By LEIGH C. MERRIFIELD
News & Journal Editor

Shinnston Mayor Sammy DeMarco (pictured center) speaks with news media on Monday evening in an attempt to keep area residents informed on the water issue that has plagued the City this week.  City Manager Amy Wilson, Council members, Public Works employees and others helping with the disbursement of drinking water were also on hand.

The City of Shinnston has been coping with a main water line break caused by a fallen tree on a line crossing the West Fork River at the Harrison/Marion County line.  The break occurred at approximately 2 a.m. last Friday morning.

Although news of the water issue has been reported by both local radio and television stations, City officials, in an attempt to keep the public currently informed, held a press conference for members of the media at the Shinnston Fire Department at 5 p.m. on Monday.  Mayor Sammy DeMarco said that the Shinnston Public Works Department has been working non-stop since the line collapsed; however, he noted that it will be a temporary fix.

“This is one reason we have been working so hard to towards replacing this main line where problems keep reoccurring.  We are getting close to beginning this replacement project that will be a more permanent fix so that our customers don’t have to keep going through this,” Mayor DeMarco stated.

It is recommended that every household should keep a three-day supply of water on hand in case of water emergencies such as this.  However, many don’t comply with this ruling, so every effort has been made this week to keep water available to those who need it.

“We realize the importance of having safe drinking water; we know it is essential for our customers, so bottled water has been made available to them at the Fire Department – two cases per household.   Another large vat of water is available for toilet flushing, etc., but citizens are asked to bring their own empty containers to fill,” DeMarco added.

The mayor anticipated that the line would be repaired by Tuesday and that water would be turned on then; however, he also noted that due to extreme pressure when the lines are reopened, that leaks can and may likely occur.  He urged residents to prepare for that as well.  In addition, once water is turned on, it will have to be tested prior to consumption and that typically takes 24-30 hours to receive those reports.  He cautioned those affected to wait for the notification that the water was safe for consumption before drinking or using for cooking.   In the meantime, residents should either use bottled water or boil water prior to using.

Mayor DeMarco also praised the outstanding support the City received from Paul Bump and the Harrison County Emergency Services, from Wesbanco, the Fairmont National Guard, Marion County EMS, Woodmen Life, Pepsi, County Commissioner Ron Watson, Delegate Tim Miley, Senators Mike Romano and Doug Facemire, and several surrounding communities.  Offers to donate water also came from fire departments in Lumberport, Worthington and Spelter.

“We have had former City workers coming to help out and engineers who live in the area who have offered suggestions, as well as people donating food to our men at the Fire Department who have been manning the water distribution.  The support we have received has been phenomenal,” DeMarco continued.

City Manager Amy Wilson concurred, noting that pipe to fix the problem was loaned to the City at no charge!  “The donor prefers to remain anonymous, but it is between $40,000 to $50,000 worth of pipe that was loaned to us for this temporary fix … for however long it is needed.  Most of our residents as well have been very understanding, and I think this situation confirms how desperately we need to continue working toward a permanent solution – the line replacement that will bore in on both sides and run the line under the water.  This has been needed for years and we are nearing getting the consent of 80% of the property owners for right of entry … at that point we will be ready to go to bid for this project.

More discussion on the water issue ensued during Monday evening’s 7 p.m. Council meeting when City Manager Amy Wilson stated that crews had been reporting to her on a regular basis – both day and night – concerning the level of water in the tanks.

“The tanks were way too low; we need to keep six feet in reserve in our tanks so we got water from Clarksburg while construction crews started fusing the lines.  In the meantime, our phone system started making calls to customers to alert them about conserving water,” Mrs. Wilson said.  “We hope to have water turned back on by Tuesday; however, there are still leaks that have to be fixed before that can occur.”

Both Wilson and DeMarco praised the Shinnston Volunteer Fire Department for keeping up-to-date posts on Facebook concerning the situation.  DeMarco commended Wilson for her attention to the matter and her hours on site while repairs were ongoing.

Still, one resident suggested that better communication should be utilized during emergencies such as this one.  Because so many seniors perhaps are not familiar with social media, the suggestion was made that fliers be taken door to door in neighborhoods.

Councilman Rodney Strait commented that the City’s top priority at the time was getting the leak fixed as quickly as possible and that every attempt had been made to communicate through all types of media about the emergency water issue.

Also on the agenda, Community Development Director A.J. Hammond reported that a downtown walk-through team would make an inventory of buildings in the downtown area and that everyone was being encouraged to take pride in their business’s appearance.  Street cleanup has been ongoing as well until Public Works had to turn their attention to the water issue.

Hammond announced the many activities that would occur in Shinnston during May.  ‘Wind Down Wednesday’ begins on May 17th and this will include live music, food vendors and wine tasting from 6 to 9 p.m.  “We want to position our downtown as the center of activity,” he stated, “and this event will continue throughout the summer on the first Wednesday of each month.”

Other events will include a Bike Rodeo this Saturday with fingerprinting for children, raffling of eight new bicycles, and all kids receiving a free helmet; the 2nd Annual Mystery Dinner Theatre hosted by the Shinnston Development Authority on May 19th; the United Way Bocce Tournament on May 20th; Boy Scout flag burning ceremony on May 25th; and opening of the pool at Ferguson Memorial Park on May 27th.

Hammond introduced the new pool manager Curtus Radcliff who stated that the pool will be selling hot foods this year and hosting swim meets.  “The Shinnston pool gathers a lot of great feedback from those who visit it.  We want to make it a better pool and hopefully see it turn a better profit this year,” he said.

Vice Mayor Pat Kovalck reported on the most recent SDA meeting, saying members are in favor of continuing the Theater in the Park activities this summer.  They also want to hold ribbon cuttings for new businesses and make those more of an ‘event’ and a ‘celebration’ to help promote new merchants.

It was also announced that Independence Day will be an entire weekend of events with the Shinnston Community Band’s performance in the park on Friday evening and fireworks and other activities on Saturday.

Mrs. Wilson urged City employees and Council members to attend a picnic at noon on May 19th that is being hosted by the Shinnston Lions Club.

A new administrative assistant is working three days a week at the Shinnston Police Department answering incoming calls.  Wilson remarked, “We have received comments that people are pleased to be able to speak with someone when they call instead of leaving a message.  This also gives our Chief and Deputy Chief the freedom to have a greater presence on the streets of our community.”

Before going into executive session, Mayor DeMarco presented a Proclamation to Editor Leigh Merrifield naming May 8, 2017 as ‘The Shinnston News & Harrison County Journal Day’.  One of the three oldest businesses in Shinnston, the newspaper will continue to report local news although it will no longer have a presence in the downtown area.

Another Proclamation was read denoting the City of Shinnston’s recognition of Poppy Day to remember and support all of those who have given so much in service of our country.

City Manager Amy Wilson updated The News & Journal again just before press time on Wednesday morning  saying that final connections from the new pipe line to the system had been made around 9 p.m. on Tuesday night.

“Our crew worked throughout the night to slowly turn valves on and release pressure.  Chlorination was pushed through the lines immediately,” she stated. “This is an extremely slow process, but water was finally starting to flow at approximately 1:45 a.m. on Wednesday.  It was difficult to determine how many (if any) leaks we encountered since it was during the night; however, the City has not received any calls of leaks thus far.  As we continue to turn each of the valves back on, there is still a chance of experiencing air in the lines and higher pressure than normal so some leaks may not be detected until later in the day.  We are asking anyone noticing running water to report it to the City.”

By 8:15 a.m. on Wednesday, the Gypsy tank was at eight feet and the City was reaching out to Public Service District customers for status on their systems and tank levels.

Mrs. Wilson said the Water Treatment Plant would be processing and pumping throughout Wednesday to help refill the tanks throughout town.  Residents, however, should note that they are still under a “boil water alert’ until otherwise notified.  It could take a couple of days to complete the testing and receive results from the Health Department before lifting that advisory.

While the system is returning to working order, customers may notice that water has a brownish color and there may be bouts of air.

Mrs. Wilson concluded, “We appreciate our customers being understanding throughout this issue and we thank the residents who continued to donate cases of water to the Fire Department last night for distribution.”