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LETTERS / More Questions for the Town of Boone Regarding Its Proposed Water Intake?

Dear Editor,

In response to the HCP article “Citizens Speak Out Against Boone’s Proposed Intake System and Condemnation of Farmland, “ I want to make some comments and once again pose some questions that the town has been unable or unwilling to answer.

First, let me thank Mr. Wood for taking the time to review the information from the meeting and write his report in a factual and informative manner. It was obvious that he took the time to carefully review his notes and information that was given to him and try and present the meeting in a fair manner.

The town spokespeople, New Town Manager John Ward, New Town Attorney Allison Meade, and Public Works Director Rick Miller presented no new facts or information in support of the town’s water needs of 7.0 MGD versus previous presentations and the Environmental Assessment of 2009. It was a rehash of the time line for the project and comments that we need the water and it has been vetted by the proper agencies. While DENR and the USDA may have looked at the information, it is my contention that neither fact checked/cross checked the real future water needs of the town against the data the town submits annually through their Local Water Supply Plan to the state. Just because an agency has oversight of a project, that does not necessarily mean the agency has done due diligence in their oversight. DENR and the USDA are made up of individuals who are subject to mistakes, individual prejudices, and lobbying influence (of which the town of Boone has an abundance). For proof that these agencies are subject to mistakes, we need look no further than the coal ash pond debacle now affecting our state water resources of which DENR had oversight. They are certainly not infallible.

Mr. Miller talked about the options the town considered but presented no actual facts or information on those options except to say that the town chose the right one. That “right” option was selected on the basis of an exaggerated future need of 7.0 MGD expected in the year 2030 (town presentation dated 4/7/09). That future need does not match up with the town’s projected water needs per their LWSP’s showing the need in 2060 of 3.608 MGD and 2030 of 3.167 MGD (it was actually 2.75 MGD in the 2008 plan). So how did they arrive at a need of 7.0 MGD? First they added 500,000 GPD for Blowing Rock as an everyday need. That number exceeds the 467,000 GPD demand supply that Blowing Rock shows in their own LWSP in the year 2060? The actual BR demand supply for 2014 is shown as 441,000 GPD based on a population of 1,277. That represents an unreal 345 GPD per person (Boone’s for 2014 was 87.6 GPD per capita). That would indicate there are likely serious leak issues in the BR infrastructure that need to be addressed versus just taking more water from our limited resources.

Here is what the BR LWSP says about their leak prevention and detection program:

While the Town does not have an official leak detection program we remain proactive in our attempts to locate and repair leaks. Staff at the water treatment plant notify distribution personnel when tank levels drop suddenly or when demands seems to be above normal levels. Customer complaints of low pressure or dirty water are investigated fully to determine if the cause could be the result of a broken line. The town also relies heavily on the assistance of the NC Rural Water Association when a leak is suspected or a location of a leak cannot be found. Anytime a leak is discovered repairs are made a quickly as possible. We are also examining options related to getting a more accurate flow meter installed at the water plant that may provide better data for our calculations.” That’s certainly reassuring.

In addition to the exaggerated number for BR, the town added 1 MGD for unallocated reserve, a number Mr. Miller was asked to verify at a Water Use Committee meeting. His response was that the town’s engineer’s came up with that number and I am sure they used a good methodology. It has still not been verified as to origin or authenticity. That number is even more suspect since the town council voted recently to not provide any new water hook-ups in the ETJ nor Watauga County. And just for good measure the town’s engineers rounded up 200,000 GPD to make the number an even 7.0 MGD.

The options that Mr. Miller says they considered were considered in light of this highly exaggerated 7.0 MGD need and not in relation to the town’s real future water needs, which are considerably less. Thus they were improperly considered and ruled out as real options. Not one single option has been evaluated against the town’s real future needs versus some exaggerated need.

It was interesting that Mr. Wood picked up on the town attorney’s comments (as did most others at the meeting) saying at first that the town would definitely not build an access road across the Cooper property they are seeking to condemn. She quickly backtracked and said they did not “anticipate” building an access road across the property. That certainly leaves the door wide open and indicates an attempt by the town to avoid accountability in the future. Will it or won’t it? And if the original easement per the warranty deed is to be used for the subdivision grade access road (to be built by the town at an additional cost of $625,000), how will the town deal with the issue of part of it clearly crossing into Ashe County and the problems that creates with NCGS 153A-15? How say you Mr. Ward and Ms. Meade?

In a blog comment to the HCP article, one of the Water Use Committee members, Patrick Beville, tries to convince that the proposed intake is going to be good for the health of the river. That is a new twist in this discussion and was never put forward by the town in presenting and selling the $25M bond referendum to the public (latest projected capital plan/cost of Phase 1 is $31.4M by the way). It was all about the town running out of water and the town needing the intake if it was going to provide water to it’s citizens.

Here is Mr. Beville’s exact quote: I still maintain (and am qualified to say so) that this precious river will be better off environmentally by installing the new intake and providing municipal water supply to the area. ” Opps. Say what Mr. Beville? I thought this was about Boone’s water needs and providing water to it’s citizens, and not about supplying municipal water to the area? When where the meetings? Who were the attendees? Where are the meeting notes where all of the stakeholders in this “precious river” decided that Boone would build this intake and be the provider of municipal water to the area… translate that regional water supplier? I have asked that of many in the town administration before and I ask it again.

In his resignation later Mayor Ball makes the following statement: “We are nearing the final stages of our water infrastructure project that will ensure we can provide clean water to our residents and access to water for Blowing Rock, ASU and Watauga County.” Really mayor? ASU has it’s own state of the art water treatment facility permitted at 2 MGD of which they are currently utilizing a whopping 16% per their 2014 LWSP. The town and it’s engineers went out of their way in the EA of 2009 to rule out water sharing with ASU as a viable option for any of the town’s future water needs. As noted above, where in Watauga County does the town plan to provide access to this water (translate that sell), since they passed a resolution not to provide water to these areas?

As with all aspects of this project, the more representatives for the town try and explain the project and the need, the more red flags come up and the more questions are generated. That is perhaps why there has been such a lack of openness and transparency that has been a hallmark of this project. As noted in a meeting with the NCDOT on 4/13/09, the town wanted to “avoid public opposition.” That comment is attributed to a member of the WK Dickson engineering firm. Mr. Miller is listed as an attendee of that meeting.

And this is just Phase I of the project. If the town is to be able to actually treat 7.0 MGD they have to build a new treatment facility in Phase II at a minimum of another $20.1 M. When does the town plan to openly start discussing that with the folks and when is that referendum to be scheduled? 2030 is fast approaching!

Finally, could someone from the town of Boone provide information on when the Winkler Creek Reservoir was disconnected from the town’s water system? Who made that decision, when was that decision made, and what were the reasons for disconnecting it? As one of the meeting participants pointed out, this is an approximately 104 M gallon body of water and potential source of water that now sits disconnected? This is a water source option that flows downhill and is gravity fed in close proximity to the town’s current water treatment facility. That is strange indeed and needs some answers. Why has this “option” not been considered?

Oh what a tangled web….

Frank Packard

Todd, N.C.