VALLEY BEND - Several Valley Bend residents are upset about property damage and loss of livestock they say was brought about because of leaks and flooding of the local sewage system.
Andy Wamsley, a former Randolph County commissioner, and his wife, Janice, said they have lost six cows this year alone. The three most recent deaths were due to exposure to raw sewage, they said.
"It's very stressful," Janice Wamsley said. "Five of the cows that have died had calves that we are going to have to sell because of this. We started the year with eight cows, two bulls and nine calves. This is a significant loss, just in the past few months."
"This is an area that has seen a lot of these problems over the course of its development," Andy Wamsley said. "This is just the latest batch of problems."
The Wamsleys have hired Dr. Tracy Walker, a local veterinarian, to test their surviving cattle for contamination and are awaiting the results.
Andy Wamsley raised his concerns to the Huttonsville Public Service District in September, stating how much the damage has affected him and his property, and asking for a solution to the problem.
He wrote in a letter to the PSD that after the area received two rains and about four to five inches of water he noticed the sewage was overflowing from the pipes leading from the pump on his property across the Tygart Valley River.
Walking onto the Wamsley property, one can see debris still in the affected area, with fragments of dried toilet paper stuck to the grass and a strong residual smell of raw sewage lingering in the air.
"I wanted them to fence off the affected area to keep the cattle from getting into it," Andy Wamsley said. "But I haven't heard a response."
He approached other agencies for solutions, including a state Environmental Enforcement Office official who told the Huttonsville PSD to "find a temporary solution immediately" and then "work toward a permanent solution," he said.
The Wamsleys are not the only ones to complain about the issue. Mary Staples and Sue Hinzman both said they have seen damage to their property as a result of the sewage problem.
"You can smell it every time you drive near the pump," Staples said. "There's no mistaking it."
"We've sort of learned to let it go," Hinzman said when she asked about seeking out potential aid for the damage. "You get to where you don't want to fight them anymore.
"I think they've tried to help but they haven't accomplished what they need to in order to fix the problem," Hinzman added. "I think it's important for them to try and work with the public to keep us informed, and we put faith in the public officials to do what they are supposed to do."
Hinzman said this is an issue that other communities who share the sewage line, such as Dailey, have been battling as well.
A Huttonsville PSD official acknowledged there is a problem, but pointed out that repairs to the system have been underway for 10 years.
"The rehabilitation to the lines has been ongoing since 2003," said Louise McAtee, the general manager of Public Service at the Huttonsville PSD. "We are essentially talking about refurbishing a system that was built in the 1930s.
"The project involves hiring an engineer and requires a lot of money, which is the real obstacle. People want a solution, but they don't understand the cost, including things like their sewer bill going up."
McAtee said precautions are being taken to ensure that an effective solution can be reached that solves the problem and is not cost- prohibitive.
"This is something that we are currently working on in the area," she said. "The (Randolph County) Health Department and the DEP (the state Department of Environmental Protection) is working with us to reach a productive permanent solution. Our engineer is still on board and we are identifying the drains."
The Wamsleys plan to meet with the Huttonsville PSD to discuss their complaint. They said their insurance company declined their claim to pay for the loss in cattle.
"We're hopeful that this will get the process moving," said Janice Wamsley. "We just want to get this mess cleaned up and the damage paid for."
Contact Chad Clem by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.