Electric heaters sit on the steps at the SHOP. The heaters were donated by United Way of Central West Virginia. (Laura Harbert Allen | West Virginia Watch)
The West Virginia Public Service Commission said Friday it has opened an investigation into a gas outage that left more than a thousand residents on Charleston’s West Side without heat, hot water or the ability to cook.
The announcement came a day after West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice declared a state of emergency in Kanawha County because of the outage.
According to Mountaineer Gas, the outage started Friday, Nov. 10 because of a “significant sustained water leak” that infiltrated 46 miles of the company’s natural gas distribution system. The lines have to be drained and dried before gas is restored to homes, which could take days.
Within 20 days of Thursday’s order, staff of the Public Service Commission will make recommendations for evidence and information that Mountaineer Gas and West Virginia American Water will have to file formally with the commission, the agency said in a news release Friday.
“We want to see this matter resolved as safely and as quickly as possible,” PSC Chairman Charlotte Lane said in the release.
During his administration briefing Thursday, Justice said that he had talked with officials from the gas company. The gas company has “really stepped up” to respond to the outage, Justice said.
“They’ve done an amazing job,” Justice said. “They continue to do an amazing job. They have absolutely stepped up and said that they’re going to bear the expense of all kinds of things from going into people’s homes to doing all kinds of work and everything and literally this is not their fault. Not as I can see it.
“And that’s why I’ve asked the PSC to launch a full-fledged investigation in regard to this entire matter and lay at the feet where the responsibility really lies,” Justice said.
As of Friday morning, 34 gas company crews were working on the West Side to restore gas services and planned to work through the weekend, according to the city of Charleston. So far, gas service has been restored to 380 customers, the city said.
Also Friday, Del. Mike Pushkin, chair of the state Democratic party and a West Side resident, called on the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Technology & Infrastructure to invite representatives of Mountaineer Gas and West Virginia American Water to testify during the December legislative interim meetings.
“Our citizens deserve to know what caused this crisis, what the companies intend to do to prevent such incidents in the future, and, most importantly, to discuss what they can do to notify customers and keep them better informed going forward,” Pushkin said.
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