Businesses Incur Losses After Spill

CHARLESTON (AP) – Restaurants and storefronts are buzzing again in West Virginia’s capital city, but many still haven’t filled a financial hole after chemicals sullied their running water and forced them to close several days in January.

“I don’t foresee ever recouping it,” said Deno Stanley, owner of Adelphia Sports Bar & Grille in Charleston.

Among the tree-lined cluster of small businesses on Capitol Street, springtime foot traffic is up at Adelphia. Stanley said out-of-towners are back, and so is customer confidence.

It’s a welcome change, Stanley said, after Adelphia started the year by losing $38,000 in sales over eight days due to the spill. Other costs also built up, like buying bottled water for patrons and changing filters in soda and ice machines, as officials required. Bottled water is still served, he said.

Adelphia quickly filed a lawsuit after the Jan. 9 spill, now one of more than 60 civil actions targeting the companies involved. Freedom Industries, the company at the center of the spill, and West Virginia American Water, the regional water company, are named in most of them.

The spill left 300,000 people without safe drinking water for four to 10 days, spurring health departments to shut down businesses that depend on clean water, from eateries to salons. Public fear reverberated for weeks afterward, prompting many restaurants to keep cooking with and serving only bottled water. Some still haven’t switched back.

The state has estimated the nine impacted counties took a $61 million economic hit.

In addition to lawsuits, businesses tried to collect insurance claims, sought government loans and pursued other avenues. But the options available have left some businesses little confidence of recovering what’s been lost.

Danny Fazio, whose restaurant Fazio’s has been a Charleston staple for 35 years, said a loan is not what the crisis warranted, anyway.

“That’s money I lost and didn’t deserve to lose,” Fazio said. “Neither did anybody else.”

Fazio’s insurance would not cover his restaurant’s losses, either. Signs at the Italian eatery still assure that they’re cooking with bottled water. It’s a commitment that Fazio said has cost $10,000 over four months in extra bottled water and ice.

Adelphia’s insurance policy wouldn’t pay out a claim, either, Stanley said. Across the area, it was hit or miss whether policies would cover interruption of business losses from the spill, said Matthew Ballard, president/CEO of the Charleston Area Alliance, a local chamber of commerce.

The public wasn’t only concerned about eating or drinking the water. Pauline’s House of Curls, located in Danville, was closed for eight days in January. For a short while after, some customers still feared using the water for hair styling, said stylist Paula Miller.