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Delegate Ed Evans Invites Rotary International to Tour Keystone’s Troubled Water System

KEYSTONE, W.Va. – Delegate Ed Evans hosted a gathering of residents and local dignitaries in Keystone Monday afternoon, focusing on the water troubles of the City and potential solutions.
“It is no secret that the City of Keystone has suffered from the fall of the coal industry. A town that has such a storied history that has simply fallen on hard times,” said Evans. “Although many cities fall into this category, Keystone issues have recently been chronicled on CBS Sunday Morning.”
“During that program, many people around the world literally saw the issues Keystone was having. One is drinking water, it is a real problem. During the show, they spoke with Ms. Avery, myself, many other people that were interviewed. As a result of that, we’re here today,” said Evans.
Evans spoke about the history of coal in McDowell County, when coal companies would carve towns out of the mountainside, creating housing and providing infrastructure, some of which is still in use in the modern age.
“It is that story (on CBS Sunday Morning) that brought us here today. I was contacted by Lois Horowitz from Rotary International. She told me how Rotary travels all around the world to put in water systems. She told me, ‘Ed, this is in my back yard. We’re traveling all around the planet, and we’re ignoring things like Keystone’s water problems,’” said Evans.
Local Rotary Club President Jay Chatman was recognized and invited to speak.
“This is needed all across the region of southern West Virginia, especially with the tourism coming into the area, the ATV trails and the Coal Heritage projects. Infrastructure supports that growth and I’m excited to see what we can learn today,” said Chatman.  
“What the state and federal government has failed to do, we hope we can do it with the help of Rotary International,” said Evans.  
Representing Rotary International was Swedish-American engineer Klas Haglid, who had toured the City of Keystone’s ailing water system before Monday’s meeting.  
“I’ve had some good successes working across the world in Burma. There, they had people in villages, up to 1,200 people per village, that were so busy getting drinking water, they didn’t have time to do anything else,” said Haglid. “So one of the missions of Rotary international is to get water to people so they can focus on the rest of their lives. To say I have solutions today would be a little bit of stretch. This is my first day on the job and I’m just taking a look at it.”
Haglid spoke about his own role in water system solutions, saying he builds consensus and gets stakeholders involved.
“In Burma, I wanted to do all kinds of great technological things but a local Burmese gentleman Sam Stone made a point that it has got to be sustainable,” said Haglid. “If you build a super complicated thing, they cannot operate it when you leave. It’s a 22-hour flight there to tweak some valves so it’s not very sustainable.”
According to Haglid, Keystone’s water system is physically moving water, but there are challenges, specifically leaks and problems with the carbon filtration pumping system.
“But as an engineer, it’s a doable project,” said Haglid. “The only problem is I don’t do much, what I do is get people together and work with local people. I bring people together and get them to build the project.”
Haglid also took questions from members of the public attending the meeting.
One resident said she’d heard many times of help coming to Keystone, so when would something officially take place.
“This is a first step. You have to see what the problem is first. We’ve never been this far, literally not. We’ve had no one from the State or Federal government, anybody to walk into this plant here and see what’s in there,” said Evans. “The filtration system, I’m going to be kind of mean and crass here, it looks like you’re walking into a 1910 New York hotel that’s been underground and flooded 60 times. The tank is bigger than this room with rust all over it. They are collecting water and pumping it right back out. A lot of that is being lost underground.”
“The way we start is figuring out the challenges. You figure out what’s working. You are getting water through the system. We look at what’s not working. You’ve got a lot of leaks, no treatment, you need filtration and then we try to bring people together,” said Haglid. “It’s going to be people here doing stuff and trying to get additional help. It will be a collaboration of the local Rotary and hopefully we can get the interest of Rotary International. It takes time but the first thing you’ve got to do is figure out what the problem is.”
“I don’t know if that’s a lot of answer to your question,” said Evans. “I can’t give you a date but I can tell you we’re on it.”
“My point and my disgust with the entire State government is there are people dealing with a lot less than we are. This water affects our health, and our lives. No doubt that many of our residents have succumbed to this problem. I fear this water has caused the illness our people have had to endure,” said Keystone resident Hattie Avery. “There are towns and counties and cities that have had far less problems than we have. Look at O’Toole, not as many people as we have in Keystone. They went immediately there to fix that situation and I’m just wondering why Keystone has always been put on the backburner.”
“This is an outstanding problem and devastating. I’d like to see something done in my lifetime,” Avery continued. “I’m 73 years old and I just feel that we’re being neglected. At election time, people say we’re going to do this, or do that, but we want some immediate answers and we deserve better than we’re getting.”
“I agree with everything you just said. We have been neglected, this entire county has been neglected by the State Government,” said Evans. “We’re going to try to fix what they’ve failed to do. I don’t have the support of the governor, or anyone up there really. But for the first time, I’ve at least got a commitment from Rotary.”
County Commissioner Michael Brooks was invited to speak on the issue.
“We’ve talked about some of the treatment processes but until the leaks can be fixed, there’s no way to treat it as I understand it,” said Brooks. “It’s a problem not only here in Keystone, we have a multitude of people hauling water to their homes. Hopefully this is the beginning of something that will really shed light on this situation. I know the people of this town have suffered, been ignored and overlooked by a lot of folks in higher places than I am in or will ever be.”
Brooks said he hoped Rotary International could find a way to hold the City of Keystone’s water over until Phase 3 of McDowell County Public Service District’s water project could be finished.  
“I was hoping it would start last year. Sometimes it seems like with all these phases, it phases out and there are no boots on the ground,” said Brooks. “Numbers on paper are not helping the people in this community.”
Local attorney Sam Petsonk also attended and was invited to speak on the issue.
“What do you want us to know about that engineering plan so when we call on the regulators, that the system is solvent and sustainable given our rate base and economic realities here,” said Petsonk, encouraging general investigation from the West Virginia Public Service Commission.
“They are there to ensure that these systems perpetuate themselves financially. We might get grant funding to pay for this system one time, but we need broader plan to make sure we maintain it.”
“Sustainability in a nutshell is you don’t want to take away your ability today to do it tomorrow,” said Haglid. “I’m not local, I’m from New Jersey. I can come down and provide some insight. You can’t treat the water because you’ve got to fix the leaks. Then you’ll have to update the water treatment and filtration. But it’s going to be a local engineer that understands local codes and all the things he’s got to do with water coming off the mining rich environment.”
“You said that you would have stakeholders. So locally, who would own the system,” asked Five Loaves & Two Fishes Director Linda McKinney. “Will you build onto the system they have now or is it a brand new system or something similar to the panels we have at the food bank?”
“People have to have a metered water system. Right now, if you and I live in the same neighborhood, we come off the same meter line and pay a monthly amount to the City,” said Evans. “Some people don’t pay that simply because they can’t drink the water. Maybe rightly so, I don’t know. But we have to make sure there’s income to maintain the system.”
Evans consulted with acting Mayor Vondaleer Scott on outstanding water utility payments, reported as $27,396 owed to the City of Keystone.
Kimball Police Chief Pat McKinney also attended Monday’s meeting, describing Keystone’s water troubles as a perplexing situation.
“As a former city council member of Keystone, there was a deal made with the Public Service District several years ago. They were supposed to break ground and didn’t show up. There was a couple of years where no maintenance was put into the system because we thought we were going to turn it off in a year,” said McKinney. “So what we need to do is find those resources. Recently in Gary, water flow came to a halt.”
McKinney said positive media coverage created a flow of help to the area from Governor Justice to people from out of state traveling to Gary to provide water.
“One of the secrets is to stay positive and identify every resource you can,” said McKinney.
Vondaleer Scott said she felt Rotary International’s involvement would lead to progress for the City after the meeting.
“The whole problem is we can’t do anything about our problem. We don’t have any funds,” said Scott. “If there’s a leak, my husband and my two sons come out and fix the leak. They don’t even work for the City.”
McKinney spoke more about Keystone’s unique situation after the meeting as well.
“Because of the agreement with the PSD, you can’t get a long-term grant to work on the system because it might not exist in four years,” said McKinney. “Keystone is probably unique in that here in McDowell County. Maybe Rotary can work wit the PSD to help pipe in their water and bypass the old plant.”