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LETTERS / Another Watauga County Watershed Held Hostage

Dear Editor,

The approval, by Ashe and Watauga County Commissioners, of the watershed reclassification request from the Town of Boone for the Boone water intake that affected farmland in both Watauga and Ashe, took many of us by surprise.  I attended the Watauga County public hearing in April 2011.  At that time Nathan Miller was chair with commissioners David Blust, Jimmy Deal, Vince Gable and Tim Futrelle.  The only speaker, speaking in favor of the reclassification was representative from the Town of Boone.   Our Planning Czar, true to the cause of zoning the county, declared to the farmers attending that they would not be affected despite having possession of a copy of a letter from DENR where a farmer was threatened with $25,000 per day per violation due to farming operations in the Howard’s Creek drinking water watershed.  After the unanimous vote, chairman Nathan Miller, addressing town officials said he hoped they would remember the approval of their request when it came time for the town’s approval of the county’s request for water allocation for the old high school property.  We were sold out for a water allocation. 

Then in February of this year, Watauga County’s watershed ordinance was amended to incorporate the watershed reclassification approved in April of 2011.  Another public hearing was held.  This time the commissioners were Nathan Miller, chair with David Blust, Billy Kennedy, John Welch and Perry Yates.  All of the commissioners voted for the amendment with the exception of David Blust who made a symbolic vote against the amendment because he had been deceived when he voted for the watershed reclassification in 2011.  Kennedy, Welch and Yates lamented over having their hands tied and required to vote on something the prior board had voted for.

Now, we the citizens, find ourselves in the position of having our watershed held hostage again, this time by the Town of Beech Mountain.   Our county commissioners (Blust, Miller and Yates) voted to approve to change the way the sales tax is allocated to Watauga County and the municipalities within the county.  Allocating the sales tax using property tax values versus population resulted in taking money from Boone and Watauga County and giving more money to Beech, Blowing Rock and Seven Devils.  This dastardly deed started with our chair, Nathan Miller.  Commissioner Miller, without the approval of the other commissioners and in violation of the county ethics policy, met with the Beech Mountain Town Council Member Rick Miller, as well as, the mayors of Blowing Rock and Seven Devils where he garnered a handshake deal to split the gains with Watauga County 40/60 with 40% of gains realize by the towns retained by the towns and the remainder going to Watauga County.  However, as Mayor Owens pointed out to the Beech Mountain Town Council when presenting the 40/60 resolution (exactly the same; word for word for each town), the resolutions are not binding meaning the towns are not bound to share 60% with Watauga County.  (We beg the question, with Stacy Eggers, IV (the law firm of Eggers, Eggers & Eggers), being the attorney for the Town of Beech and Watauga County, who drafted the resolution?  Conflict of interest?  

I was at the meeting where the commissioners voted to change the sales tax allocation method and I said then “nothing good can come of this”.   It bothered me greatly that Republican commissioners would state openly they were punishing Town of Boone residents for voting for town council members who were responsible for onerous and burdensome regulations.  Not only was it wrong to want to punish voters; the Republican Party hadn’t run anybody in years for Boone Town council.  So, the Town of Boone lost $2 million in tax revenues.  The Republican Party ran candidates for the Boone Town council and mayor.  They had “hit them in the pocketbook where it would hurt; now they’ll be ready to make a change” they thought.  No, as it turns out, the town of Boone voters sent a loud and clear message back.  So, the college students get blamed for the results.

It is important to glean at little background.  In 1985, our State legislature, due to complaints that the ad valorem method of sales tax allocation was not fair, gave counties the option of choosing either the ad valorem or the per capita method.  Our Watauga County commissioners chose the per capita method in 1987 because it represented a more equitable distribution.  The small towns like Beech, Blowing rock and Seven Devils lost tax revenues while the County and Town of Boone gained.  Citizens of Beech Mountain were outrage and filed suit against Watauga County.  The citizens of Beech Mountain lost.  So, the ad valorem method which counties across the state fought for and was put in place in 1987 as a more equitable and fairer method of sharing sales tax for Watauga County and the residing municipalities was reversed out of retribution.  No, nothing good can come from blind retribution.

To muddy the waters up a little more, Eggers, Eggers & Eggers (attorney for both Watauga County and Town of Beech) prepared a lease back in June of 2013 between the Town of Beech Mountain and a property owner at the proposed site of the Beech water intake pumping station.  The lease is for $50 month for the land and if water is taken from the river, another $50 per month kicks in.  The lease is forever.  It seems there are some property owners, about 35 of them, that own land on the Watauga River who own to the centerline of the river.  Now, six months later, the other affected property owners are notified of the proposed watershed reclassification.  However, nobody was told about the lease.  It was buried in one set of minutes of the Town of Beech.  The negotiations must be hidden in closed session minutes.  We dug it out.   No too surprised at the “quintessential conflict of interest”; it seems to be on Stacy Eggers, IV (Four Eggers) like “flies on stink”.   So, just what did chairman Nathan Miller know of this? 

Are the citizens of Watauga County getting a fair public hearing?  Or, are we going to get sold down the river for sales tax revenues given away?

The Town of Beech Mountain’s own numbers, submitted to DENR, and their engineer’s report show they have an antiquated water infrastructure.  They lose 80% of the water the water they take out now and of the 20% they use they are spilling a large amount into water sources feeding the Watauga River and their water resources.   Why approve 2 million gallons a day to be taken from the Watauga River when 1.6 million is going to be wasted?  Why are they building a new water treatment plant with the capacity to treat only 1 million, the same as their current in-take; why aren’t they building a plant with the capacity for the additional 2 million?  It is just another water grab.

 It is not reasonable for every town in Watauga County to control water and leave county residents at their mercies’ for water.  It is time for our commissioners to say NO, ACT ETHICALLY and RESPONSIBLY.   

Deborah Greene