FIRST ON FOUR: Dispute between Beckley Water Company and Mount Hope water department to go to hearing

BRADLEY, WEST VIRGINIA (WOAY) – Last October, the Beckley Water Company filed a complaint with the West Virginia Public Service Commission against Mount Hope’s water department.

The complaint is now set to go to a hearing on March 12.

The complaint stems from a dispute over the source of water at the site slated for potential development. The site is known as Appalachian Heights and spans 108 acres in Bradley.

According to a brochure introduced as evidence with the complaint, it is located just off US-19 near the Sunoco.

According to the complaint, the Beckley Water Company has spoken to interested developers about providing water to that site, and the company says that it is prepared to upgrade its infrastructure to accommodate needed changes.

However, the complaint alleges that the city of Mount Hope’s Water Department is planning a 4.5 million dollar project to extend the city’s water service to the proposed project’s site. According to documents filed as part of the complaint, the company says this is illegal.

“The City has violated the laws of the State of West Virginia and the rules
of the Commission by pursuing a water project that will encroach on the exclusive
service territory of the Company,” the complaint states. “The Site is within the service territory of Beckley Water, and the Company has the exclusive right to provide water service to the Site.”

Mount Hope responded to the complaint with documentation of its own.

The city says it is in the planning stages for a project that would provide water to the Raleigh County Public Service District but denies the other allegations and says the complaint is premature.

Public Service Commission staff agreed with the city of Mount Hope, saying that there are not enough specifics about any potential project by the city of Mount Hope. The final joint staff memorandum recommended no action. Notably, both the legal and engineering staff came to the conclusion that the complaint should be dismissed.

“From the information presented, and following the visit to the Site, Staff is unable to recommend the City cease and desist from planning and/or constructing a project that involves providing water service to the Site,” the memorandum concludes. “Staff believes the filing is premature in that it is currently unknown as to the project and/or funding status for a water extension project from the City to Raleigh County. Staff therefore recommends the case be dismissed.”

The memorandum also concluded that Mount Hope should not be the defendant in this case. The report found that the Raleigh County Public Service District would be the actual supplier, and Mount Hope would simply be selling water to the public service district.

The Beckley Water Company responded to that final memorandum, saying they disagreed with the decision.

The response says that the Beckley Water Company has surrounded the project site with mainlines. Further, it said that no other utility is currently in a position to provide water to the site.

“In sum, based on the existing water distribution facilities the Company has
in place, the Company has the right to provide service to any customer(s) that may locate
at the Appalachian Heights site. Thus, the Engineering Division Memo incorrectly
concluded that the City, RCPSD, or the Company could potentially provide water service
to the Appalachian Heights site,” stated the response.

The matter will now go to a hearing scheduled for March 4 at 1 p.m. in the Raleigh County Courthouse.

Michael Kessinger, the mayor of Mount Hope, said that the city is always willing to offer water to anyone who requests it, within reason.

“The city of Mount Hope has an abundant, high-quality water source. We are prepared to provide water to anybody that wants it. It is an asset to the city of Mount Hope, and we want to make the most of it,” he said.

The Beckley Water Company declined to comment on this story, stating that it is the company’s policy not to comment on ongoing regulatory matters.

As for potential development of the Appalachian Heights site itself, Newswatch first reported on rumored development back in June.

The Raleigh County Commission agreed to negotiate with the City of Mount Hope to purchase water from the city for that project.

The New River Gorge Regional Authority said that the site was identified years ago, but could not comment further on the matter.

The Authority did not respond to a request for a comment on this story.

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