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LETTERS / The Million Dollar Question: Why the “Big Road”?

Dear Editor,

The Million Dollar Question: Why the “Big Road”?

When the NC Department of Environmental and Natural Resources (NCDENR) received an application for a permit to construct the proposed raw water intake on the South Fork of the New River, the reviewers asked, why the “big road”? To conceal the truth that the road was needed to fulfill an obligation to construct a private subdivision road for Larry Cooper, Randy Cooper and Amy Cooper Greer, the town of Boone and its engineers sought to involve the Watauga County Fire Marshall in a plan to disguise the design of a 20-foot wide private subdivision road as a NC State Fire Code 503.2 Fire Apparatus Access Road instead.

As with every attempt to deceive public officials, the town and its engineers’ scheme to disguise the subdivision road as a fire apparatus access road has nullified the Watauga County Floodplain permit and the No-Rise Certification, both of which were based upon the design of an 18-foot private subdivision road. When these plans were drafted, the Watauga County subdivision ordinance called for an 18-foot wide road. The ordinance has been subsequently amended changing the subdivision road standards to a 20-foot wide road.

Please note, even though there is a recorded plat for a subdivision to be accessed by the road in question, Watauga County exempted Boone from the Watauga County Subdivision Ordinance based on the platted subdivision based on 10-acre plat showing 10-acre lots, the criteria for meeting such exemption. Thus, the road does not have to be constructed to subdivision standards (18′ or 20′) for reason of accessing the pump station. The only reason for construction of a subdivision standard road is the obligation Boone made in the 2009 deed to build a private subdivision standard road for Larry Cooper, Randy Cooper and Amy Cooper Greer. For this reason, new plans, new specs, new permit applications, new permits, etc. were required. However, Watauga Planning and Inspections was not notified of the change in plans.
And, the town of Boone and its engineers have submitted the existing Watauga County Floodplain permit and the Watauga County No-Rise Certification Acceptance Letter to the USDA as proper, lawful and valid documents, even though they were both nullified when the new plans were issued. These documents have both been submitted to the USDA in seeking the USDA’s approval to bid the project.

Furthermore, the NCDOT driveway permit that was issued on August 11, 2009, expired on August 11, 2010 and then reinstated on March 29, 2015 as requested by WK Dickson acting as agent for Randy Cooper is nullified due to the change in plan. WK Dickson, then, coming as no surprise to New River Advocates, did not, even though they could have, submit revised plans to the NCDOT at the time they requested a reinstatement of the expired permit. And, the NCDOT driveway permit was submitted to the USDA as a proper, lawful and valid permit to the USDA in seeking the USDA’s approval to bid the project.

When did Boone and its engineers get trapped in their web of deceit? Answer: When the revised plans were submitted to NCDENR as part of the permitting process. The June 15, 2015 letter from WK Dickson to NDENR states: “On March 2, 2015 and March 3, 2015, the Town of Boone received email correspondence from the Watauga County Fire Marshall indicating that the access road width must be 20′ to meet Section 503.2 of the North Carolina Fire Code. As such, the access road width was increased from 18′ wide to 20′ wide. A revised Storm Water Permit (SWG040000) reflecting this change was submitted to and approved by Sue White via email correspondence on May 1, 2015.”

To this letter were attached copies of three (3) emails:

Email One: 2/22/2015 Email from Steve Suddreth, Watauga County Fire Marshall, to Josh Eller, town Boone staff, reads as follows:

“Mr. Eller It was good to talk to you today. Attached is the information you requested about the NC Fire Code requirements for fire department apparatus access roads. Section 503 and specifically 503.2 concerning the road dimensions of 20ft. wide and 13’6″ high have been in the code since the fire code was mandated for all of North Carolina as of January 1, 1993. When you get the plans for the project ready please submit a copy to our office and Watauga County Planning and Inspections. If you have not already contacted Mr. Furman about any other requirements that Planning and Inspection might have please do. If we can be of further assistance please contact me at this email or Office 828-264-4235 Cell 828-964-0683.”

Please note that Mr. Suddreth does not have a copy of plans for the pumping station and the operative word used above is “might”. Only after a review of the plans for such pumping station can the Fire Marshall make a subjective determination as to whether the access road to the pumping station would be required to be 20-feet wide. To-date, as confirmed by New River Advocates, the Watauga County Fire Marshall has not yet received a copy of the construction plans even though the USACE, NCDENR, the NCDOT and the USDA have received copies of the plans. The town Council resolved to adopt the final plans at its November 2015 meeting, yet the plans have not been submitted to the Watauga County Fire Marshall. And, again, coming as no surprise to New River Advocates, the revised plans along with a new permit application have not been submitted to the Watauga County Department of Planning and Inspections to acquire a proper, lawful and valid floodplain permit which would require also a new No-Rise Certification or possibly, forbid, a CLOMR!

Email Two: 3/2/2015 Email from Josh Eller, town of Boone, to Ryan Hager, WK Dickson, reads as follows in forwarding the email from Steve Suddreth:

“Ryan I will call you to discuss. Thank. Jose Eller, Town of Boone Department of Public Works”.

Email Three: 3/3/2015 Email from Josh Eller, town of Boone, to Ryan Hager, WK Dickson, reads as follows:

“Ryan In light of recent conversations with local regulatory review personnel and discussion among staff; it would appear that in the interest of compliance with all applicable standards, some of which have been in place for more than 20 years, we should build the access road to the intake site 20-feet in width rather than the previously proposed width 18-feet. Please revise the plans, specs, permits, and permit applications accordingly in order to avoid any future confusion or conflict. If you have any further questions or concerns please let me know. Thank you. Sincerely, Josh Eller, Town of Boone, Department of Public Works”

The obvious and least costly option would have been for Boone to have submitted the plans to the Fire Marshall for a determination instead of assuming that a 20-foot wide road would be required. New specs, new plans and new permit applications are very costly. This would have been the proper course of action except that the real reason for the 20-foot road is not the NC Fire Code; it is and has been the agreement to build a road to subdivision standards for Larry Cooper, Randy Cooper and Amy Cooper Greer.

We have brought it to the attention of Sue Homewood, NCDENR, that the emails of March 2 and March 3 above, that WK Dickson referred to and attached to the June 15, 2015 letter are not from the Fire Marshall as WK Dickson claims, but instead, are from the town of Boone. Ms. Homewood has responded: “We will look into the matter further.”

Consider the following questions: 1) Is Boone up to paying the costs of the process involved in obtaining another no-rise certification or CLOMR? The CLOMR costs Boone $17,498.75 and the subsequent No-rise certification cost Boone $20,277.50. 2) Is the USDA willing to grant the town of Boone another extension on its letter of intent?

New River Advocates, Inc. discovered evidence from public records request, as far back as June, 2011, showing that the town of Boone and its engineers were attempting to disguise the construction of the private subdivision road from permitting officials, claiming the need for the road to support heavy construction equipment, a 5-ton crane. When questioned about the turn-around, the explanation given was for emergency vehicles.

Then the town of Boone and its engineers hit another obstacle, Erosion Control. The town of Boone, its engineer and the town attorney thought Boone was subject to Watauga County Erosion Control regulations and discussion of how to work around the regulations commenced with options such as 1) using the then county commissioner, Nathan Miller, referred to as “anti-regulation” to influence the Planning Board and to go over the head of Planning and Inspections; or using then commissioner Jim Deal, referred to as “pro-water”, to do the same; or 2) to construct it “ASU-style”, ignore the regulations, ignore a stop order if issued, and go to court if a complaint filed. But, as it turned out, Boone, a municipality, is subject to State Erosion Control so the scheme had to be tweaked and Boone and its engineers had to convince NCDENR that the Coopers did not have any plans at the time to develop the property and that the reason for the “big road” was to support heavy equipment for construction and ongoing maintenance and emergency vehicles. Again, coming as no surprise to New River Advocates, NCDENR granted Boone a pass.

Then the subdivision road standards changed and a new obstacle was presented to Boone and its engineers, how to redesign the road to a 20-foot subdivision road and continue to disguise it. The answer was to suggest that the Watauga County Fire Marshall had told Boone and its engineers that the road had to be a width of 20-feet in accordance with the NC State Fire Code.

New River Advocates, Inc. is familiar with this scheme as it was also used as in affidavits filed in the case of Ronald Cooper, Donald Cooper ET. al. vs Town of Boone whereby David Pond of WK Dickson and Rick Miller of the town of Boone both signed affidavits to the affect that the access would have to be built to the same standards as a subdivision road, despite the 2009 purchase agreement with Larry Cooper, Randy Cooper and Amy Cooper Greer, because of the requirements of the State NC Fire Code. This was Boone’s key argument in defending the claim made by Ronald Cooper, Donald Cooper et al. that the subdivision road was not for the benefit of the public; but for the benefit of Larry Cooper, Randy Cooper and Amy Cooper Greer.

Is there ever any end to the atrocities being committed by the town of Boone? As one official at NCDENR said, “I don’t know why Boone doesn’t throw in the towel.”

Deborah Greene
New River Advocates, Inc.