WSAZ Investigates | PSC issues 10-day notice in hydrant investigation
CHARLESTON, W.Va. (WSAZ) - The West Virginia Public Service Commission issued a 10-day notice Friday to more than 120 local water districts -- all of them having missed two prior deadlines to turn over information on hydrant maintenance and inspections.
The PSC ordered utilities to produce the records June 30, amid weeks of investigation by WSAZ NewsChannel 3, and less than 24 hours after the station reported on a senator’s call for testimony.
The WSAZ investigation -- False Security -- spurred action from Gov. Jim Justice, state lawmakers and the PSC.
The investigation stemmed from two fires with the same story. Firefighters didn’t have enough water May 5 to fight a house fire in Charleston, 15 months after crews encountered the same issue in failed efforts to save a Pizza Hut in Danville.
The PSC, in its June 30 order, demanded inspection records and hydrant maintenance protocols from every water utility in the state. It also included a two-page, series of questions for the 301 districts.
WSAZ found responses to the PSC order have trickled in -- only about half met the first deadline in late July.
Lawmakers questioned the lacking response Aug. 7. Hours later, the PSC issued what its press release described as “a sternly worded order” extending the initial deadline to Aug. 25. The release stated for those failing to meet the new deadline, “the consequences could be serious.”
“We consider this to be a front and center public safety issue for which timing is of the essence and further delay is unacceptable,” the Aug. 7 order stated. “There will be no additional extensions granted for any reason.”
Yet, as of Tuesday morning, there was still no response from more than 100 water districts -- more than 35 percent of districts statewide.
The PSC, which offered no response Tuesday, issued a 10-day notice Friday to the non-responsive districts.
PSC Chairwoman Charlotte Lane said, in a prepared statement to WSAZ, she had directed the commission’s executive secretary to contact the utilities that have failed to respond. The secretary reaching out in the form of 117 emails and six letters, according to the PSC.
That communication threatened the possibility of a “show cause proceeding” for each utility that does not respond. That could include districts testifying before the commission to justify their lack of a response.
Responses received so far show a broad range of maintenance, protocols and record keeping -- some districts with very meticulous records, others with no records at all.
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