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Gas and Water (Lines) Don't Mix at Highway

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RIPLEY – Gas and water haven't mixed on an infrastructure project near Ripley. A natural gas company and the West Virginia Department of Highways seem intent on keeping it that way, according to the Southern Jackson County Public Service District.

The PSD was in the midst of a $3.6 million project when their contractor was forced to halt construction along U.S. 33 east of Ripley. That's where the new water line would have crossed the path of a 24-inch gas line owned by NiSource's Columbia Gas Transmission. The line, situated near a Columbia pumping station, is buried five feet beneath the highway.

That's where the water line project reached a stalemate.

Citing its "damage prevention program," an attorney for NiSource would not grant permission for the contractor to install the water line above the gas line. Likewise, the Department of Highways is declining to allow Tri-State Pipeline to build beneath the gas line, stating that it could potentially "compromise the integrity" of Route 33.

Although the permits were approved, funding was in place and construction was basically complete with the exception of the 80-foot gap in question, work has now been at a standstill for almost two months.

Frank Strohl, vice chairman of the PSD, has had to deal with water problems since building his home in the Heritage Court subdivision, which is situated only a few hundred yards from the problem area. He said well water has not been available to his property due to high natural gas content.

Several thousand dollars has been wasted drilling water wells, according to Strohl.

"You could strike a match and literally burn the gas off my well water," he said. "I've never been able to bring (well) water into my house."

His five-year alternative has been to pay $116 for a 2,000-gallon truckload of potable water.

Anticipating that his water worries were finally over, Strohl had already installed the tap to link his house with the line.

Mandy Parsons also is frustrated. She and her husband, Tim, live near the Jackson-Roane line. While they were not going to receive the water service, the project would have brought them closer to fire protection.

Their home was destroyed by fire less than two years ago. Nearly extinguished after being contained to their garage area, the fire rekindled and the entire home was destroyed. Firefighters ran out of water in their tanker and the nearest hydrant was 10 miles away on the outskirts of Ripley.

"The water (line) is never going to get to our house, but it would help us in other ways," said Parsons. "It would lower our insurance rates and give us peace of mind."

Strohl has sought help from county commissioners and his legislators. What is the solution?

"I don't know," he admitted. "It just seems like we can't get it resolved."

Spokesmen for the gas company and the DOH did not respond to requests for comment.