Berkeley tables water consolidation

January 20, 2000|By BRENDAN KIRBY

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - The Berkeley County Commission on Thursday put off the potentially complicated and controversial question of whether to consolidate the county's three water districts into a single countywide system.

Nick Ciccarello Jr., an official with the West Virginia Public Service Commission, asked the commissioners to set a date for a public hearing to get the ball rolling. State officials have been trying for the last six years to reduce the number of water systems in the state.

County Commission President D. Wayne Dunham and Commissioner Robert L. Burkhart said they wanted to wait until after they complete work on next year's budget in March before tackling the issue.

"From now until then, our plate's pretty full," Burkhart said. "And this needs some thought."

Dunham also said it is important to hear from Commissioner John E. Wright, who was absent from Thursday's meeting.

Ciccarello urged the commissioners to kick off the process since it will take months to complete. It would involve merging the Berkeley County, Opequon and Hedgesville public service districts into one system.


"We're of the opinion that we need to move now on consolidation," he said. "We're not asking you to vote on consolidation today. The only thing that we ask is that you set the initial date for the public hearing."

Burkhart and Dunham both said they are leaning toward consolidation.

"But it has to be done very, very slowly," Burkhart said.

That is all but assured. The lengthy process requires a public hearing, followed by a vote to consolidate by the County Commission. That would result in another hearing, this time conducted by the Public Service Commission, which would then write the order.

Ciccarello said the process will take at least a year.

The state has more than 300 water districts that provide public water. Ciccarello said state officials want to reduce that number in order to increase efficiency.

In Berkeley County, all water customers would have uniform rates within about two years of a consolidation, Ciccarello said. Eliminating turf fights among three separate districts would also make it easier to tap additional sources of water, he said.

"(Present) water sources are not nearly adequate for the growth this area is experiencing," he said.

For now, though, the commissioners said they are far more interested in resolving a water dilemma that continues to plague about 40 people in the tiny village of Blairton, which is off W.Va. 45 east of Martinsburg.

Riverton Corp., which owns the land on which the homes sit, said in 1995 that it wanted to stop providing water to those houses. That sparked a lawsuit from residents.

The County Commissioners thought residents had struck a deal about three weeks ago for the Berkeley County Public Service District to provide water to the area. But the district's attorney, Clarence E. "CEM" Martin, apparently has held up the agreement, Dunham said. He said he did not know what the obstacles are.

Martin could not be reached for comment Thursday.

The commissioners passed a resolution calling for an answer to the question by next week's meeting.

"The people of Blairton will have water, if I have anything to do about it," Burkhart said.

The Herald-Mail Articles