By Jesse Wood
Nov. 21, 2014. The Boone Town Council approved a three-year extension of the $25-million bond order for the town’s proposed water intake system at a monthly meeting on Thursday evening.
In 2008, 73 percent of town voters approved the $25-million bond referendum for a new intake system drawing water from the New River near Todd. Two years later, the Boone Town Council accepted a $20.5 million loan from the USDA to finance the project.
The initial seven-year bond order was set to expire in November 2015.
Before a public hearing on the issue and vote by the council, new Town Manager John Ward said that the N.C. Local Government Commission had reviewed and pre-approved the extension.
Ward said approval decision would protect the town’s ability to borrow these funds, which would secure resources to provide adequate water to existing customers while also planning for growth and economic development in the future.
“Lack of adequate water would greatly hamper the ability to do that,” Ward said.
Several members of the New River Advocates, a nonprofit that was formed to stop the project, spoke at the public hearing. Days before the meeting, members of group sent an email stating that this hearing “may be our last chance to stop the intake.”
Marie Nelson, a board member on the New River Advocates, said that the 40-year loan would cause the town approximately $1 million per year in debt service and that the town would have to raise taxes or water fees of residents.
Nelson said that the bond referendum covers just the first phase of intake project.
“Did you know phase two will cost an additional $21-million dollars and did the Town of Boone tell you about the second loan when selling you on the bond referendum?” Nelson asked.
She also noted that the group had made 20 public records requests with the town since Sept. 5 and were only allowed to inspect one document in that time, and she mentioned that revised report of the 2009 environmental assessment conducted by the town’s engineers didn’t include more than 240 comments and objections made by the public.
Deborah Greene, also a member of New River Advocates, said that from 1992 to 2013 water use has been flat except for a spike in 2007-08 due to water leaks.
Frank Packard, a former member of the New River Advocates and long-time outspoken critic of the project, blasted the town for lack of “openness and transparency” and said that list of the 10 most frequently asked questions on the intake that the Town of Boone has put on its website was self-serving and “quite frankly nothing more than smoke and mirrors.”
Patrick Beville, a professional engineer and a member of the town’s Water Use Committee, was the only person to speak in favor of the project. Speaking on the environment, Beville said he encouraged the town to proceed because he hasn’t seen anything in plans on the intake that would cause harm to the river.
“I think the town is doing the right thing by proceeding with the intake,” Beville said, adding that the current intakes are less than environmentally healthy because they are under old regulations regarding the amount of water pulled from the river.
Council Member Quint David said that it was the town’s job deliver water as a public service and to make sure it is done in the most environmentally-friendly manner.
“Everything I read doesn’t indicate [the proposed intake] will change the way the river looks,” David said.
David also said that while the costs to fund this project may seem like a lot of money up front, he saw this intake project as one that would provide enough water to supply Boone, Blowing Rock and surrounding areas for 50 years or more to come.
Both Council Members Lynne Mason and Rennie Brant both stated that the intake is need to address future water demand and that they both felt this is the “best” or “right” way to proceed.