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Manchin addresses Putnam water and business concerns

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Businesses located in Putnam County have many issues on theirminds.

Representatives from several Putnam County businesses met at Sleepy Hollow CountryClub in Hurricane Feb. 18 to hear from Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and voice their concerns.

Some concerns stem from a Jan. 9 chemical leak from an aboveground tank owned by Freedom Industries that spilled into the Elk River affecting water supplies of West Virginia American Watercustomers in nine counties, including parts of Putnam.

The meeting was hosted by the Putnam County Chamber ofCommerce.

"I wanted to come and answer some of the concerns they haveand keep them up to date with what's going on in Washington,"Manchin explained. "I know that the water concern is on everyone's mind. I wantto show them what we're doing on that level."

Manchin spoke to the group about the "Chemical Safety andDrinking Water Protection Act of 2014," which he said includes:

1. Establishing state programs to oversee and inspectchemical facilities that present a threat to sources of drinking water,

2. Directing states to identify facilities that present arisk to drinking water,

3. Setting minimum federal standards for state programs, establishingconstruction standards; leak detection, spill and overfill requirements;emergency response and communication plans; and notification of the EPA,state officials and public water systems of chemicals that are being stored ata facility,

4. Setting minimum inspection requirements: on a regularbasis, every three years for drinking water facilities and every five years forall other facilities,

5. Ensuring drinking water systems have information,required for sharing between chemical facilities and drinking water systems inthe same watershed,

6. Giving drinking water systems tools to addressemergencies, allowing it to stop an immediate threat to people who receivewater from a public water system and

7. Ensuring states a way to recoup costs associated toemergency responses.

"We're all concerned," said Manchin. "This has been a wakeup call for the entire country — not just for West Virginia and not just the Charlestonarea. 

"A lot of people, myself included, expected that we wereinspecting all above ground storage. It hadn't been done because it was anon-priority item. A non-HAZMAT material didn't have the same requirements.Thank God we haven't had any loss of life and no serious illnesses.  But many lives were changed. We've seen howdisruptive it can be."

"Every setback is an opportunity for a rebound," Manchintold the group. "We're set back right now. Within two years, we're going tohave the best tasting water in the country. We're going to win taste testingcontests. That's what you've got to do. Normalis not good enough. That's not acceptable now. I'm trying to get people pumpedup for that. Let's move on and let's do it.

"We're all in this together."

Putnam Countyis a big growth area, Manchin said, adding that it's still a developing marketthat is vital for the state's two largest populated cities — Charlestonand Huntington.

"They're all dependant on each other," he said. "They're intertwined.Putnam has been a feeder for both."

In addition to the financial losses the state has suffered, theperception that West Virginia'swater is unsafe for use is another major blow, according to the freshmansenator.

"We have to build confidence back," Manchin said. "We haveto establish that our water is safe and that people can use it as normal. I'musing it as normal now. But there are people that still have concerns andthey're not going to (have confidence) until it's deemed safe.

"The federal legislation has gone very well and it's inmark-up now, going very fast, as we've tracked it," Manchin added.

Marty Chapman, president of the Putnam County Chamberof Commerce expressed his pleasure that Manchin came to hear from localbusinesses.

"These are mostly small businesses here," Chapman said."They have a lot of concerns, the water situation, Obamacare and locally,businesses, especially along Teays Valley Road,are expressing concerns with possible address changes with 911. It could veryeasily put a small doctor out of business. It's about being able to find peoplein an emergency situation. It could cost some thousands of dollars."

Putnam has been one of the fastest growing counties in thestate for more than three decades.

"Growth is always good," Chapman said. "But sometimes itbrings planning and infrastructure issues. There are traffic issues that comeup. We'd love to see the new Route 35 go all the way down to Mason County, and get that completed.

"There's a real benefit of where we are (between Charlestonand Huntington along I-64)," headded.