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Water line extension discussed in Lewis Co.

by James Fisher

REGIONAL WRITER

WESTON -- More than 50 county residents attended an informational meeting Monday night in the Lewis County Circuit Courtroom to learn about a proposal that could bring fresh water to more than 600 residents who now rely on wells.

The meeting was a joint effort of the Lewis County Commission, the Lewis County Economic Development Authority and West Virginia-American Water Co., a private company that now provides water to the majority of the county.

The company is proposing partnering with the county commission and the development authority to be able to extend water lines in 10 areas of Lewis County, said Dan Bickerton, director of business development for the company.

The public-private partnership is necessary to get state and federal funding for the projects, Bickerton said, because West Virginia-American would not otherwise qualify.

Bickerton explained that the county Economic Development Authority -- or whatever public entity the company teams with -- will apply for the state and federal funding. If it is approved, the water extensions will then be constructed and ownership transferred to the authority, although West Virginia-American will maintain and operate the system.

The water company will then pay the county the equivalent of whatever the property tax would be on the new system since no property tax is owed on any property owned by a public system, such as the authority.

Bickerton provided several scenarios, offering possible ways that the projects could be funded. The scenarios included various loans and grants, as well as the company's own investment. The projects are estimated to cost about $12 million. Payments to the county ranged from $170,000 to nearly $200,000.

Bickerton said West Virginia-American has entered into several public-private partnerships throughout the state to provide water.

"We feel like we've been successful because we have the investment, plus we can ask for loans and obtain grants," Bickerton said. "It's easier for the people who approve the grants to fund these projects because there is already some funding in place. It's easier to make the presentation and get the funding when there is already some funding in place."

Bickerton said the process is in the earliest stages and many more steps need to be taken before any ground is broken on line extensions. The purpose of the meeting, he said, was to inform the residents of the possibility and determine the level of interest.

Several residents raised questions, such as determining a time frame for beginning construction, trying to get particular projects prioritized and getting a further explanation of the public-private partnership. All residents questioned by the Exponent and Telegram declined to comment on the record.

Regional writer James Fisher can be reached at 626-1446 or by e-mail at jfisher@exponent-telegram.com

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