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Commissioners Schedule Public Hearing In Response to Beech Mountain’s Request for Support of Intake Project

By Jesse Wood

Nov. 20, 2013. Before making a decision on the Town of Beech Mountain’s request for a resolution supporting a proposed raw-water intake system along the Watauga River, the Watauga County Board of Commissioners elected to schedule a public hearing for Dec. 17 to hear comments from citizens.

Buckeye Lake during summer 2010 drought.
Buckeye Lake during summer 2010 drought.

The proposed intake would be located just upstream from the bridge on Guy Ford Road, which is three miles west of the Watauga River Bridge on U.S. 321 and west of Sugar Grove. This resolution seeking the support of local government is the first step in securing the required reclassification of the Watauga River as a drinking water source. The reclassification process is expected to take two to three years. 

Officials with the Town of Beech Mountain state that it only intends to use the intake system, which would be able to instantly withdraw a maximum of 2 million gallons per day, as a supplemental water source whenever the existing Buckeye Creek Reservoir falls below normal water levels, such as it did during the drought conditions in the summer of 2010.

Robert Heaton, utilities director with the town, mentioned that the project is estimated to cost $4 million. The town has already secured a long-term lease on the property that would house the intake and plans to construct a pipeline to transport the raw water to the town’s treatment plant. The raw-water line will run along the shoulder of the road inside the N.C. Department of Transportation maintained roadway limits. It will require two to three pump stations to overcome elevation difference between Sugar Grove and Beech Mountain.

After listening to representatives from Beech Mountain discuss the plan, Commissioner Billy Kennedy was the first commissioner to suggest a public hearing on the matter. 

“I think the county needs to learn about it. This is the first I’ve heard about it,” Kennedy said, adding that a one-month delay in a multi-year process won’t slow things down to much.

Kennedy said Watauga needs a countywide policy and mentioned that he would like to see this project connected to something else.

“All of this is part of a big picture. We need to look at how the whole county water needs are met,” Kennedy said, noting that the commissioners will meet with the Town of Boone on Wednesday evening and insinuated that perhaps they could discuss water issues.

While Chair Nathan Miller agreed that sounds like a good idea, he said all the local governments – pointedly Boone – wouldn’t be willing to sit down at the table to discuss the issue.

In the end, Kennedy said, “I believe this is a good long-range plan. I commend you for the effort, but I would like [to give the public a chance to weigh in on the matter].“

The public hearing is set for Tuesday, Dec. 17.  Public hearings begin at 6 p.m.

For much more information on this proposed intake project, read prior article on the issue here