06.06.18

Capito: Federal defense bill includes money for water-contamination cleanup costs

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. — U.S. Sen. Shelley Moore Capito said Wednesday that a pending defense funding bill includes language that would authorize the government to pay for cleanup costs related to the contamination of Martinsburg's water supply.

The John S. McCain National Defense Authorization Act would help recoup costs incurred by the city to restore use of its Big Springs Water Plant, Capito said in a news release.

The water-source contamination was linked to the 167th Airlift Wing base at Eastern West Virginia Regional Airport.

The city has spent about $3.5 million to bring the water plant south of Martinsburg back online, city Finance Director Mark Spickler said.

The city used water and sewer funds to absorb the costs of installing a carbon-filtration system at the plant without having to borrow funding for upgrades, but the project also came with regular maintenance costs.

Capito said Wednesday that she was thrilled to be able to insert the language into the legislation "that will hopefully resolve this issue once and for all" and ease the city's financial burden.

“Reopening the Big Springs Water Plant was critically important to the entire Martinsburg community," said Capito, R-W.Va. "The water supply is not only essential to the health and well-being of those living in the area, but it’s also vital to local businesses, manufacturers and the economy."

Capito's announcement comes a few weeks after the Martinsburg City Council authorized filing a federal tort claim against the government in an attempt to recoup costs incurred by the contamination, which was linked to a chemical used by the U.S. Air Force and West Virginia Air National Guard to fight fires.

The plant was shut down in May 2016 after the level of perfluorooctanoic acid in the city's groundwater source was higher than recommended for public-water systems by the Environmental Protection Agency.

The acid has been linked to cancer, liver damage and birth defects in recent scientific studies, according to the EPA.

The city relied on its other groundwater source at Kilmer Springs while the plant was shut down. The upgraded plant began operating in December, but wasn't completed until March.

The Air Force initially said that it would pay for the cleanup of the contamination in January 2017, but then backed away from that commitment several months later.

Capito said she worked with the city of Martinsburg and the Department of Defense to coordinate an agreement that would enable the city to reopen the water plant, and she convened a number of meetings on the issue.

The senator also noted that she worked with Senate Armed Services Committee leaders on the legislative language that would make it possible for the government to reimburse the city for rehabilitation costs that it incurred as it worked to reopen Big Springs.

The 167th Airlift Wing was among the first group of Air National Guard bases in the country to be investigated for the possible release of the chemicals as part of a firefighting efforts.


By:  Matthew Umstead
Source: Herald-Mail