CLAY GAS OUTFIT FILES FOR BANKRUPTCY - Halts Receivership Decision That Promised Relief

The Public Service Commission's fight to take over three Clay County natural gas utilities belonging to John Habjan has been disrupted with one of Habjan's outfits filing in federal bankruptcy court.

It seemed the customers had finally got some relief, but the war is far from over.

The issue of disrupted or poor service has been brought to the attention of the PSC for about 20 years.

Hundreds of customers have been left without gas service repeatedly during the recent cold weather, with schools and businesses being closed.

The PSC determined that Habjan can't or won't provide adequate service, after hearing volumes of complaints.

Following a public hearing in Charleston, the PSC persuaded Clay County Circuit Judge Richard Facemire yesterday to take away control of Valley, Beechy and Wagner gas companies from the Pennsylvania businessman.

Facemire appointed Charleston-based Mountaineer Gas to manage the companies.

Then the situation got complicated because Habjan's Valley Gas filed for bankruptcy yesterday morning.

PSC spokeswoman Sarah Robertson says that means the PSC will have to ask the US Bankruptcy Court to allow Facemire to turn over management of the companies to Mountaineer.

Clay County Commissioner Fran King was floored when she entered the courtroom and heard about the maneuvering. "I was shocked," she said.

The judge had no choice but to send Habjam's filing to U.S. Federal Bankruptcy Court in Charleston for a ruling.

King says the people of Clay County continue to suffer. That was evident last night. "After the (PSC) hearing I got home and had a phone call that 67 customers were out again in the Sycamore area. And I could not get Habjam to respond. I could not get anybody to go."

During Friday's hearing emergency crews had to evacuate residents from a home because it was filling up with gas and first responders were afraid the slightest spark might ignite an explosion.

Thursday state Consumer Advocate Billy Jack Gregg testified to the PSC, there have been problems with all three gas companies owned by Habjam since 1982.

Commissioner King says it is a major safety issue and she's frustrated over when things will change.