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Commissioners back Blairton water proposal

April 22, 1999|By BRYN MICKLE

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - The Berkeley County Commission voiced its support Thursday morning for a plan that would guarantee water for people in Blairton.

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More than 40 Blairton homeowners are suing the Riverton Corp. over the company's attempts to stop supplying water to homes near its quarry.

Riverton has said it does not want to be in the water business, but Blairton residents have said if the company cuts off the water they will be forced to leave their homes.

Del. Larry V. Faircloth, R-Berkeley, has suggested a plan that would cost about $85,000 in state funds to run 1,000 feet of line to the Blairton homes from a Berkeley County Public Service District water main.

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"This isn't a good situation, but this proposal might be a giant leap forward," said County Commission President D. Wayne Dunham.

With Blairton and Riverton in mediation to try and settle the lawsuit, Faircloth has also asked the Berkeley County Commission to try to speed up the mediation process.

After an initial mediation session failed to produce a solution, Faircloth said scheduling problems have hampered attempts for another meeting.

One of the land owners that leases the Blairton property to Riverton lives in Baltimore and has been unable to attend sessions, said Martinsburg attorney and Blairton lobbyist Laura Rose.

The County Commission has agreed to suggest that mediation be done by telephone or moved to Baltimore to accommodate the land owner.

While the dispute over the water supply is between Blairton and Riverton, Rose said the County Commission carries an important voice in the talks.

The county could take control of rights-of-way for water lines under eminent domain laws, Rose said.

The County Commission has tried to let the two sides work out the issue through mediation.

Although the County Commissioners are behind Faircloth's plan, County Commissioner Robert Burkhart expressed concerns about potential billing problems related to using one master meter to handle water for about 44 homes.

"Blairton just wants water. They are willing to work out the details," Rose said.

Riverton leases about 500 acres for its quarry operations and has continued to supply water to the Blairton homes since informing homeowners in 1995 that it wanted to stop.

The Blairton situation has drawn the attention of West Virginia Attorney General Darrell V. McGraw Jr., who recently visited the village with an entourage of state and local politicians.

The village has existed since the early 1900s when it formed around a quarry operation. Residents eventually bought their homes but not the land underneath them. They pay Riverton a monthly ground rent.

While the company can evict homeowners on a 30-day notice, Riverton has said it has no plans to do so.

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