WSAZ Investigates | Dozens miss third hydrant deadline

Dozens of water utilities have missed a third deadline to submit hydrant information to the West Virginia Public Service Commission.
Published: Sep. 15, 2023 at 7:20 PM EDT
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CHARLESTON, W.Va. (WSAZ) - More than 20 percent of the West Virginia’s local water utilities have missed three deadlines to turn over hydrant information to the state Public Service Commission, the latest deadline a 10-day notice that threatened additional action.

The PSC first ordered utilities to produce the records June 30, amid weeks of investigation by WSAZ NewsChannel 3, and less than 24 hours after the station reported on a senator’s call for testimony.

The WSAZ investigation -- False Security -- stemmed from two fires with the same story. Firefighters didn’t have enough water May 5 to fight a house fire in Charleston, 15 months after crews encountered the same issue in failed efforts to save a Pizza Hut in Danville.

WSAZ’s questions spurring action from the governor, lawmakers and the PSC.

PSC Chairwoman Charlotte Lane estimating Friday more than 70 utilities are yet to respond. She said, despite multiple threats of punishment, her commission hoping to use punishment as a last resort.

The PSC’s June 30 order demanded information on hydrant maintenance from every water utility in the state, requiring each of the state’s 301 districts to submit inspection records and answer a series of questions.

But WSAZ has found responses have just trickled in.

Only about half met the first deadline in late July, followed by more than 35 percent missing a second deadline in late August.

That extension coming hours after lawmakers asked about the lacking response.

A PSC press release describing it as “a sternly worded order,” which extended the deadline for utilities to Aug. 25. It also stating for those failing to meet the new deadline, “the consequences could be serious.”

The order saying, “there will be no additional extensions granted for any reason.”

Yet, three days after WSAZ reported on those missing second -- and what was to be the final -- deadline, PSC issued a 10-Day notice to individual utilities. It threatened PSC would consider issuing a show cause proceeding for those not responding, essentially a demand for testimony before the commission.

Friday marked 14 days since that 10-day notice was sent to 123 utilities.

As of Friday morning, just 42 additional responses had been received -- more than 20 percent of districts missing all three deadlines.

So NewsChannel 3′s Curtis Johnson called PSC.

“What is PSC’s plan moving forward,” he asked a spokesperson. “Why has the Commission not issued the Show Cause proceedings it threatened?”

Lane issued Johnson a prepared response.

“We are calling each of them to try to get the information before we do anything else,” she wrote. “Our goal is to try to get the information, not punish them.”

Johnson also reached out to Senate Infrastructure Chairman Charles Clements, R-Wetzel. He called for a statewide survey of hydrants in June and for the PSC to take action.

Months later, by phone on Friday, he expressed disappointment.

“I’ll give them a little bit of tolerance, but I think 60 days and a 10-day extension is plenty of time,” he said. “It should be done.”

“We need to find out why they haven’t responded, but you would think the (PSC) would put the pressure on them, which apparently they have tried to,” he added.

The senator questioning if the size of local water districts, whether large or small, is helping cause the delay. He plans to identify non-responsive utilities and personally contact any of those in his district.