By David Hedges, Publisher
Times Record-Roane County Reporter

The largest customer of Mt. Zion Public Service District has taken on an added expense after a boil water advisory was issued-that impacts everyone on the system.

Customers are advised that water used for drinking, cooking, bathing and brushing teeth should be brought to a rolling boil for at least one minute, and allowed to cool, before using.

The advisory was issued Thursday by the W.Va. Bureau of Public Health, Office of Environmental Services, after the licensed water operator supervising the system resigned.

We have no assurance that the public's health is being protected," David Cobb, an engineer for the Bureau of Public Health said.

The PSD buys all its water from the town of Grantsville, which does have licensed operators.

"There's nothing wrong with the water," Mt. Zion PSD chairman Sharon Postalwait said. "It's just that we don't have a certified operator."

Two of the three schools In Calhoun County - Arnoldsburg Elementary and Calhoun Middle High School - both rely on the Mt. Zion PSD for their water.

As long as the advisory is in effect, students can't drink the water. "We are buying drinking water," Donnie Pitts, Director of Support Services for Calhoun schools, said.

Pitts said Broughton's is supplying 6-1/2 oz. bottles for drinking water, with gallon jugs purchased for use in the two school kitchens.

"We have no idea how long this is going to go on," Pitts said. "It's costing us between $200 and $300 a day."

The Mt. Zion PSD has been struggling for years, but recently managed to complete a long-awaited extension that includes 21 miles of water lines and some 200 additional customers.

The PSD has been cited for 44 violations in the past three years, according to the W.Va. Public Service Commission that oversees utility systems in the state.

Past violations have included failing to submit required water samples, not distributing public notices to customers and not having adequate backup pumps or a cross connection control system, as well as a lack of certified operators.

The system has also suffered from excessive unaccounted for water loss, with about 40 percent of the water unaccounted for, presumably due to leaks.

The Mt. Zion PSD's expenses routinely exceed income, according to the PSC.

The advisory was issued after the PSD's certified water and sewer operator, Jimmie Starcher, resigned his position. Starcher was overseeing the PSD's full-time operator, Jeremy Westfall, who was hired two months ago and has not taken the training to work on his own.

Starcher, the retired water and sewer operator for the Town of Reedy, began work last year after Tom Fluharty retired.

Mt. Zion PSD secretary/treasurer Shirley Mace said Starcher told her he was quitting because he did not feel enough progress was being made. Mace said she was not sure what Starcher meant.

The PSD's three members, including vice chairman Roscoe "Cokie" Gainer, met in an emergency session Sunday evening at Arnoldsburg Community Building. Mt. Zion PSD Attorney Tom Whittier and engineer Jim Hildreth also attended the session.

The only item on the agenda was getting the boil water advisory lifted.

Whittier said options included finding another certified operator to supervise Westfall, entering into an operations and maintenance agreement with Grantsville, or merging with Pleasant Hill PSD in northern Calhoun County.

Hildreth noted that Pleasant Hill does not have a sewer system, so they would not have a certified sewer operator. Although the boil water advisory does not impact the sewer system, he said the W.Va. Division of Environmental Protection could issue fines without a certified operator available.

Postalwait said she had spoken with Westfall about taking the training to become certified, but he was not certain what he would do.

"He said he didn't want to go down with us," Postalwait reported to the others.

Mace said her daughter, Norma Collins, who is the PSD's administrative assistant, had taken the week long course and passed the exam, but she had not completed the 1,000 hours of supervised field work to become licensed.

During the meeting, PSD members tried to call other licensed operators who live in the area, but were not able to reach any on Sunday evening. They agreed to continue the effort after the meeting was over.

Hildreth said the advisory could be lifted the next day, "if one of these people would come on board."

The PSD's regular monthly meeting, usually set for the second Monday of the month, was moved to Thursday at 6 p.m. when the issue was expected to be discussed again.

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