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WV American Water proposes another water and wastewater rate increase request

CHARLESTON — West Virginia American Water has proposed water and wastewater rate increases that would result in a bill increase of $11.26 per month for the average residential water customer.

The largest investor-owned water utility in West Virginia filed rate requests with the state’s utility regulators Friday seeking an additional $40.8 million in annual revenue for water and wastewater operations combined, 26.1% more than the company’s current rates.

The average monthly residential sewer bill would jump from $54.14 to $71.84.

“That’s a pretty substantial increase,” said Robert Williams, director of the Consumer Advocate Division of the state Public Service Commission, an independent arm of the commission that represents the interests of utility customers.

Williams said Monday the division was disappointed by both the size and timing of West Virginia American Water’s requested rate hike.

“I’m sure they need money, but all their customers need money,” Williams said.

West Virginia American Water’s rate requests come after it received a 14% rate increase in February 2019 and a 15% rate increase in February 2016.

The newly proposed rates would not go into effect before Feb. 25, 2022. The state Public Service Commission will rule on the company’s request.

“The PSC will process this case just as it does all the other cases brought before us,” commission spokeswoman Susan Small said in an email. “(I)t is much too early in the process to comment on the specifics of the case.”

Company President Robert Burton defended the rate requests in a Friday evening news release, reporting the American Water subsidiary will have invested $252 million since its last rate hike in 2019 in statewide system improvements, including 48 miles of main replacement, pumping station improvements and improved treatment processes regulated at the federal and state levels.

“We understand the current environment caused by the pandemic, but we also remain focused on meeting the future needs of our customers through sound infrastructure and public health protection,” Burton said.

“This request is not driven by the pandemic and is based on our need to continue ongoing infrastructure improvements. We will work with the Commission to address any issues they raise while they review our request.”

But Williams noted West Virginia American Water has already recovered infrastructure replacement costs from a surcharge mechanism created for that purpose that the commission approved in 2016.

The surcharge mechanism, called a Distribution System Improvement Charge, has resulted in a $5.30 monthly increase for the average residential customer using 3,100 gallons per month since then. Of the $252 million that West Virginia American Water reported investing in system improvements since its last rate increase, the Distribution System Improvement Charge has covered $79 million, according to the company.

“The idea was that (the Distribution System Improvement Charge) would reduce the need for them to keep coming back in for repeated rate increases, and they’re coming back for a repeated rate increase on about the same schedule as before even with the DSICs,” Williams said.

In April 2016, then-West Virginia American Water President Jeffrey L. McIntyre told the Public Service Commission the surcharge mechanism would “dramatically reduce the level of unrecovered capital investment the Company has had to carry between rate cases.”

West Virginia American Water spokeswoman Megan Hannah said the surcharge reduced the proposed rate increase in its current request by $10 million.

The average monthly bill for West Virginia American Water residential customers using 3,100 gallons per month escalated from $39.67 at the start of 2015 to $57.30 at the beginning of 2021, a 44% climb.

“How can people continue to pay increases when our household of two is paying now close to $60.00 a month for water?” Libby Eplin, of Barboursville, wrote in letter filed Monday with the Public Service Commission protesting the rate hike. “I can’t imagine what others are paying with 4-6 members in the household. Not to think what this increase will do for the elderly and those on fixed incomes.”

In its news release announcing its rate hike proposal, West Virginia American Water noted it gives financial assistance to low-income customers that includes emergency grants and bill discounts.

West Virginia American Water provides water services to more than 500,000 people in the state.

“By making prudent, ongoing investments to maintain and upgrade our water and wastewater systems, West Virginia American Water is committed to protecting our communities from public health concerns and quality of life issues associated with failing infrastructure,” Burton said.

“We’ll be aggressively analyzing the filing(s),” Williams said.

Police roundup: Loitering, grand larceny among HPD reports

HUNTINGTON — The following information was provided by records from The Huntington Police Department:

The Huntington Police Department listed eight incidents in a report from Saturday and Sunday. Because the records were not made available, these are the only details known:

Loitering on city property, 4:30 a.m. Saturday, 800 block of 4 1/2 Alley.

Grand larceny, 11 a.m. Saturday, 900 block of 23rd Street.

Indecent exposure, disorderly conduct, 12:14 a.m. Sunday, 2900 block of 1st Avenue.

Intoxication or drinking in public places, 8:45 a.m. Sunday, 500 block of 20th Street.

Petit larceny, burglary, entry of a dwelling or outhouse, 1:57 p.m. Sunday, 500 block of 8th Avenue.

Trespass, 4:29 p.m. Sunday, 1200 block of 10th Avenue.

Shoplifting, first and second offense, 5:39 p.m. Sunday, 2900 block of 5th Avenue.

Shoplifting, first and second offense, 9:40 p.m. Sunday, 500 block of 20th Street.

The following information was provided by booking records at the Western Regional Jail:

Brandon West, 26, was incarcerated on Monday at 7 a.m. Authorities in Cabell County charged him with possession with intention/delivery of a controlled substance, home confinement revocation, escape, fleeing on foot and obstructing. Bond was $53,000.

Local musicians gather to make Ritter Park a place for live music

HUNTINGTON — Local musicians are making Ritter Park a place for players and viewers alike to enjoy live music.

Musicians from Huntington Old Time Dance and Music will host Sunday afternoon “Jam in the Park’’ sessions throughout the summer at Ritter Park. HOTDAM President Dennis Bills said the Stony Point String Band, of which he is a member, held similar jam sessions in the past. He said he always wanted to expand it to encourage other musicians to play with them.

One jam session was held on Sunday afternoon. Bills said a few spectators listened. Some brought chairs with them, others stood around to watch and some children started to dance along. Others who came to Ritter Park to walk a few laps paused before returning to their activity.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, live music shows were limited due to safety guidelines. Bills said many of the musicians were itching to perform for a crowd.

“We like to get out and play music so people can hear it,” Bills said. “It’s a joy both ways, especially when you see people tapping their foot and kids dancing and stuff like that. It’s an enjoyable thing. You know that you are entertaining. That’s what it’s about.”

While some artists took their shows online during the pandemic, either by using Zoom or another video platform, Bills said a virtual experience doesn’t quite give the same level of entertainment as a live experience.

Depending on weather, Jam in the Park will be held on Sundays from 2 to 4 p.m., Bills said.

The instruments they use are acoustic. All genres and instruments are welcome at Jam in the Park, Bills said. Stony Point Band and HOTDAM typically play old-time music that was brought to Appalachia from places such as England, Ireland and Germany.

Bills said the group includes musicians who like to mentor those with less experience. He said Jam in the Park might encourage someone who has not performed in front of a crowd to give it a try.

Bills said he reached out to the Greater Huntington Park and Recreation District and received help from Lauren Patrick, the district’s recreation superintendent, to further promote the event.

For those who may have more questions about Jam in the Park, Bills can be reached by email at dwbills@gmail.com.

Another HOTDAM event series, Old Time Dances, is being discussed. Bills said the group’s board will meet in the next few months to decide when and if the dances can take place starting this fall. They will review CDC guidelines regarding the coronavirus pandemic before announcing a decision.

Mountain Health Network offers preventive lab screenings by appointment

HUNTINGTON — Cabell Huntington Hospital and St. Mary’s Medical Center, members of Mountain Health Network, are offering preventive lab screenings to the community, by appointment only, in May.

Low-cost wellness blood profile screenings can be scheduled Monday-Friday 7-10 a.m., May 4-28.

Blood profiles include 29 different tests, such as glucose, cholesterol and calcium, for $25. Optional testing is available with the purchase of a blood profile for hemoglobin A1C and thyroid-stimulating hormone at an additional cost of $5 per test, and vitamin D testing for an additional $15 per test. Lab work should be performed while fasting.

There will be four locations providing profiles:

  • CHH Lab, 20th Street Professional Building, 1115 20th St., Huntington.
  • SMMC Conference Center, 2849 5th Ave., Huntington
  • HIMG, 5170 U.S. Route 60 East, Huntington
  • SMMC Ironton Campus, 1408 Campbell Drive, Ironton

To comply with COVID-19 guidelines, appointments are required. To schedule an appointment, call 304-526-1056. Masks are required and social distancing guidelines will be followed.

Online poll

Enrichment spaces

QUESTION: Do you think Huntington needs more indoor enrichment spaces for children?

Visit www.herald-dispatch.com and click on the News tab at the top of the page to find the poll and record your vote. Then visit the newspaper’s Facebook page where you can elaborate on your response. Poll results will appear in this column Wednesday.

Southside residents can sign up for neighborhood yard sale

HUNTINGTON — The South Side Neighborhood Organization is planning a community yard sale from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. May 15.

Approximately 50 homes on the Southside have sales yearly. This year, the SSNO will have community sales in May and September, using a city permit.

Residents can register their address for the sale if they follow the guidelines: Live within the boundaries of railroad tracks behind 8th Avenue to the hills behind Whitaker Avenue and 16th Street to West 7th Street; no canceling at the last minute; it’s rain or shine; put up and take down your own yard sale signs, which cannot be on telephone poles or block traffic vision.

Residents can sign up via the group’s website/Facebook page or email SSNO25701@yahoo.com. Deadline to register for the sale is 8 p.m. May 12.

Cabell BOE to meet Tuesday

HUNTINGTON — The Cabell County Board of Education is scheduled to meet Tuesday at 4:30 p.m. in the Central Office board meeting room in Huntington.

The board will discuss and vote on personnel, financial and policy issues. The meeting is open to public; however, everyone in attendance must wear a mask or a face covering. Alternatively, the meeting will be streamed on the Cabell County Schools YouTube channel.

Prior to the regular meeting, the board will meet to conduct student disciplinary hearings at the same location. That meeting, too, is open to the public but to protect student confidentially, the hearings will be done in executive session.