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LETTERS / Why is Town of Boone’s Water Intake Now Off Limits in Water Use Committee Meetings?

Feb. 9, 2015. Dear Editor,

The town of Boone had a called special meeting of the Water Use Committee on Feb. 4. This meeting had only two agenda items, with the main one being a “Discussion of and Possible Action on the Clarification of Water Use Committee Purpose and Scope of Duties.”  It was clear from the discussion around this agenda item that there had been some behind the scenes discussion (e-mails and phone calls) of the proposed agenda with an attempt by one WUC member to have an additional item added to the agenda. This agenda item was simply to get an “Update on the Water Intake.”

As background, when the WUC was formed some 10 plus years ago, it was apparently tasked with three duties within it’s scope of responsibility. From the discussion at the meeting Wednesday, two of those are no longer relevant and the only one of the original duties within the scope relates to reviewing “tap ons.” Since discussion of the proposed water intake was technically not in the original purpose and scope of duties of the WUC, [Mayor Andy Ball,] as chairman of the WUC, chose not to include this proposed agenda item on the final agenda for discussion during this special meeting.

It should be noted that during the past years, the WUC has discussed numerous town related water issues outside of it’s original purpose and scope of duties including many discussions of the town’s proposed water intake. These items have been included on past meeting agendas without any issues. Suddenly it is no longer allowed that a WUC member can request an update on this very controversial intake and ask for a discussion of the status of the same. During the discussion around adding this agenda item, Mayor Ball made the statement that it was inappropriate for the WUC to discuss the water intake because it was outside the scope of the WUC and that he would not allow this item to be added to the agenda. There followed discussion as to whether or not the town council had voted to approved the agenda of this “special called meeting” as required, and if not was the meeting even legal?

Why is a discussion by the WUC of the proposed intake suddenly off limits? Mayor Ball was a member of the committee and the town council when the committee was allowed to discuss openly and transparently all town water related issues, including the proposed intake. The suggestion was made that this was an attempt to “railroad public discussion” of the intake. I totally agree with that, and it comes as no surprise to those who have been closely following this process. There is no other reason why you have allowed discussion by this same committee in the past and now the rules are going to be strictly enforced and not allow the “water” use committee to discuss openly and publicly this very important “water” issue. So much for the town’s continuing claims of openness and transparency on this project.

While the town’s 2014 Local Water Supply Plan has not been posted publicly, (due April 2015 to the state), Mr. Miller, the Public Utilities Director, gave out some preliminary information with the comment that the “numbers, as usual, are lower than expected.” For 2014 the town’s Yearly Daily Average was stated to be 1.842 MGD or 61.4 percent of the town’s 3 MGD capacity. This number is normally presented by the town as the yearly average of the Maximum Daly Use. That would compare to the 2013 average of the Maximum Daily Use of 1.792 MGD or 59.7 percent of capacity. If you compare that to the 2007 numbers (7 years ago) the average of the Maximum Daily Use was 2.217 MGD or 70.9 percent and the average of the Average Daily Use was 1.863 MGD or 62.2 percent. The trend has definitely been down and 2014 is basically flat to slightly up versus 2013.  If you add to the maximum daily use the 360,000 GPD that have been allocated for outstanding projects, the total would be 2.2 MGD or 73.3 percent of capacity.  That is “ ssuming” all of the outstanding projects come on line and that could again be many years down the road if at all. It certainly is not in line with the dire predictions of 80% of capacity by 2006 and 90 percent by 2009 in the studies justifying this project back in 2004.

At the meeting there was also discussion around how to allocate the remaining unallocated 800,000 GPD for future projects on a yearly basis with one WUC member commenting there’s “plenty of water for the future” the trend is down. So much for the town’s claim of a critical water shortage for their citizens and the urgent need to continue to pursue this project based on their projection of using 7.0 MGD by the year 2035 (April 2009 presentation document).

During the remaining discussion there was some brief talk of the issue of condemnation of land in Watauga County that will be likely for the project to move forward. This is certainly not something that has been clearly and openly discussed.  The town’s web site and 10 most frequently asked questions addresses condemnation in Ashe County but not in Watauga County where the majority of property owners would be affected by condemnation.

There was also very brief discussion of the ASU/Boone tap agreement that allows ASU to have approximately 70,000 Gallons Per Month of free water for certain building taps for property owned by ASU in the town (i.e. the old Sheraton).  Once again, one raises the question as to why would the town not pursue water sharing with ASU which has a separate 2.0 MGD water capacity system, especially since ASU is getting free water?  The inter-connect exists that would allow that as a possibility versus taking more water out of the South Fork. This option was dismissed out of hand in the 2009 EA by using at best misleading information from a 2002 ASU Local Water Supply Plan when more accurate information was available.

Once again the town has indicated it’s true desires to stifle increasing opposition to this project by stifling open public discussion, including by keeping the WUC in the dark.

Frank Packard