Wheeling officials have a golden opportunity to spare thousands of local residents the agonies suffered by some of our neighbors in and around Charleston. It involves construction of a new water treatment plant.
During his State of the City speech Tuesday, Mayor Andy McKenzie alluded to the situation. Construction of Wheeling's new water treatment plant, begun last year, is on schedule, he said.
In planning the facility, city officials assured local residents "that they could count on clean, safe drinking water," the mayor noted. Then, he cited recent events in and near Charleston, where a chemical spill upstream of a water system intake affected about 300,000 people. As McKenzie pointed out, that had "devastating effects ..."
Pointing out potential dangers in our area, including transportation of hazardous chemicals on the Ohio River and storage facilities for them along its banks, the mayor added that "we will use whatever means possible to ensure safe, clean water."
"It's very important to make sure that what happened in Charleston does not happen here," McKenzie said. City officials "have a plan in place" and are reviewing options for other action to ensure tainted water does not affect local customers, he added.
McKenzie offered few details of what the city has planned or is considering. He did hint that "home rule" authority granted by the state - and giving Wheeling and a few other communities authority not normally available under state law - might be part of the plan.
But city officials can have no control over hazardous chemicals coming down the Ohio River from elsewhere. So a defensive plan is in order.
Better monitoring of river water quality, concrete measures to keep tainted water out of the treatment plant and a contingency plan for what to do in the event of a major spill in the river are among steps the city should take.
Construction of the new treatment plant gives city officials an opportunity to build in safeguards. They should do so, to avoid a disaster such as that in Charleston.