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Beech Mountain Revises 2012 Local Water Supply Plan, Commissioners To Hear From Public Tuesday Evening

By Jesse Wood

Dec. 16, 2013. The Town of Beech Mountain recently revised its 2012 Local Water Supply Plan on the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) website, according to J. Wayne Howard, a review engineer with DENR’s N.C. Division of Water Resources.

Altering its future water supply and demand figures, the Town of Beech Mountain resubmitted the document on Dec. 9 – less than one week after a concerned citizen spoke before the Watauga County Board of Commissioners and questioned why the town would need a 2-million-gallons-per-day raw water intake system when the town “wouldn’t even be using half of its supply in 2060″ with its current infrastructure. 

Beech LogoLarry Ingle, a resident who lives along the Watauga River, spoke before the board of commissioners on Dec. 3 and voiced his opposition to the proposed project two weeks after officials with Beech Mountain requested a resolution from the county supporting the project and the required reclassification of the Watauga River from a High Quality Waters to WS-IV designation. While the process to reclassify the river could take two to three years and construction of the intake system and transmission lines from the Guy Ford Bridge to Beech Mountain would add to the end completion date, the commissioners could essentially kill the project by not supporting the reclassification effort.   

Ingle submitted a portion of the previous version of Beech Mountain’s 2012 Local Water Supply Plan (LWSP) for the record to the commissioners. (That document is included in the packet for Tuesday’s upcoming commissioners meeting – where a public hearing on the intake system is scheduled at 6 p.m.). According to the previous 2012 LWSP, Beech Mountain’s demand for 2012 represented 18 percent. By 2060, demand would be 42 percent of supply.

But those figures are drastically different on the revised 2012 LWSP, which labels demand for 2012 at 396 percent of supply. By 2060, that demand rises to 449 percent of supply. While actual demand didn’t increase for 2012 on the revised LWSP, supply dropped drastically from the 2 million gpd that was listed previously, accounting for the huge percentage jump in the “Demand as Percent of Supply” category. See the prior version LWSP at the end of the article. 

As to what prompted the change, calls to Beech Mountain Manager Randy Feierabend and Public Utilities Director Robert Heaton weren’t returned on Monday.

According to an email thread between DENR’s Howard and Watauga Riverkeeper Donna Lisenby, who has mounted a campaign to stop what is being called the ‘Beech Mountain Water Grab’ by opponents of the project, Howard wrote: “Last week, the Town of Beech Mountain asked to revise to their 2012 LWSP to better reflect conditions in their water system and resubmitted it December 9, 2013.”

On Monday afternoon, Howard confirmed that these revisions were submitted on Dec. 9. Howard said that he has been in contact with Lee Spencer, a professional engineer, regarding these recent revisions. Howard said that Spencer and the town noted that the supply plan was “sorely out of date and wanted to get everything as current as possible.” 

At the same time that Spencer is working for the Town of Beech Mountain as a consultant on this proposed intake project, he is also working as a contractor to review and approve Local Water Supply Plans for DENR, according to Linwood Peele, a supervisor in DENR’s Water Supply Planning Branch. Peele said that two retired DENR engineers, one of whom is Spencer, have been hired on as extra help to assist in reviewing the hundreds of local supply water plans as required by N.C. General Statutes.

This evening members of the community are meeting on Monday, Dec. 16, at 7 p.m. to discuss the proposed water intake project at the Beaverdam Community Center above the fire department. This is a follow-up meeting from a Thursday night session at Bethel School. On Tuesday, the Watauga County Board of Commissioners will hold a public hearing to hear comments from citizens.

In the meeting packet for Tuesday, more than 80 pages of comments are attached with a vast majority if not all in opposition to the proposed water intake project. The commenters range from rural citizens objecting to a municipality taking county water to environmentalists and recreational users of the river objecting to the sought after WS-IV designation being the least restrictive and so forth.

As noted in a prior article, Watauga Riverkeeper Donna Lisenby has mounted a campaign to halt the “Beech Mountain Water Grab” and is particularly concerned that Beech Mountain is trying to build a 2-million gpd intake system along the Watauga River, while the town is losing between 56 and 80 percent of its water, according to two studies. In a 2011 study, Beech Mountain was losing 1.2 million gallons of water due to water breaks and leaks, and Lisenby mentioned that the town has had three sewage spills in the past year.

“What seems prudent to me is to encourage Beech Mountain to fix its broken infrastructure before we allow them to spend a whole lot of money on miles of infrastructure,” Lisenby said. 

While Lisenby has environmental concerns, others are questioning the maneuvers by town and county officials in trying to push forward this intake project. See this ‘Letter to the Editor’ by Deborah Greene, a conservative, and the liberal Watauga Watch blog.

Chair Nathan Miller described what was written in the Watauga Watch blog as lacking “credence and credibility” and denied that the sales-tax redistribution and water intake project are intertwined. Miller said the the “hybrid-deal” of the sales-tax redistribution that the Watauga County, Beech Mountain, Blowing Rock and Seven Deals agreed to has no bearing on this proposed intake project. He also denied that Four Eggers, who happens to be the attorney for both Watauga County and Beech Mountain, “is lobbying” the board for this project. 

The commissioners will hear comments from the public on Tuesday, Dec. 17. The public hearing starts at 6 p.m. To read written comments from those not able to make the meeting and how the reclassification affects property owners, click here.

See the “Beech Mountain Water Grab” Facebook page here for more information as to why people oppose this project. 

See Beech Mountain’s 2012 LWSP before the recent revisions here.

See Beech Mountain’s 2012 LWSP that was updated on Dec. 9 here.

Nov. 19, 2013: Beech Mountain Seeks Water Intake Near Guy Ford Bridge, Kayak Put-in for Classic Watauga Gorge

Nov. 20, 2013: Commissioners Schedule Public Hearing In Response to Beech Mountain’s Request for Support of Intake Project

Dec. 13, 2013: Anglers, Environmentalists Mount Campaign Against ‘Beech Mountain Water Grab,’ Public Hearing Tuesday