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Village's future remains uncertain

April 14, 1999

Darrell McGrawBy RICHARD F. BELISLE / Staff Writer

photo: JOE CROCETTA / staff photographer




MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - West Virginia Attorney General Darrell V. McGraw Jr. went to the unincorporated village of Blairton Wednesday to tell the 44 homeowners there that there is little his office can do to help them in their fight to keep water flowing to their homes.

McGraw, trailed by an entourage of local and state politicians, visited people in several homes in the hamlet, which grew up around a limestone quarry early in the century. The quarry is owned by Riverton Corp. of Winchester, Va.

Saying it no longer wanted to be in the water business, Riverton notified the homeowners by letter in 1995 that it planned to discontinue the company-owned private water system that serves the homes.

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Hilda Siford, 70, said she played on the front steps on which McGraw stood during his visit to her house.

"This is my home. It's all I've got," she told him. "We all worked hard to get them and there's only a few of us left who inherited our houses. Even if we get water, they can still tell us to get out any time they want."

"I don't know what I can do," McGraw said. "I'm not making any promises."

On Wednesday, Del. Larry V. Faircloth, R-Berkeley, announced his plan to get water to Riverton via 1,000 feet of 8-inch pipe hooked up to a Berkeley County Public Service District water line. The pipe would run under railroad tracks and cost upwards of $90,000 to build, he said, adding the money would come from various state sources.

A master meter would be installed and the cost of water service would be borne by the homeowners.

McGraw visited Blairton at the urging of Martinsburg attorney Laura Rose, who represents the homeowners. Also on Wednesday's tour were Berkeley County Commissioner Robert L. Burkhart, state Sen. John Unger, D-Berkeley, and Dels. Vicki Douglas, D-Berkeley, and John Overington, R-Berkeley.

The Blairton homeowners have sued Riverton to force the company to keep the water system running. The case is in mediation with the second session scheduled for next week.

Attorney Charles F. Printz Jr., of Martinsburg, represents Riverton. He said both sides are studying proposals for a resolution to the water problem.

Riverton leases about 500 acres for its quarry operations.

The company built the houses for its workers between 1913 and 1920, said Harlan "Doc" Greenfield, spokesman for the homeowners. The workers bought the houses in the 1930s, but the company retained the leases for the land under them for possible future quarrying operations, Greenfield said.

The owners pay Riverton month-to-month ground rent ranging from $19 to $45.

"The company can evict us with just 30 days notice if they want to," Greenfield said. Riverton officials have no plans to evict the homeowners, Printz said.

For some it's the only home they've ever known.

Theresa Wilt, 72, moved to Blairton when she was 3. Her father, two brothers and later her husband worked in the quarry.

"Yes, I'm worried," she said. "You think after all these years I want to move?"

McGraw was asked to sign one of three quilts women in the village are making to raise money to pay the community's legal bills. The women sent out a call on the Internet for bits of cloth for the quilt. People have been sending it in from around the world, Greenfield said.

The quilts will be raffled off on Dec. 31.

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