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West Virginia American Water plans to take over Pratt water system

File photo
The Kanawha County town of Pratt had to use a pump borrowed from West Virginia American Water to get water into its plant in January. Now the town's dilapidated water works is set to be taken over by the New Jersey-based utility.

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- A member of the Pratt Council called West Virginia American Water's proposal to take over the town's water system an answer to her prayers.

The company announced its intentions to take over the struggling water system during a press conference Monday morning at the Kanawha County Courthouse.

The town's water plant is dilapidated, and it can no longer provide clean water to residents.

The water was found to be contaminated with haloacetic acids last June. The town had sent out letters to customers informing them about the contaminant.

Long-term exposure can damage the liver, kidneys, and nervous and reproductive systems.

Pratt Mayor Gary Fields acknowledged that the town did not have the money for upgrades and the only way out of the situation was to have West Virginia American Water take over the system.

"This is truly an answer to our prayers," Councilwoman Kaye Ford said.

However, the town's residents must first approve the transaction since it is a city-owned water system, Kanawha Commissioner Dave Hardy said. The West Virginia Public Service Commission must also approve the transaction, he said.

Hardy hopes to have the referendum before Pratt voters within 45 days. The commission has agreed to pay the cost of holding the election, which Hardy believes will run no more than $3,000.

West Virginia American Water has agreed to pay the town $437,000 for the town's water system. The company has also agreed to invest $400,000 to improve the existing system, said Jeff McIntyre, West Virginia American Water president.

The county commission will also vote on providing up to $180,000 out of its coal severance budget toward the project.

These funds, along with the $437,000 will eliminate the town's debt on the water system and other issues that have arisen because of a lack of funds, Hardy said. 

The company also plans on spending about $1.8 million to lay 9,900 feet of water pipeline, he said. The pipeline will be used to connect the town's system to the company's water plant in Charleston, McIntyre said.

"The Pratt water plant has become dilapidated and we're not going to use it," he said.

Hardy, a native of Pratt whose parents still live in the small community, is very pleased that the water system will be connected to the plant that supplies Charleston.

"The citizens of Pratt will enjoy the same quality of water they have in Charleston," Hardy said.

Officials hope to have the entire project completed by the end of the year, McIntyre said. Ground should be broken on the pipeline portion of the project as well as the upgrades to the existing water system sometime in early summer, he said.

The deal will help Pratt pay off more than $600,000 in debt associated with the water system, Fields said.

"I'm just tickled," he said. "The town is going to be debt free."

That amount includes the about $30,000 owed to the state Consolidated Public Retirement Board, he said. The board had previously threatened to sue the town to recoup the funds owed to the agency.

The board will likely receive the balance of the debt when the acquisition of the water plant is finalized, said Jeff Fleck, executive director for the state agency. The board is willing to wait on the funds, he said. 

As of October 2012, the town also owed the U.S. Internal Revenue Service $114,650 for tax liens placed on the water system's assets, according to figures provided by the county.

The town also owes the Kanawha County Regional Development Authority around $80,000 for construction of the water system, Hardy said. The commissioners will be asking that agency to waive that debt, he said.

The town also owed the United States Department of Agriculture Rural Development about $235,000 for construction of the water system as of October 2012, according to the figures provided by the county.

Hardy said he could not think of a better way for the commission to spend up to $180,000 in coal severance funds.

The project will not only improve the quality of life for those living in Pratt, as well as the water customers in Hansford and Paint Creek, it will also open the area for economic development.

The 9,900 feet line extension is also a key Mahan water line project, which will bring water to approximately 60 additional Kanawha County residents, Hardy said. This will also include the two travel plazas on the West Virginia Turnpike, he said.   

Hardy also had no question that city residents would pass the measure allowing for the takeover.

"The mayor and the council are behind this," he said. "I think this will pass by a landslide." 

Rates for Pratt's customers will also decrease after the takeover is finalized, Fields said.

The minimum bill for a West Virginia American Water customer using 1,500 gallons of water a month is $21.67, according to the figures provided by the West Virginia Public Service Commission.

The minimum bill for a Pratt water customer using 1,500 gallons of water a month is $36.90, according to those figures.

Although Hardy was convinced town residents would pass the measure, he was not always convinced the deal would go forward. The proposal had to be approved by American Water, which is headquartered in New Jersey, he said.

"There were times that I wondered if it would work out," Hardy said. "This is a significant commitment on the part of West Virginia American Water." "We are excited about providing this solution for Pratt residents and are hopeful that the acquisition will be approved quickly," McIntyre said.   


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