MARTINSBURG — Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., said she believes the solving of water issues and the reimbursement commitment for the cleanup efforts in Martinsburg could become an example for other communities dealing with similar issues.
The City of Martinsburg will receive $4,915,628 from the United States Air Force for expenses related to the cleanup of perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances — or PFAS — found in the city’s water supply in 2016.
The Martinsburg City Council on Thursday approved the agreement for reimbursement at its monthly meeting with celebratory applause for the agencies that assisted the city with getting the situation handled swiftly. Those organizations included Sen. Capito’s office, the office of Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., Congressman Alex Mooney’s office, the Environmental Restoration for the National Guard Bureau and the 167th Air Lift Wing of the West Virginia Air National Guard.
“Martinsburg addressed the problem, so it’s not unsolvable,” Capito said via phone Thursday. “It’s significant that the Department of Defense has stepped up to the plate here. Now, since it’s a national problem in communities around military bases, this will be used as an example to make situations right.”
Manchin echoed as much in a statement read by his regional coordinator, Keith McIntosh.
“What we’re celebrating today is a shining example of what can be accomplished when the local and federal government works together simply for the wellbeing of the people they serve,” Manchin’s statement read. “When faced with a serious health challenge, Martinsburg stepped up to the challenge to preserve the health of the community and its residents, a task that was neither easy nor inexpensive.”
The situation stemmed from the use of firefighting foam by the Air National Guard at Shepherd Field at the Eastern Regional Airport, which led to the eventual shutdown of the Big Springs water treatment plant.
Capito and others credited the work of Martinsburg Mayor George Karos, City Manager Mark Baldwin and other city officials for continued efforts to be proactive in finding a solution.
The EPA mandated the installation of additional water filtration systems at the Big Springs water treatment plant in Martinsburg, which led to the plant shutting down so standards could be met.
According to Steve Knipe, the director of the city’s water and sewer department, engineering to do testing, pilot work and construction of a new plan were implemented during the closure, and the plant was back online in December of 2017.
“I talked with the Air Force numerous times, saying, ‘This is your obligation, and you said you would fulfill it,’” Capito said. “We got into a real back and forth about it.”
Baldwin said Thursday that the council had already decided to move forward with implementing changes to get under the specifications required despite the Department of Defense backing out in early negotiations for reimbursement.
“There was really no going back,” Baldwin said. “That plant needed to be upgraded to serve the public.”
Through the process, the city worked heavily with Capito’s office, with one of the first lines of communication going through Captio’s field representative, Chris Strovel.
“I know this has consumed Mark’s life for more than two years now, but really that is fast on the government scale of things,” Strovel said addressing the council Thursday. “It was really bipartisan, multi-state and bicameral.”
In addition to announcing the reimbursement, Capito introduced two bipartisan bills related to PFAS, including the Protect Drinking Water from PFAS Act of 2019 and the PFAS Release Disclosure Act. The bills would require the EPA to establish a standard to be enforced under the Safe Drinking Water Act for PFAS in drinking water as well as provide a clear process for the EPA to identify and share sources of PFAS emissions with the public and policymakers.
“While I was going on the tracks to help Martinsburg get reimbursed, we noticed it was a national problem,” she said. “We need to find out what’s acceptable drinking water and if there is a certain volume of contaminants. That should be public disclosure. But there should be no question — it’s got to be free of contaminants.”
The initial site near Shepherd Field at the Eastern Regional Airport will now be part of a study conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry sometime this year continuing through 2020.