09.14.18

Federal Lawmakers Announce Funding Secured for Martinsburg Water Contamination Cleanup Cost

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. — U.S. Sens. Shelley Moore Capito and Joe Manchin and Rep. Alex Mooney jointly announced on Friday that they have secured federal funding to reimburse Martinsburg for cleanup costs related to government contamination of the city's water supply. 

The contamination discovered in 2016 at the city's Big Springs Water Plant off U.S. 11, prompted a temporary shut down of the facility in May 2016 by the city. 

The cause of the perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS) and perfluorooctanic acid (PFOA) contamination was ultimately linked to the 167th Airlift Wing base of the Air National Guard at Eastern West Virginia Regional Airport. 

By June of this year, City Finance Director Mark Spickler said at least $3.5 million had been spent to bring the water plant south of town back online. 

A Sept. 12 letter regarding the federal reimbursement issue that was signed by Capito, R-WV, Manchin, D-WV, and Mooney, R-WV, states that the city has incurred about $4.5 million in costs associated with remediation and the facility impacts. 

The contamination was specifically linked to the use of aqueous film forming foam, which was used at Shepherd Field by the Air National Guard to suppress fire. PFOA and PFOS has been linked to cancer, liver damage and birth defects in recent scientific studies, according to the EPA, which has issued lifetime exposure health advisories for the chemicals. 

On Friday, the federal lawmakers announced that funding to reimburse the city for the contamination cleanup was kept in a compromise spending bill and that the legislation had been agreed upon by both the House and Senate. 

Both Manchin and Capito cited their work to address the cleanup cost issue in the joint announcement. 

"This action is long overdue, but I am excited that Martinsburg will finally be reimbursed for the cleanup costs and infrastructure upgrades following the detection of unacceptable levels of PFOA in the water supply,” Manchin said in a news release. 

Capito, R-WV, noted the importance of the city's water plant to residents and businesses alike. 

“As a member of the Appropriations Committee, I’ve worked hard alongside my West Virginia delegation colleagues—as well as with federal, local, and military leaders—to find a solution to the Big Springs situation, and I’m thrilled we were finally able to deliver a fix through this government funding agreement.” 

Mooney echoed the sentiment of the senators in the announcement and, along with Manchin and Capito, signed the reimbursement funding letter that was sent to the House and Senate conference committee for the spending legislation, urging them to keep the funding in the final version of the bill. 

The letter specifically cites a January 2017 statement by Richard McCoy, chief of the Environmental Restoration Branch of the Air National Guard during a Martinsburg City Council meeting in which he publicly acknowledged that the military was to blame for the water supply contamination and would "act responsibly." 

Based on the assurance, the city proceeded to make capital investments to address the contamination issue, but the military then backed away from its financial commitment. 

During the plant shut down, the city relied on its other groundwater source at Kilmer Springs. The upgraded plant began operating again in December 2017, but wasn't completed until March.


By:  Mathew Umstead
Source: Herald-Mail Media