Education, State Government

Preston PSD1, Arthurdale Water fight over providing service to West Preston school

MORGANTOWN – The Arthurdale Water Association and the Preston County Public Service District 1 are fighting over which should be allowed to provide water service to the West Preston School.

The Preston County Board of Education wants PSD1, but state Public Service Commission staff support AWA. The fight – with insults hurled between the two providers – is unfolding before the PSC. An administrative law judge is supposed to decide the case by Dec. 4.

AWA was the school’s sole water provider until 2016, when the school built an addition for which AWA was unable to supply sufficent pressure to serve the addition’s sprinkler system. So the school arranged for the PSD to tie in to supply the sprinklers. Then, in 2021, following several AWA boil water advisories, the school arranged with the PSD to provide general water service.

The case began in March when the BOE filed a complaint with the PSC against the two utilities – a move PSC staff noted as rather odd since the board and the PSD are united against Arthurdale – to have the PSC vacate an order in a separate but related case for the PSD’s connection to be valved off and Arthurdale become the sole provider. In May, the PSC partially vacated the order, allowing the PSD connection to remain while the administrative law judge reviews the matter.

The school board, the two utilities and PSC staff all make separate arguments in the case.

PSC staff says that the PSD connection was made illegally and must be severed. “The district has been trying to take over the Association by any means possible.” The school is the Association’s largest customer. “Allowing the school to switch from the Association would have major negative effects on the Association and the Association’s remaining customers. It would also result in the board itself paying higher rates for water service.”

Arguing against the PSC staff recommendation that the school stick with Arthurdale, the school board writes that it “desires that its schools receive reliable utility service in the near term and the long term so that disruptions to the school day [such as the prior boil water advisories] are minimized and board employees can focus upon the core mission of the board – educating students.”

The PSD is a larger, more proficient and more reliable water provider, the board says. It has annual revenues of $1.27 million and cash reserves of $253,119, while AWA brings in only $36,949 and has a tiny reserve of just $1,459. “The Association wouldn’t begin to know where to pursue a capital improvement project. … The board is not confident that the Association can keep the school in continuous service.”

The board also argues in favor of the PSD’s higher rates. Arthurdale charges a flat residential rate of $26.17 a month, which would rise to $32.17 if it loses the school. PSD1, if a pending rate case is approved, would charge more than $63 a month. “The balance of equities favors moving increased revenue to the system which has made investments to serve, and which imposes a higher burden on its customers.”

The PSD says that staff’s assertion is illegal is misguided because the school does not sit solely within AWA’s service territory and staff is misinterpreting applicable state code about what PSC permissions are needed.

AWA has had two violations for E. Coli and six for chlorine levels, the PSD says. “Disturbingly, the Association’s chief operator was completely unaware of the violations and did not seem to understand them. … It is clear that the Association has and continues to have water quality issues.” And the AWA never objected to the PSD’s hookup.

AWA argues that it can provide service with no disruption and could install a booster station to serve the sprinklers.

The PSC discourages utility-on-utility competition, Arthurdale says. “If the commission were to adopt the board’s position, then it would be open season on the rest of Arthurdale’s customers and would create a precedent for utilities across the state – particularly larger utilities – to steamroll into a neighboring utility’s service area and steal their customers,” as long as the customer requested it.

Arthurdale finds the board’s argument in favor of higher rates questionable. “Money does not seem to be a concern for the board. The board’s logic on this issue does not track. The board argues that they would rather pay higher water utility rates to the district and believes Arthurdale should be punished for responsibly managing its costs and keeping its rates low while continuing to provide quality water service to its customers.”

Arthurdale also says PSD’s water quality allegations are untrue. E. Coli was not present. It was a monitoring violation because a sample was taken late due to an absent homeowner.

Arthurdale concludes, “The district should also be reprimanded for the severity of its illegal actions associated with the hijacking of another utility’s facilities and be ordered never to touch Arthurdale’s facilities again without Arthurdale personnel present.”