WSAZ Investigates | Lawmaker calls for testimony in gas outage

WSAZ Investigates | Lawmaker calls for testimony in gas outage
Published: Nov. 17, 2023 at 7:21 PM EST
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CHARLESTON, W.Va. (WSAZ) - Block by block, crews were out yet another day Friday restoring natural gas service to Charleston’s West Side, after an outage that’s going on a week now -- affecting hundreds of households from Patrick Street to Pennsylvania Avenue.

Officials say the outage is the result of a water line break.

The state’s top Democrat, Del. Mike Pushkin, says he wants more. He lives in the outage zone, and sent a letter Friday calling upon the state Legislature’s Joint Infrastructure Committee to have representatives from both Mountaineer Gas Company and West Virginia American Water testify before their committee next month.

“We’ve got a lot of people over here who are hurting, and they deserve to know what’s going on,” said Puskin, D-Kanawha.

West Virginia American Water confirmed Tuesday to WSAZ that a water main break happened last Friday on the West Side, but beyond that only saying the company is “unable to provide comment regarding assumptions or speculation on how the gas outage may have occurred.”

After a lawsuit had been filed, WSAZ NewsChannel 3′s Curtis Johnson reached back out to West Virginia American Water, prompting a spokesperson said she was “unable to provide comment on matters of litigation.”

West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice on Wednesday declared a State of Emergency, ordering the Public Service Commission to investigate and, on Thursday, told the PSC to get to the bottom of what happened.

“For what we know, right now, clearly, for what I know, this responsibility to this terrible gas outage is 100% the responsibility of the water company,” Justice told Johnson during Thursday’s press briefing. “Now, without any question, PSC 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.”

West Virginia American, after those comments on Thursday, told Johnson it would fully cooperate with any investigation.

A short time later, that same day, the Public Service Commission formally launched its investigation.

Johnson asked Friday for an interview with PSC Commission Chairwoman Charlotte Lane. She denied that request only providing a short statement that reads, “we want to see this matter resolved as safely and as quickly as possible.”

Pushkin’s letter, sent Friday, says in part, “I believe it is imperative that the Legislature review the actions of the utilities during this crisis and put safeguards in place to prevent similar incidents from occurring in the future.”

Johnson took that concern to the joint committee’s co-chairman, Daniel Linville, R-Cabell.

“That’s just good government, right?” Linville said. “So as we understand what happened here and how to solve that in the future, I think that’s in everyone’s best interest -- for all across the state.”

Linville told Johnson he’s already been in contact with Mountaineer Gas about potential testimony and said he looks forward to hearing from West Virginia American Water, as well.

Pushkin explained that testimony before lawmakers is much different than the PSC investigation.

“They are not elected, they don’t answer directly to the voters,” he told WSAZ. “They don’t answer directly to the people. They are appointed by the governor. So, I think it’s important to bring representatives from Mountaineer Gas and representatives from West Virginia American Water before elected representatives -- people who represent the ratepayers, the customers -- people out here, who are without heat.”

WSAZ also reached out to West Virginia American Water asking more information on the age and the size of the water line alleged to have caused the gas outage.

The company says it is working on that request. However, no information had been received as of 6 p.m. Friday.

Puskin also wants lawmakers to consider requiring utilities to have better notification systems in place for large outages.

Earlier this week, the gas company acknowledged that it encountered issues in notifying customers of the outage.

Both companies -- Mountaineer Gas Company and West Virginia American Water -- had declined comment regarding litigation related to the incident.