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Community questions lack of PSD 1 dam construction oversight

REEDSVILLE — PSD 1 customers and the board of directors all voiced frustration Tuesday at the district’s lack of control over the dam project that has led to a rate increase and problems with the quantity and quality of water.

In 2017, Public Service District 1 (PSD 1) was told by the federal government, which owns the impoundment on the J.W. Ruby Research Farm, to find a new water source for the next year. The National Resources Conservation Service is spearheading the replacement of the dam.

The district switched to Impoundment 6, a pond. Since then it has been plagued by higher water treatment costs — $4,000 monthly vs. $1,800 at the former source — and a lack of water. The dam, meanwhile, is a year behind schedule.

PSD 1 board member Mike Adams told those at Tuesday’s meeting the contractor said the dam will be finished by Dec. 31. He was skeptical.

The district hopes to be drawing water from the new source by mid-2020, board member Rodney Liston said.

Dam delayed

Sixty-one levels of concrete have to be poured for the dam. As of Tuesday, 35 were done. Ground temperature has to be above 32 degrees Fahrenheit and air temperature above 35 to pour the concrete.

“We all live here. We know what’s coming,” Adams said.

There was an error in an earlier pour, Adams said. It took nine days for the contractor, engineer and oversight agencies to decide how to take the concrete out. There was also an error in core drillings that led to additional concrete being poured.

A customer at the meeting asked why there is no oversight of the contractor. There is a liquidated damages section in the contract, Adams said, but the PSD isn’t in charge of the project.

Project attorney Drew Proudfoot of Bowles Rice said, “We would have to dig into whether or not we need to implement from the PSD side a case to go after the contractor,” for liquidated damages. But “more than likely it wouldn’t be an action that just the PSD could bring,” he said, but must include the lead agencies in the project.

Adams said the district has asked its attorneys to check into whether it can recover the soaring costs of water treatment and personnel. “But we may be five years before we ever hear,” Adams said.

Project engineers Gannett Fleming were not at the meeting. Why not, asked one man. We’ve asked the same question, Adams said.

Danny Layton, general manager and chief water operator for the system, said PSD 1 has asked state and federal officials if it could partially fill water behind the dam once it is partially done.

“And the answer was no,” Layton said. “Until this dam reaches substantial completion, whatever date that may be … Basically until the front part of that dam is secure because it’s a high hazard dam.”

Filling the gap

Layton said the water now in use is safe but because of the amount of organics in the water — a problem made worse by the low water level — it isn’t aesthetically pleasing.

A representative of the State Health Department said he visits the district at least monthly to investigate complaints, which are mostly about the water color. The complaints are valid, he said, but the organics in the water, “don’t make you sick, but they do make you complain.”

There are also problems with the Blue Hole and Green Hole, ponds the State Division of Natural Resources owns and has allowed the district to draw water from. But the flow is restricted by a six-foot beaver dam, which DNR said cannot be removed because it is in protected wetlands.

The DNR also will only allow above ground pipes to the ponds, Layton said. “So I’ve got to worry about the next three months whether 2,700 feet of six-inch water line,” freezes. And DNR will not allow any treatment of the pond, Adams said.

When the board referred to the ponds as state owned, water customer Ken Nicholson noted, “That’s the people, not the state. The people make up the state. We ought to have some kind of say in what’s going on.”

PSD 1 had hoped to put a water tap in at Mount Vernon Community Center on Kingwood Pike, with water from Mon County. It would have been open to everyone. Layton said the district’s insurance and Mount Vernon rejected that because of liabilities.

Before going with Impoundment 6 as the temporary water source, PSD 1 looked at several other options, including hooking up to the Morgantown Utility Board, Clinton District or Kingwood systems. All were estimated to cost in the millions of dollars, much more than using Impoundment 6 for what it was believed would be a short time.

Recently, Layton met with Kingwood about possibly getting some water there. The district will meet again with the Kingwood Water Board on Dec. 18.

When the new dam does go into service, 310 acres will be flooded, creating a 28-foot pool, Adams said. That’s a great improvement over the previous dam, where the water pool was shrinking, Adams said.

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