Aug. 21, 2014. Dear Editor,
I learned at a meeting [on Monday night] that in October 2013, the town of Boone through it’s engineering firm, WK Dickson, submitted maps to the Watauga County Planning Department certifying the proposed Boone Water Intake as a “No Rise” project. This would, as I understand it, bypass the need for a CLOMR MT2 Form that was originally required by FEMA as a part of this project and addressed as a necessary part of the permitting for the project in the Environmental Assessment of 2009. It is also my understanding that the Watauga County Planning Director has not brought this issue before the board of commissioners and does not see the need to do so. I find that particularly disturbing in light of the magnitude of this proposed project and the potential negative impacts to not only Ashe County property owners but many in Watauga County as well.
As with most aspects of this project, contrary to the claims by the town, just about every important issue with this project has been addressed behind closed doors and in secrecy. Now with this action, the appearance is that Watauga County Government is becoming complicit in that effort. At a Watauga Commissioners meeting shortly after the original CLOMR application was terminated by FEMA ( January of 2013 ) because of Boone’s failure to provide necessary information to impacted communities, this specific issue was addressed by Mr. Furman when questioned by board members. I am certain you can review minutes of that particular meeting to ascertain exactly what was said, but I was there and I specifically remember Mr. Furman stating that some of the options available to the town were to possibly change the design of the project and/or get an engineer licensed in the state to certify that there would indeed be no impact to the flood plain ( a “No Rise” certification ). Upon hearing that comment I immediately sent letters to FEMA and the NC DPS from whom the MT2 termination letters came and advised them that if they received such certification, especially from the engineering firm handling the project for Boone, that such documents should be examined very thoroughly. Please excuse my sarcasm and skepticism, but guess what? That is exactly what happened. A “No Rise” certificate and maps has been submitted to the Watauga County Planning Department and guess by who? Yes, WK Dickson. The town can spin this however they please in the name of openness, transparency, and a community effort, but it clearly smacks to me of an effort to bypass the CLOMR process and get around having to publicly address the issues that other impacted communities have raised and specifically Ashe County in their refusal to sign the original MT2 Form.
I also recall that the town of Boone went into closed session some months back to discuss a contract issue where an additional $89,000 contract was discussed relative to issues with the obstacles to the intake project. Once again, no one knows for sure because of the lack of openness and transparency but I have my strong opinions about what that contract was for. I have asked repeatedly of the Mayor, Current Town Council members, and current Boone Water Use Committee members what is the updated status of the FEMA reapplication. Most recently I asked that of the Mayor during a call in radio show and Councilman David after a recent meeting of our organization, New River Advocates. Guess what the answer was? Silence. Now it is easy to understand why that question went unanswered, since they are in the process of trying to go in the backdoor to push this ill-conceived project forward.
While the county planning director may not see the need to involve the board, if something of this magnitude moves though the approval process without the involvement and ultimate sign-off or rejection by the board of commissioners and a period allowing for public input, this would be a travesty to the people of both Watauga and Ashe County.
As a side note, i find it in more than odd that in the EA the town originally needed a CLOMR and now with basically the same maps and same design, they don’t. Has the planning director checked the “No Rise” maps/certification submitted by cross referencing with the original maps submitted as part of the CLOMR application? What process did he use to verify that ANY changes had indeed been made and that those changes would not create flood mapping issues? What were those design changes? What follow-up discussions has the planning director had with FEMA or NC DPS regarding this “No Rise” certification. More importantly, what discussions has the planning director had with the engineering firm who has submitted the certification? As with so many aspects of this project, one question’s answers usually produce more questions than answers.
As a final side note, I observed on the maps submitted by WK Dickson with the “No Rise” certification that the plans still show part of the access road and transmission line crossing into Ashe County. They are basically the same maps that are in the EA regarding the county boundary, and when challenged on the original EA maps by the the media, the Boone town manager simply replied that the maps were wrong and they had other ways to access the property for the intake without crossing into Ashe County. Once again, please excuse my sarcasm, but I suppose these latest maps are wrong as well? Another $89,000 well spent!
There is nothing right about this project or the process that has moved it forward. The more you dig, the uglier it gets. I trust that the Watauga Commissioners will request a full and open public discussion of this latest “issue” regarding a “No Rise” certification before signing off on same.
Frank Packard / President of New River Advocates