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Commissioners Vote 3-2 To Grant Water Intake Easements for Town of Boone Upon Contingency

By Jesse Wood

After exiting closed session on Tuesday morning, the Watauga County Board of Commissioners voted 3-2 to grant two easements to the Town of Boone along the transmission-line route for its proposed water intake project on the South Fork of the New River, according to Board Clerk Anita Fogleman.

The vote was contingent upon the Town of Boone granting a four-year water allocation of 250,000 gallons to the future buyer of the old Watauga High School property, which is located in the Town of Boone and is owned by Watauga County.

The Town of Boone originally agreed to give a two-year allocation in return for the two waterline easements that are located on county-owned property near the current Watauga High School and the old Hannah Building, where the Health and Hunger Coalition operates, according to Fogleman.

In April, the Boone Town Council met in closed session to discuss the “terms of possible acquisition of easements from Watauga County related to the water intake project.” Now that the commissioners have voted, the Boone Town Council would have to agree on the four-year allocation as opposed to the two-year allocation.

Republican Jimmy Hodges, chair of the Watauga County Board of Commissioners, sided with Democrat Commissioners Billy Kennedy and John Welch to grant the easements with the contingency. Commissioners David Blust and Perry Yates, both Republicans, voted against granting the easements.

“I just felt like it was the right thing to do. That’s about it,” Hodges said. “You know I am really trying to work with the Town of Boone on anything that I can, and I just felt like that was something we need to do, and they’ve been good so far to try to work with us and I hope that can continue.”

Asked if he was for or against the intake project, Hodges said, “I would reserve any opinion on that right now. I feel like at the present time, it is a town issue, and I think we just need to leave that with the town for the time being, and there may be a time when the county will have to get involved, but until that time comes, I would just reserve any comment on that.”

Commissioner Blust, on the other hand, didn’t reserve his distaste for the Town of Boone government and the proposed water intake project that is more than several years in the making and still a few years away from being completed.

Asked why he voted the way he did, Blust said: “Well, I think two things. One is the water allocation the Town of Boone gave to the high school shouldn’t be tied in with the easement. That should be separated … [Second], I am against the water intake project. I don’t think it is the right place to do it. I think they have been using numbers that are old … Everything has been secret. I don’t think the project is in the right place on the New River. They want to take 7 million gallons out of there. My goodness. I just totally disagree with it. I am not in favor of pushing that project forward at all.”

Mayor Andy Ball was reached for comment on Tuesday afternoon. While he mentioned that he was unaware of the vote at the Watauga County Board of Commissioners meeting in the morning, Ball said, “I am encouraged by this positive development.”

In March, the Town of Boone began notifying landowners along the transmission-line route that the municipality was seeking property easements. If a settlement can’t be reached between the Town of Boone and landowners, a letter from the Town of Boone reads, “The only option for the Town of Boone would be to acquire the waterline easement through Eminent Domain.”

N.C. Rep. Jonathan Jordan sponsored a bill currently moving through the N.C. General Assembly that would require municipalities seeking to condemn land outside of its jurisdiction to receive consent from the county commissioners.

Prior to entering closed session, two citizens of Watauga County and members of the New River Advocates, a nonprofit established to stop the intake project – Frank Packard and Deborah Greene – spoke out against the project during public comment.

For prior stories on the proposed water intake, click here.