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Service Commission recommends water merger in Berkeley

November 02, 2000

Service Commission recommends water merger in Berkeley



By BOB PARTLOW / Staff Writer, Martinsburg


MARTINSBURG, W. Va. - Berkeley County will have one public service district dispensing water to rural parts of the county if the state Public Service Commission follows the recommendations of the county commissioners and others made at a hearing Thursday.

The Opequon, Hedgesville and Berkeley County public service districts would become the Berkeley County Public Service District next year under a plan worked on for the past two years. They currently serve more than 11,425 customers individually and would become the largest public service district in the state if merged.

County Commission Chairman D. Wayne Dunham said a merger had been discussed for about 20 years, but only became serious following the "record setting drought" two years ago.

"We had mandatory restrictions on the use of water in one part of the county and another part there was no restriction at all," Dunham said. Opequon serves the northern part of the county, Hedgesville serves its own area and the Berkeley County Public Service District serves the southern part.

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Tying the water lines from all three systems together should solve the distribution problem that showed up during the drought, he said.

The huge growth in the county also is forcing the need for more coordinated services, he said.

"This should increase the availability of water and the distribution of water to residential and industrial users," Dunham said.

If the merge is approved, a five-member board would be appointed by the County Commissioners to oversee the joint system. Dunham said a single board can work more efficiently with those providing sewer services.

"You will be able to put water and sewerage in areas where you haven't had it before," he said.

"A larger district has a larger customer base and can attract more capital to expand service," said Charlotte Lane, chairwoman of the state Public Service Commission. "It makes it more efficient when local areas are speaking with one voice when asking for money for infrastructure."

The state commissioners will issue a written order on the merger soon, she said. The staff of the commission supports the idea.

One problem was discussed at the hearing. All three districts have issued bonds for improvements and the bondholders' approval is required before any move can be made. Officials with the individual districts are working with the bondholders to work out any problems.

"We want to make sure it is done right and the bondholders are protected," said Berkeley County Public Service District attorney CEM Martin.

The plan is to have one district formed by Jan. 1. It will formally take over operations July 1 after a six-month transition period. If the concerns of the bondholders can't be addressed by the end of the year, the plan should be approved subject to those concerns being met, said county attorney Norwood Bentley, IV.

Under terms of the merger, no public service district employee will lose a job or benefits.

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