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Jones wants independent, unbiased water tests

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Mayor Danny Jones told city council members Tuesday night he's working on a plan to test water in homes and businesses throughout Charleston.

"This is not going to be cheap, but I don't know how we can avoid doing this," Jones said. "Our brand has been damaged more than any of us know."

 Though the water has been declared "appropriate for use" for about a month, Jones said the city's image has suffered after the Freedom Industries chemical leak in early January. He said testing would help restore confidence.

Jones said he will be receiving testing proposals on Wednesday, and will have a full proposal on which council members will be able to vote at council's next meeting.

He didn't reveal the name of the company he's working with, though he did say the company was from Ohio and had been recommended to the city.

Jones said he wanted the testing to be as independent and unbiased as possible.

Jones said he wasn't sure yet of the scope of the testing. A price has also not been determined, but Jones estimated it would cost more than $50,000.

However, Jones said he wants a set number of homes -- possibly three -- to be tested in each of the city's 21 wards. Council members or the mayor's office could select the homes.

He also wants tests performed in hotels and Charleston Town Center, if those entities agree to be tested.

"This is really not our responsibility, but we're going to do it anyway," he said.

Jones pointed to the millions of dollars that have been invested in downtown Charleston over the last several years.

"I don't think anybody thought it would go on this long ... at least I didn't," he said of the continuing problems with water quality.

Several city council members expressed support for the idea, and Charleston Convention and Visitors Bureau Director Alisa Bailey said she appreciated the testing.

"I applaud the mayor for taking this step," she said.

Jones said the testing should help the city move forward and recover.

"A friend of mine said, 'you all have to take your bad water and turn it into the best water," he said.

Council members also:

* Heard from Sherry Dale, who was representing the "Girls on the Run" 5k race. Dale said she was concerned about a city proposal to charge a $500 fee to have a race in the city.

The $500 fee had not yet been announced to council, and is being developed by the City Managers' office as part of next year's budget.

City Manager David Molgaard said the high number of races in Charleston each season costs the city money, as the city needs to provide services, like police officers, for such events.

"It is a problem," he said. "These races are a growing phenomenon."

However, Molgaard said the city could provide exemptions or a reduced fee for such events, particularly if an event has been occurring in the city for a long time.

Regardless of the final proposal, city council will be able to vote on whatever plan city officials draft.

* Voted to accept $130,000 from the Transportation Alternatives Grant Program for projects at Piedmont Elementary School.

Of the grant money, $100,000 will go to sidewalk and other pedestrian thoroughfare improvements around the school, and $30,000 will go to "education, enforcement, encouragement and evaluation of walking and biking to school."

* Voted to allow city officials to apply for three grants: a $280,000 Justice Assistance Grant for Metro Drug Enforcement Network Team officers; an $87,000 Justice Assistance Grant for prevention resource officers at Capital and George Washington high schools and Stonewall Jackson Middle School; and a $31,000 Victims of Crime Act grant to provide for a victim services coordinator for the police department.

Contact writer Matt Murphy at Matt.Murphy@dailymailwv.com or 304-348-4817. Follow him on Twitter @DMLocalGov and on Facebook at www.facebook.com/DailyMailLocalGov.


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