Some wells allowed in troubled subdivision
Homeowners in Apple Orchard Acres subdivision are still paying a private water company to pipe water to their homes, but aren’t always getting clean water or enough of it.
A Health Department task force formed this summer to look into the problem is still fighting its way through layers of bureaucracy and old rules to find a workable solution for the homeowners.
Earlier this month, the Morgan County Board of Health decided to remove one barrier to solving the problem. They voted to abolish a ban on individual wells in the subdivision off of Tabor Road, south of Berkeley Springs.
May help a few homes
Health Board chairman Sanford Bienen said the move will only give relief to a “small number of lot owners,” since there is still a state-level ban on private wells in half of the development, dating back to the 1980s.
Because some of the lots in the subdivision are so small, new wells might not be possible for all homeowners. A rule prohibits wells from being drilled too close to active septic systems, for fear of drinking water contamination.
Bienen said the health board offered to help map out the subdivision’s lots, existing wells and septic systems so property owners could have accurate information to work with.
It would be legal for two homes to share a new well, if that is the best option to supply reliable water to the homes, Bienen said.
“It’s really in the community’s hands,” Bienen said of the private subdivision. He hastened to add that the health board is still working with homeowners to uncover the best solution,
Task force at work
Homeowners have reported total water outages, low water flow and concerns about water quality in the 100-plus lot subdivision.
The community water system meant to supply the homes in the development is owned by a private water company – Valley Water & Sewer of Jefferson County.
The system has deteriorated to the point that utility owner Lee Snyder estimates it could cost up to $1 million to upgrade storage tanks, water supply lines and other system components.
Snyder has repeatedly said he will not make that investment, because the system is not profitable for him.
He told The Morgan Messenger and health officials that he would be happy to hand the system over to someone else to run.
Previously, the State Public Service Commission, which oversees utility companies, directed Snyder to make the upgrades so customer complaints could be addressed.
But the agency withdrew that requirement and okayed Snyder increasing his water rates to generate money for future improvements.
Since a rate increase in May, residents have gone from paying $20 monthly to a minimum of $43.40 for unmetered water service.
Those with water meters now pay $17.36 per thousand gallons up to the first 5,000 gallons, and higher rates for more usage and larger taps.
The Public Service Commission also said individual wells should not be drilled in the subdivision, because it would erode Snyder’s customer base and revenue flow, which was needed to finance system improvements.
At the request of health board member Margie Allgyer, the PSC is taking another look at the subdivision’s water system and why higher rates went into effect without a warning to residents or an improvement plan.
Members have been gathering information from residents, well-drillers, state officials and the system owner.
Health Department administrator Lee Fowler said the group’s next meeting will be time for decision-making.
The Apple Orchard Acres task force will meet on Tuesday, September 20, at 5:30 p.m. at the Morgan County Health Department. Meetings are open to the public.