PSC issues emergency order in Armstrong PSD case

CHARLESTON – Acting to correct what one engineer called “the worse physical condition of any system I know of,” the Public Service Commission of West Virginia released an emergency order Monday against Armstrong Public Service District in Fayette County.

“I was shocked at the testimony that was presented to us today,” PSC Chairman Charlotte Lane said, after listening to a small army of residents pleading for assistance because of poor and potentially contaminated water provided to 879 water customers along the Kanawha River area.

The Commission told Armstrong during a hearing Friday to enter into an interim emergency operations and management agreement within 10 days that will permit West Virginia-American Water Company to step in to take control of the system. The agreement must be filed with the Commission by July 31.

“This one scares me,” PSC engineer Jonathan Fowler said. The system’s treatment plant and infrastructure essentially have remained frozen in time since Armstrong came into existence in 1955. He said it was the worst system currently operating in the state. “I don’t think my statement is hyperbole,” he testified at an evidentiary hearing at Montgomery City Hall.

One resident, veteran George Wheeler, testified he had a better water system while serving in Iraq. “I told my wife I felt like we are living in a third-world country,” Johnny Pennington told the Commission. The water is undrinkable, you’re scared to drink it.” Trinity Nicholas, another customer, showed the Commission pictures on her telephone of grayish-black water that came from her tap. Another witness said the system was under a boil-water advisory for a month.

“This whole system needs to be replaced.” Fowler urged. Armstrong board member Velma Newman said the PSD would welcome the takeover.

Last Oct. 13, West Virginia American Water Company asking the Commission to determine if Armstrong is a distressed or failing utility. The Fayette County Commission supported the request.

More information on this case can be found on the PSC website: Click on “Case Information” and access Case Nos. 22-0911-PWD-DU.