Capito effort may help Martinsburg recoup money for Big Springs

MARTINSBURG — U.S. Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R- W.Va., helped craft a bill that opens the door for Martinsburg to receive federal money for costs to rebuild the Big Springs Water plant, which was shut down in 2016.

Capito added language to the John S. McCain National Defense Authorization Act that would authorize the Department of Defense to pay for clean-up costs related to the contamination of Martinsburg’s water supply.

“It will allow — to authorize — the Department to Defense to pay for the clean up costs related to the contamination that affected the Martinsburg water supply,” Capito said.

“Reopening the Big Springs Water Plant was critically important to the entire Martinsburg community,” Capito said. “I’m thrilled I was able to secure language in the NDAA that will hopefully help resolve this issue once and for all.”

Capito said there is a caveat to the legislation, that while it opens the door to the DOD paying, it doesn’t earmark the money.

“It doesn’t pay for it; it just says the DOD can now pay,” Capito said.

“That’s really, really good news, because Martinsburg is not the only affected area in the country.”

Martinsburg spent an estimated $4.5 million last year to rebuild the plant.

The city was forced to shut down the plant on May 19, 2016, due to high levels of the chemicals PFOA and PFOS became detectable in the city’s water supply. PROF and PROS are fluoridate organic chemicals used to make carpets, clothing, fabrics and also firefighting foam.

Capito said she worked with the Senate Armed Services Committee on language that would open the door for the DOD to reimburse Martinsburg. She has also met with city officials and the DOD to lay the groundwork for an agreement.

“We have been prepping the military — the DOD — with phone calls and meetings to try to press the DOD to pay for this, since the origins of the chemicals are the Air Force and the National Guard base,” Capito said. “Their (DOD) legal people say that they don’t have the authority to pay if the money has already been spent.”

The new language is included in the version of the bill introduced Wednesday. The bill is slated to be considered by the full Senate this week.

The federal government had originally promised to pay Martinsburg up to an estimated $10 million to re-mediate contamination at the plant. In January 2017 Richard P. McCoy, P.E. — branch chief, environmental restoration branch, National Guard, at Joint Base Andrews in Maryland — told the council that the National Guard Base in Berkeley County is responsible for the PFOA seeping into the Big Spring plant water supply.

However, in June 2017 a federal official told the city that the agreement was on “pause” and any costs incurred in rebuilding the plant won’t be reimbursed by the federal government.

“Pause means basically that we do not have fiscal authority to reimburse the city under a cooperative agreement,” said Dennis Pinigis, senior program manager for the Air National Guard Environmental Restoration. “We are not authorized and will not reimburse costs you incur for treatment of the contaminated water.”

Pinigis said the federal government had been proceeding as if it would reimburse the city’s costs, but now says it won’t revisit brokering a cooperative agreement until mid-summer.

At the two-year mark of the plant’s contamination, the Council on May 10 authorized city attorney Kin Sayre to file a claim against the federal government for the alleged chemical contamination of plant.

By:  Jim McConville
Source: Martinsburg Journal