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LETTERS / Response To Special Boone Town Council Meeting on Water Intake

Dear Editor,

Much could be said about the special council meeting on 8/22/16 where the council voted 4 to 1 to continue to move the proposed Boone Water Intake forward. I will try and be brief as possible in my comments, although it is difficult to be brief when addressing the inconsistencies and mis-information that is continuously put forth by the town council and staff. It was obvious to me that this was a pre-determined conclusion where much discussion has taken place before this meeting. The questions which were asked were designed to elicit answers to support the vote to move the project forward. I certainly do not know when these discussions took place but there is no doubt in my mind that they took place and this was not new information presented to the town council by the town manager tonight. The councils record on closed meetings and executive session discussions is well documented.

In my briefly allowed public comments, I again referenced Phase II of this project as outlined in a town presentation dated April of 2009.  Phase II is the new water treatment facility that MUST be built if the town is going to be able to treat the 7.0 mgd that they say the town needs and will be using in 2035 (I reference the 2009 presentation), although this is in stark contrast to the town’s Local Water Supply Plan for 2015 that shows “supply demand” in 2060 of 3.608 mgd. It is also in stark contrast to the figures presented by Mr. Miller at the meeting on projected water usage. As I suggested in my comments, maybe Mr. Miller needs to file an amended LWSP for the town based on his many “what if’s” presentation at the meeting. Without this new water treatment facility, even with the upgrades in Phase I, the town will only be able to treat 4.5 mgd.

As noted, I have raised the issue of Phase II numerous times, including the incremental $22.1M that it will cost (above the now $42M of Phase I). Actually,Phase II will likely be much higher than $22.1M since that projection was made in 2009 and made by the same group that has done a horrible job of forecasting costs on the initial phase of the project. At any rate, whatever the real cost of Phase II, that WILL require an additional bond referendum and vote by the folks.  Mr. Miller finally admitted that fact at one of the last Water Use Committee meetings many months ago (none have been held recently as noted by Ms. Williamson in her public comments at the meeting). The council does not seem to be concerned about this additional debt on top of what is now a $42M plus project and none of the questions at the special meeting even addressed this next phase of the project and the additional millions of debt that it will require.

The question has been raised yet no one seems concerned about a possible $22.1M plus in debt on top of the now $42M of Phase I. Why would that be? Could it be that there are really no plans for a Phase II because there is no real “need” for a capacity of 7.0 mgd,  and that all of the presentations and suggestions that the town was running out of water and would be USING 7.0 mgd (again I reference the April 2009 presentation) by 2035 were a ruse to gain approval from the permitting agencies for this oversized intake (NCDENR Scoping Report date 11/2008)? Such an intake at the proposed location would give Boone control of this vital water resource and set the town up to sell water as a regional water provider. It was interesting that at a meeting in May of 2012 with Rep. Jordan at the library in Ashe county, I specifically asked Mr. Miller what the plans were for the new treatment facility and his response was “I don’t know, we haven’t gotten that far in our planning.” By the way, WK Dickson engineers were at that meeting as well. I found that odd then and I find it odd now that with the urgency that the town has projected with this project.

So, let’s put the speculation to bed by answering a few simple questions:

What are the plans for Phase II (a new water treatment facility that will allow the town to actually be able to treat the 7.0 mgd the town says they need and justification for this intake) of this project as presented in the April 2009 town presentation?

What are the latest projected costs of Phase II, the new water treatment plant?

What are the plans for presenting the voters with a referendum on the debt/cost (whatever the 2016 number might be) that will be required to complete Phase II.

How will that debt be serviced and will there be an increase in taxes and water fees necessary to finance this additional needed debt?

My guess is that no one will answer any questions and that this will continue to be ignored  which will clearly confirm that this has all been an intentional deception to justify the original intake to the permitting agencies, but I am certainly open to discussion with anyone willing to answer any of these important questions.

To Ms. Mason… to put it bluntly, I found your comments at the meeting to be insulting and condescending. It is an example of the mindset of so many of our public officials today… we know what is best for you. Your comments regarding the “water need” of the town being justified and verified by “professionals” is the definition of hypocrisy. These “professionals” that you tout as the source/verification of the town’s water need are the same engineers that projected costs (as recently as 7 months ago) of $21M. Costs that are now projected with actual bids of $33M or 57% above the projection.  You yourself expressed concern about those increased costs, yet you would hold these same “professionals” up as examples of accuracy in determining the town’s true future water needs.  By the way, Ms. Greene, who is in her own right a professional, was right on the money with the projected total project costs of $42M which she had shared with the council weeks ago. So, who was right?  Ms. Greene or your touted professionals???

For reference, noted below is the info on the WK Dickson web site about their work on the proposed Boone Water Intake:

“The Town of Boone’s raw water system has an existing capacity of 3.0 million gallons per day (MGD), but a Water Supply Master Plan conducted by WK Dickson has estimated the Town’s 50 year water needs at 11 MGD. To meet immediate demands, WK Dickson is providing planning, environmental assessment, permitting coordination, funding assistance, engineering design and construction administration for the expansion of the Town’s existing water treatment plant from 3.0 MGD to 4.5 MGD, construction of a new 6.0 MGD raw water intake, planning for Phase II Water Treatment Plant expansion or new plats, and construction of 12 miles of water transmission main. Our team of in-house funding experts has helped the Town secure over $22 Million to make this project possible.”

50 year water needs of 11 MGD? Are you kidding me????? I thought it was 7.0 MGD.

New 6 MGD raw water intake? I thought it was 4.5 MGD???

Phase II Water Treatment Plant Expansion?  Ok, again, What are the plans??? Answer some questions.

Doesn’t take much reading to see the exaggeration in WK Dickson’s web page “facts.”.  And these are the professionals, Ms. Mason, holds up as the gold standard of verifying the town’s future water needs???  Again what HYPOCRISY from Councilwoman Mason…pure and simple.

Finally, I find it disturbing that elected officials, seemingly knowledgable, would fall victim to the “it’s a great interest rate, so let’s borrow more money so we can get what we want” mindset. That has been the ruin of many an individual family and it will be a future problem for the town of Boone and a burden to future generations to come. It is a mindset that has buried our nation in nearly $20 Trillion in debt.

I also found it interesting that one of the persons who spoke during the public comments at the meeting (accidentally because he signed the wrong sheet) was a developer who was encouraging the town to take advantage of the low interest rate for the project. Of course he would, because more water means approval of more of the “multi-use developments” that are now dotting the Boone landscape. Has anyone driven down Hwy. 321/Blowing Rock Road lately? And as the town manager confirmed in his comments, more water means more development which the town will need to sell to help meet the original $20.1M USDA loan and now the incremental $12M the town will seek from the USDA.

Finally, in all of the discussion by the town manager, staff and the council, none addressed a very important issue.  That issue is the cost ofmaintenance of the 12 miles of water lines and the intake itself over the years during which the town will be obligated for the “loan.”   Additionally there will be the need to expand the wastewater treat facilities if water usage increases as required by the increased development. What will be the source of those “capital needs funds?” As Ms. Clawson so clearly pointed out in the discussion, this project has the potential to hamstring the town for any future infrastructure needs or repairs.

Anyone who believes Mr. Ward’s or the councils assertion that this project can be completed and the long term impact will not include an increase in taxes and user fees is not looking at all of the long term requirements of a project of this magnitude.

Caveat Emptor…let the user beware!

Frank Packard

Todd, N.C.