CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- West Virginia American Water is replacing more miles of aging water main lines and spending more money on projects this year than it has in recent years, the company's spokeswoman said Tuesday.Laura Jordan said the water company is investing $2.1 million on construction projects in the Kanawha Valley to replace water pipes, some which date back as far as 1920.The projects will restore 7.5 miles of main lines in Kanawha and Putnam counties.Some construction has already been completed, including a new water main line along 7th Street in Charleston, down 21st Street in North Charleston, along Sharon Hollow Road in Cabin Creek and down Smithers Hill in Smithers.The 27 other pipelines projects are underway or will begin in the next few weeks, Jordan said.She said the company "did back off investments in 2010 and 2011" when the company requested rate increases from the state Public Service Commission but was granted much less.In early 2011, the PSC denied $10 million of a $15.4 million rate hike request from the water company.West Virginia American Water wanted a 13 percent rate increase, but the PSC granted a 4.4 percent hike.Company executives said at the time that the lower increase wasn't sufficient to recoup operating expenses. To try to save money, the company announced they were going to lay off 10 percent of the company's employees.The Utility Workers Union of America and Laborers International Union asked the commission to block the water company's job cuts because, they alleged, the company wouldn't be able to provide safe and reliable water service without them.The PSC ordered the water company keep 10 of the 31 employees it had planned to lay off.Wayne Morgan, the utility's president at the time, told area contractors after the PSC decision that it was reducing its capital investments.
But Jordan said the company's current "ambitious project schedule" in the Kanawha Valley is "absolutely necessary.""Most of the pipes we are replacing were laid between 1920 and 1950 so they are passed their useful life," Jordan said. "It's a necessary investment. Customers pay with these through their rates so seeing this type of investment is key to a healthy economy and infrastructure."The $2.1 million for the projects comes from the company's capital investment fund, she said.
West Virginia American Water gets money from investors to improve water pipes, tanks and stations in the state, which is ultimately recovered through rate cases, she said.The company spent $23.9 million in improvements statewide last year out of its annual capital budget.Kanawha County Commission President Kent Carper said he understands that it is costly to maintain proper upgrades, but customers' water bills shouldn't become "totally unaffordable."Carper disagreed with the water company in 2011 when it requested rate increases because they were "excessive." On Tuesday he said that the company's latest investments are "a good thing."
"It means the water company is back in the water business and we are pleased," Carper said. "Yes, I had a great disagreement with them, but this is very, very good news and we're pleased to move forward."West Virginia American Water asked for a 19.7 percent rate increase in December. The additional $24 million in revenue is needed to help recoup more than $85 million the company has spent to improve water lines and treatment plants since 2009.
The upgrades include replacement pipes in water distribution systems, rehabilitation of the company's water system tanks and upgrades to pumping stations and computer systems.The average West Virginia American Water customer would see a jump of $8.13 per month if state regulators approve the request.The company's rates will have increased 50 percent over the past five years if the PSC approves the latest rate hike request.The PSC is hosting a hearing for the rate request July 8-11. The rate increase, if it were granted, would go into effect Oct. 11.The 27 other pipeline projects that are in progress or beginning later this spring:* Charleston: South Ruffner, Edgewood Drive, Sugar Creek Drive, Reveal Drive, Vermont Drive, Corvair Drive and Walnut Drive.* South Charleston: Ohio Avenue, Kentucky Street and MacCorkle Avenue alley.* Cross Lanes: Brick Lane, Carolyn Drive and Casto Road.* Nitro: Woodland Drive, Frederick Street, Walker Street and Main Street.* Poca: Poca River Road.* Sissonville: Old Tuppers Creek Road.* Clendenin: Cromwell Estates, Beech Avenue, Reamer Road, Thorofare Road and Grandview Road.* Campbells Creek: Campbells Creek Road.* Cannelton: Red Row.* Montgomery: 700 block of 3rd Avenue.Reach Megan Workman at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-348-5113.