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Editorial: A water reservoir at Coonskin Park?

Should this region establish a back-up water supply at Coonskin Park to avoid another crippling water crisis like the one caused by contamination in January?

Fred Stottlemyer, former general manager of the South Putnam Public Service District, and Joe Mullins, a local sculptor and former urban planner, compiled a nine-page proposal, now being evaluated by state and local officials. They propose a lake at Coonskin Park that would catch enough water to serve the area for 16 to 28 days if the water intake on the Elk River is compromised again.

A rough cost estimate is $25 million to $35 million, or about $1.35 a month per water customer. At 65 acres, it would be a larger reservoir than one contemplated by West Virginia American Water, and also cost less to build. The park would see improved recreational opportunities in boating and fishing. The park would lose some trails, but those could be made up by establishing new trails with a view of the lake and by obtaining nearby land to expand the park and make new trails.

The plan also includes obtaining an old B&O Railroad right of way that has not been used for years. The lake would be created with an earthen dam of about 160 feet in the Coonskin Branch hollow near what is now the entrance of the park near the West Virginia National Guard. That entrance is scheduled to be closed when a new entrance is built. In their proposal, the public would build the reservoir and lease it to the water company.

Legislation passed after the Jan. 9 leak at Freedom Industries, which spilled a coal-washing chemical into the water supply and the region’s treatment plant, requires water providers to make source water protection plans by July 2016. They must study alternative water supplies.

Who knows if this is a good idea? And it certainly requires careful planning, financing and permitting. But it is a conscientious suggestion and deserves a careful look.

Stottlemyer and Mullins may have provided a springboard to reach the best idea so that the Charleston region never finds itself in the same miserable situation it suffered in January.

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