ELKINS, W.Va. (WBOY) — The City of Elkins announced Friday that it may be taking action in the near future to take over the water system in Whitmer, an unincorporated community of around 100 people located nearly 25 miles away.
According to a release, the West Virginia Public Service Commission (PSC) recently labeled the water system in Whitmer as a “failed utility.” The water utility is managed by a water board called the Whitmer Water Association (WWA).
Over the past few years, water rates in Whitmer have become “insufficient to operate and maintain the system,” the release said. On top of this, the utility’s only two employees resigned in the fall of 2022, followed by the entire WWA board.
Due to the fact that Whitmer is unincorporated, the closest available form of local government is the Randolph County Commission. In November 2022, the commission informed the West Virginia PSC that Whitmer’s water system should be considered “distressed or failing.” Under state law, the PSC has the right to order a water utility to assume responsibility for distressed or failing systems and informed the Elkins Water Board in April 2023 that it would eventually have to do so.
The process of shifting the responsibility of a public utility typically takes a year and is expected to be complete by April 2024.
“The Elkins Water Board didn’t ask to be in this situation, and we are doing our best to figure out how to be of the best assistance we can be to our neighbors in Whitmer without unfairly impacting Elkins water customers,” said Mayor Jerry Marco, who is also the chair of the Elkins Water Board. “We have exhausted the sources of funding available to help Whitmer water customers until April, so we just aren’t sure where these needed funds are going to come from in the meantime.”
On July 6 and Sept. 21, the City of Elkins approached the Randolph County Commission for assistance in funding “urgently needed repairs and upgrades” to Whitmer’s system. The commission “expressed willingness” to help with the process, but only after “all possibilities of assistance from the state government had been exhausted,” the release said.
To explore the options of state funding for the WWA, the Elkins Water Board connected it to the Region VII Planning and Development Council, which was able to get a Critical Needs Grant of $151,000 for the WWA from the Infrastructure Development and Jobs Council (IDJC). The grant has already been used to install modern water treatment control software at the plant.
The release said that once the operating agreement is complete between the WWA and the Elkins Water Board, the IDJC may be able to grant $2 million in “additional improvements and upgrades to the Whitmer water plant and distribution system.” No additional funding will be available from the state until the operating agreement between Elkins and Whitmer is finalized sometime next year.