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Berkeley County commissioner questions work of sewer board

August 01, 2008|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. -- A Berkeley County commissioner on Thursday openly questioned the performance of the county's public service sewer district board after hearing renewed complaints about a contractor's installation of new service lines in northern Berkeley County.

"For every one water district complaint, we get eight, nine or 10 more (sewer district) complaints," said William L. "Bill" Stubblefield, the commission's nonvoting representative at water district board meetings.

Stubblefield said he believed the complaints he heard from residents of the Spring Mill Farm subdivision stem from an "institutional problem."

Though the commission makes the appointments to the three-member sewer district board, Stubblefield told a concerned resident Thursday that he can do little about the complaints because state law gives sewer district boards autonomy after the members are appointed to six-year terms.

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"I'll be right in line behind you, trying to get it changed," Stubblefield said of the lack of oversight at the county level to resident Larry Lam, the subdivision's unofficial spokesman.

Lam on Thursday reiterated complaints about the work done in his community, noting examples of shoddy workmanship and abusive construction conditions by the contractor involved.

Lam and another resident filed formal complaints with the West Virginia Public Service Commission, a regulatory agency for utility services. That yielded a recommendation by the PSC that affected property in the subdivision be restored by the end of September.

Lam doubted it would be done by then.

"There's no doubt in my mind that we'll be back in October," Lam told Stubblefield, Collins and Commission President Steven C. Teufel on Thursday during the commission's regular meeting.

Lam said workers had urinated in his front yard, and noted the project caused storm-water problems, disrupted cable and phone service, and caused an array of other unnecessary damage to road signs and other property.

"The quality of work stinks," said Lam, who first complained to the county commission in November 2007.

Collins, a voting member of the three-person sewer board, later acknowledged there are some changes he has in mind for how future contracts are handled and hopes to improve the agency's responsiveness to concerns.

In November, Collins told Lam that the sewer board was aware of their concerns and that the contractor, Ground Breakers Inc., was not cooperating with the district, according to the commission's meeting minutes.

After the commission meeting, sewer district Executive Director Curtis Keller said that the community's complaints were not extraordinary compared with other projects since he first came to work for the board in 1994.

"The volume of complaints haven't been as high on this project as other projects," Keller said.

"Unfortunately, any type of infrastructure (work) is an invasive process," he later added.

Regardless, video recordings documented what the affected areas looked like prior to sewer line installation and will be returned to that condition, if not better, Keller said.

The work in question is part of a $35 million project that will increase the number of sewer district customers to nearly 20,000 when completed in the coming months, Keller said.

In 1994, Keller said there were between 1,000 and 1,500 customers served by 10 district employees. The district now employs more than 60 people who provide a service that has grown by nearly 150 miles of sewer line in the last 10 years, including two major line projects in southern Berkeley County, Keller said.

"This is probably going to wrap it up for a while," Collins said of future plans for starting new projects.

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