W.Va. Gov. calls out water company in gas outage

W.Va. Gov. calls out water company in gas outage
Published: Nov. 16, 2023 at 7:43 PM EST
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CHARLESTON, W.Va. (WSAZ) - West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice did not mince words Thursday while reacting to a water main break that has cut natural gas service to Charleston’s West Side.

The governor outlined his expectations for a state investigation and his opinion on who should pay for the damages -- all in response to a question from WSAZ NewsChannel 3′s Curtis Johnson.

West Virginia American Water confirmed Tuesday to WSAZ that a water main break happened Friday on the West Side, but only said it was “unable to provide comment regarding assumptions and speculation on how the gas outage may have occurred.”

Johnson reached back out to the company Wednesday after a lawsuit had been filed. A company spokesperson said the company was “unable to provide comment on matters of litigation.”

Justice declared a state of emergency Wednesday and, in his news briefing Thursday, praised Mountaineer Gas Company for its response.

“Now really and truly, we can say what we want, but Mountaineer Gas has really stepped up, they’ve done an amazing job,” he said.

Justice also spoke about what he’s learned about the incident.

“When it blew apart, it basically blew a hole in the gas line,” he said of the water main break.

Johnson then asked about the mounting issues.

“Governor, this is the second time in few months that you and I have talked about infrastructure issues related to West Virginia American Water,” Johnson asked. “First, we talked about faulty hydrants, and now claims that a water main break, as you said, caused a natural gas outage to 1,100 customers.

“All of this as West Virginia American seeks two bill increases on customers bills -- a cost that has doubled since 2005. This while customers are also paying among the highest rates in the country.

“So my question is, have you had any conversation with West Virginia, American Water?

“What type of action would you like to see from the Public Service Commission?

“And, how can the state ensure issues like faulty hydrants and this week’s disaster do not result in even higher rates on consumers — to fix the issues, and to potentially settle lawsuits related to the matter?” Johnson concluded.

“Curtis, let me tell you this, and here’s the honest to goodness truth,” Justice replied. “You know me, I’m going to tell you, to the very best of my abilities, what I know is the truth.

“Too many times when folks are contacting the water company, you know, what is happening is the water company is saying, and here’s their response -- ‘Well, we can’t talk about that,’ or, ‘We don’t have any comment on that because, you know, that’s a legal matter and everything and right now, we have no comment.’

“And literally, you know, what is happening, Curtis, you’re dead on the money.

“You know, it seems like their pricing has gone through the roof.

“Right behind all of that we have a situation to where we had the fire hydrant problems, and now, you know, we’ve got this situation where clearly, for what we know, right now, clearly, for what I know, this responsibility to this terrible gas outage is 100 percent the responsibility of the water company.

“Now, without any question, (Public Service Commission) needs to get into this and get into this in every way, and come to an absolute resolution and put the responsibility right at the feet of those that are responsible. And for everything that I know, there’s no question who’s responsible in multiple situations.

“You’re exactly right. You know, there’s times when you and I debate things back and forth, you know, but there’s no question that our people ought not to be bearing the burden and paying for this in any way.

“But there’s times, like I said, when you and I, you know, debate things back and forth, and we surely may have a different view on it. Today, without any question, we absolutely have the same view, and the responsibility does lie with the water company and we should do something about it, and I’m trying with all in me, and I have directed our PSC to do a complete investigation and that’s what I expect them to do.”

So, Johnson reached out to West Virginia American for its response to the governor’s comments.

A spokesperson didn’t answer his specific questions, but did release a statement saying in part, “We will fully cooperate with the Public Service Commission, local officials, and our community agencies in any investigation to determine a cause.”

Johnson also reached out to the PSC to find the status of the Governor’s directive for an investigation.

Shortly before 6 o’clock, the PSC filing its order opening an investigation into the water line break and gas outage.

The order gives commission staff 20 days to make recommendations for information and evidence that should be formally filed by both West Virginia American Water and Mountaineer Gas Company and to schedule proceedings in the matter.

Once PSC makes those recommendations on information and evidence needed from the utilities -- the companies will have five days to respond to PSC.

So going off that timeline, consumers should have some details about what went wrong here within the next four weeks.

As of Thursday, WSAZ knows of at least three lawsuits that have been filed against West Virginia American Water and Mountaineer Gas Company. Both companies have declined comment on the litigation.