting with Del. Vicky Douglas, D-Berkeley County, said the county resolution gives Riverton a second chance to help the Blairton residents.

"If they reject the mediation, you have to question their sincerity," Faircloth said.

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