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Planning info may be examined in W.Va. spill probe

August 18, 2014
Associated Press

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — While investigating a water company's response to a January chemical spill, state utility regulators could consider the company's emergency plans or information potentially shielded by anti-terrorism laws.

At a Public Service Commission meeting Monday, Chairman Michael Albert said those documents, if deemed essential, could be looked at. The water company has opposed involving the records.

"We don't think that all planning is off the table, but certainly it has to implicate the situation that existed at the time of the spill," Albert said.

Monday's guidelines still don't resolve the spat over records between West Virginia American Water and the groups.

The water company says many documents, including emergency response and prevention plans, are beyond the investigation's scope and have been requested in civil lawsuits. It also believes some documents are exempt from disclosure under federal anti-terrorism law.

Businesses affected by the spill, Advocates for a Safe Water System and the PSC's Consumer Advocate Division disagree. They say emergency plans aren't protected and would show how appropriately the water company reacted to the Jan. 9 spill.

If any important records are exempt under federal law, that doesn't mean they can't be considered, Albert said.

"We're not going to just say, 'Well, it's designed to prevent terrorism, so you can't show it to anybody,'" Albert said. "We will work with that."

The commission made no official ruling Monday. Albert said he expects an order on the issue by the end of the week.

After the spill, West Virginia American Water kept taking in Elk River water tainted by Freedom Industries' spill just upstream. The company said shutting down its intake would have deprived 300,000 people of running water for 45 days.

Instead, state officials instituted a tap-water ban — except for fighting fires and flushing toilets — that they gradually lifted after four to 10 days.

 
 

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