ALUM CREEK — Repairs on the Lincoln Public Service District’s water tank in Alum Creek are in motion after a memo from West Virginia Public Service Commission Staff deemed it to be in “unacceptable and potentially dangerous condition.”
According to an email sent to the district on July 8 by Jonathan Fowler, who is both with the commission and the West Virginia Infrastructure and Jobs Development Council, the conditions at the tank have worsened to become “a potential threat to the health and safety of the general public.”
“Based on a field visit by our Staff yesterday, the leakage from the Lincoln PSD Alum Creek Tank appears to have has gotten much worse in the past few weeks,” Fowler wrote. “Further, it now appears that the leakage has eroded the soil along a substantial segment of the concrete ringwall foundation supporting the tank. Should this erosion continue unabated, the lightly reinforced ringwall foundation will be undermined and the foundation would likely fail due to the loss of supporting soil. Failure of the ringwall would compromise the stability of the entire tank and may result in catastrophic failure of the structure with the sudden release of the tank contents.”
A new memo was filed this week as a part of the ongoing investigation by the commission of the district. In it, staff request the district be given an interim order to begin repairs of the tank.
“Based on the apparent, worsened condition of this tank and the fact that funds are now available to begin repairs to this critical infrastructure, we would recommend that the Commission issue an interim Order directing the District to promptly begin repairs to this structure including the immediate assessment and stabilization, as needed, of the tank foundation,” the memo states.
The tank at Alum Creek is over 50 years old, and previous attempts at repair have all failed. It is the main tank that serves the district.
It was estimated by Fowler that the tank is leaking “maybe 50 gallons a minute” or more of treated and pumped water, costing the district and their customers every day while causing continued damage.
The West Virginia Infrastructure and Jobs Development Council recently awarded the district a $215,000 critical need grant for repairs to the tank. This critical needs grant was applied for after a request to the council for funding for a new tank was tabled until September.
There is another active complaint with the commission detailing property damage reportedly suffered by a resident living near the Alum Creek tank. This complaint was filed in April. There is also damage to a roadway in the area believed to be caused by runoff from the tank that has since been filled with gravel in hopes of mitigating the issue.
Staff released a memo June 10 requesting the commission declare the district as a “distressed utility” because of the ongoing issues. Fowler detailed this process during the June 22 meeting.
“Lincoln is at the Public Service Commission under the failed and distressed utilities act,” Fowler said. “Staff’s issued their additional memorandums. Our recommendations, both from engineering and financial, was that Lincoln is not a failed utility but that they are a distressed utility and staff is recommending that the commission put them under some sort of monitored plan of improvement.”
Recommendations from this plan included:
- The district should be required to prepare a detailed corrective action plan addressing all the deficiencies identified in the engineering report to be filed with the commission within 60 days.
- The district should be required to develop a detailed water loss control plan to be filed within six months.
- The district should not pursue any further line extension projects until improvements are made.
- The district should be required to repair the Alum Creek tank by July 12.
- The district should designate one qualified staff member to be responsible for all water quality and routine regulatory compliance matters.
- The district should abandon the current board-controlled management structure and instead have a strong general manager supported by supervisors.
- Going forward, the board should act in an oversight role as opposed to a day-to-day management role.
- The district board should conduct a review of workplace culture and employee practices and policies.
Fowler said the district does seem to be working to make progress on these problems. He also emphasized that the memo submitted by himself and other staff members were simply recommendations, and there is no guarantee of what the commission will ultimately decide.
“I’ll just reiterate that these are only staff’s recommendations,” Fowler said. “They don’t always listen to us.”
Susan Small, Communications Director for the commission, said earlier this month that there is no timeline for a final decision in the case and that an announcement could be made at any time.