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W.Va. water problems continue

August 14, 2000

W.Va. water problems continue



By BOB PARTLOW / Staff Writer, Martinsburg


MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - Shepherdstown and state officials will meet soon to discuss problems that led to the boiled water alert issued Aug. 9.

The advisory that residents need to boil water for drinking and cooking could be lifted as early as today.

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Dirty water, probably from heavy runoff into the Potomac River, caused Shepherdstown water to exceed clean water standards. People could get sick unless they boil it, although no health problems were reported.

City officials were told after a survey by the state in December that their system had "deficiencies" that needed to be corrected, said Mike Mower, with the West Virginia Bureau of Health. The state primarily wanted them to upgrade the water filters. "There are some things they should be doing," said Mower, "They need to be doing things like filter rebuilding. They are on the path to a long-term solution. But they need to make some short-term fixes. We want them to speed things up. We can't be having this. It's quite a hardship for everyone."

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Chris Hutzler, assistant chief operator for the city's water department, agreed the two 10-year-old filters need to be upgraded. The city has focused on upgrading its laboratory equipment since the December report and no changes have been made to the filters, he said.

"I'm not aware of any action (city leaders) have or have not taken" Hutzler said. Cost of rebuilding would be $10,000-$15,000 each, he said.

"This is not an inexpensive thing," Hutzler said.

He said he wants a meeting to discuss what happened, why it happened, what the city did and how to prevent problems in the future.

"We need to look at what we could have done better and what we may have done too much," he said.

Shepherdstown Mayor Jim Auxer has been on the job six weeks and said he was unaware of the report done by the state on the plant. But he believes something should be done.

"These things need to be addressed immediately," Auxer said.

He said these kinds of events spotlight the need for a professional city manager in the city.

"It's a lot more sophisticated and the town is pretty much run by volunteers," he said. "People go to school to be city managers. We may need that here."

Auxer said the city received a few inquiries and complaints about the problem. He personally visited all the businesses in town to explain what was happening. The city now has put together a list of its major water users so they can be notified more quickly in the future if such an event occurs.

The Bavarian Inn found the situation to be "a lot of inconvenience and it ran into quite a bit of expense," said Erwin Asam, proprietor and innkeeper at the hotel and restaurant. Two bottles of water were put in each guest room.

"If you want to mix a drink or brush your teeth, you have to use bottled water," he said.

The inn had to import ice from outside the area to replace that normally produced by its nine ice makers. The soda dispensers could not be used because they depend on water lines. So canned soda had to be purchased.

But he said the inn was able to stay open and function.

"It's a lot better to do it this way than have a lot of sick people," he said.

No time or date has been scheduled for the water meeting to discuss what happened.

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