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Protesters take demand for clean water to WV Capitol

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It started with a Boone County man not being allowed to take West Virginia American Water Co. tap water into the state Capitol Jan. 30 because security didn't know for sure what the orange liquid was.

It ended with petitions being given to a representative of Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin and Senate President Jeff Kessler, D-Marshall, promising that never again would a tank spill contaminate the water of so many West Virginians.

In between, about 60 people protested what they see as inadequate legislation and enforcement of laws to protect drinking water.

Protestors aimed their anger at the chemical industry in light of the Jan. 9 spill in Charleston, at the coal industry over mountaintop removal mining, at the gas drilling industry over hydraulic fracturing and at state officials who they say do not do enough to protect the health of West Virginians.

Dustin White said his father lives in southern Boone County, and his tap water recently turned orange and smells of chemicals. When he tried to enter the Capitol with a gallon jug and a 16-ounce bottle filled with orange liquid, security officers escorted him out the door and told him he would be arrested if he tried to bring the water into the Capitol again.

After conferring with security, Delegate Mike Manypenny, D-Taylor, went outside and accepted the gallon jug from White.

Manypenny promised to take the water to his office and send it to the Board of Public Health for analysis

"This is outrageous," he told White.

The early part of the protest at the Capitol was for people holding signs to stand in the hallway outside the House of Delegates chamber. One of those people was the Rev. Melvin Hoover of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Charleston.

"I think we're killing our state," Hoover said. "Who wants to move to a poisoned state? What families want to live here? We love West Virginia, and we want to take the state back for its people."

Hoover said his water at home smelled of crude MCHM — the chemical that got into the Charleston water supply — the morning of the protest. He fears now that the worst part of the water emergency is over, state officials and others will forget about it and move on to other things.

After the protest outside the House of Delegates chamber, people moved to the area outside the governor's office. Johanna de Graffenreid, campaign coordinator for WV CARE (Citizen Action for Real Enforcement), said she was pleased with the turnout.

"We know that there are thousands of West Virginians who were not able to make it today who are represented by the people who are here in the Capitol," she said.

She said she had petitions signed by 2,000 state residents urging Tomblin to intervene in the Department of Environmental Protection's regulatory activities and require it to enforce laws.

Jim Kotcon, conservation chair of the West Virginia Sierra Club, told his fellow protestors, "Tell your legislators we want a stronger bill. No more loopholes."

Although Tomblin did not meet with the protestors, Kessler walked to the middle of the circle and addressed them.

"I'm here to pledge to you today something like this will never happen again," he said.

Facilities such as the Freedom Industries tank farm will be identified, will be inventoried and will be required to provide appropriate notification, Kessler said.

He also said there needs to be a thorough investigation of what happened Jan. 9.

Eventually, protestors were allowed into Tomblin's outer office, where they handed Becky Neal, executive aide to the governor, their petitions.