Legislature proceeds despite water crisis

CHARLESTON – State lawmakers are expecting to possibly be back in session by Tuesday evening if efforts to restore water service to parts of Charleston are successful.

A state of emergency has been in place since Thursday evening after a chemical spill in the Elk River caused 300,000 West Virginians to be without clean tap water.

The West Virginia Legislature, which went into its regular session last Wednesday, adjourned Friday until 1 p.m. today.

Over the last few days, hotels, restaurants and other businesses have been forced to close because of the emergency. West Virginia American Water has told customers in the nine affected counties to not use their tap water for drinking, bathing, cooking or washing clothes.

With many of the committee meetings and legislative actions taken on the floors of both houses throughout the day, many legislators depend on the hotels and restaurants for a place to stay and eat while the legislature is in session, said Del. Dan Poling, D-Wood.

“It is a tight schedule for legislators,” he said.

Communications from the House of Delegates and state Senate leaderships seem to indicate lawmakers will convene at 1 p.m. today for a short time and are expected to adjourn until 6 p.m. Tuesday, lawmakers said.

State Sen. Donna Boley, R-Pleasants, said the hotel she usually stays at is closed for the time being. Early indications seem to point to the possibility that some hotels right be up and running within a day or so.

“Hopefully, the hotels will open by Tuesday evening,” Boley said.

It all depends if the water is safe enough for consumption and the water lines can be flushed properly in a timely manner, she said.

Boley will be heading back and forth to Charleston. She said the Capitol staff have been told to report to work today. Some state employees, who have to report to work today, have been told to bring their own bottled water to work, as well as hand sanitizer and other necessities.

Since the session just began, lawmakers have not gotten too involved in a lot of legislative work yet.

“At the start of the session, we are in the process of receiving bills,” Boley said. “In the finance committee, we are just beginning budget hearings.

“If this had to happen, this was the best time for it to happen. If it happened towards the end of the session, we would have had problems.”

Early communications with lawmakers over the weekend indicated the legislature could be in adjournment for a week. However, Sunday evening lawmakers were told the legislature would convene at 1 p.m. today and adjourn until 6 p.m. Tuesday with the belief that the legislature could return to doing regular business at that time.

Delegate Bill Anderson, R-Wood, said only a small number of lawmakers have to be present today to do the adjournment until Tuesday and those members are expected to be brought in from around the immediate Charleston area.

Anderson said he plans to stay home today and return on Tuesday.

“Committees will not be meeting (today) and no legislation will be taken up,” he said.

If things change and the leadership calls him to come in earlier, Anderson said he will do so.

Anderson also stays at a hotel during the session. His hotel is outside the initial grid of waterlines expected to be worked on today so he may not have a place to stay Tuesday night if the legislature goes back into session.

“If that happens, I will take a case of water, a pillow and a blanket and sleep on the couch in my office,” he said.

A lot of things depend on the work being done to restore water service, Anderson said. Lines will have to be brought back online, flushed and drained – possibly a couple of times.

If the line work takes longer than expected and the legislature has to stay adjourned for additional days, Poling said talks have begun about possibly extending the session to make up for any significant lost time.

“It all depends on how things go for the water department,” he said. “I will go down there and be ready for anything.”