By Jesse Wood
Nov. 17, 2014. In response to a request for pre-litigation mediation of a public records dispute that was filed in Watauga County Superior Court in early October by New River Advocates, the Town of Boone “does not agree to voluntary pre-litigation mediation” with the organization, according to the response filed by the town on Oct. 28.
New River Advocates is a nonprofit that was formed in opposition of the town’s ongoing water intake project located near Todd.
The public records dispute pertains to when Deborah Greene, a board member on the New River Advocates, requested a copy of the 2004 WK Dickson Water Analysis and Master Plan on Sept. 5. WK Dickson is an engineering firm hired by the town to work on the intake project. The plan is among studies with a water-demand outlook that the town uses to justify the intake project.
According to the New River Advocates filing requesting pre-litigation mediation of the dispute on Oct. 7, Greene was informed by town staff that a copy of the plan would cost $424 for Precision Printing to make a copy.
Greene then modified the request to inspect the document instead.
On Oct. 2, Greene questioned the amount of time it was taking to fulfill the request, and then On Oct. 6, Greene inspected the document at Town Hall.
“We tried to make photos of the document and were told if we wanted to make photos or use a handheld scanner, we would have to resubmit a request to do so and it would go to the back of the line,” the New River Advocates’ filing signed by Deborah Green states. “Information was redacted without legal citation. We asked to inspect [Public Utilities Director Rick] Miller’s copy and were told to make a request which would go to the back of the line.”
In a prior story about public records requests, Town Clerk Christine Pope told High Country Press that it is town policy to complete requests in the order received to maintain consistency in the process.
Asked why the town didn’t agree to a mediation, Mayor Andy Ball said in emailed statement: “The town’s position is that staff fulfilled the records request submitted by Ms. Greene of New River Advocates, Inc. and therefore do not see any need for mediation.”
Even though voters approved of a $25 million bond referendum in 2008 to build the water intake, the town still faces an uphill battle to complete the project. Last year, Boone Public Utilities Director Rick Miller said that town has encountered “a lot more hurdles than you could ever dream of for on a project like this.” He added that it would take less than three years to construct the entire facility once all permits were secured.
Two council members voted to halt the project last month until the town’s lawsuit with the state over the abolishment of ETJ is concluded. That motion failed.
And this coming Wednesday, the Boone Town Council will hold a public hearing on the extension of the $25 million bond order. In response to this public hearing, the New River Advocations encouraged folks to attend and speak out against the project.
“This may be our last chance to stop the intake,” according to the group.
The Town of Boone recently posted on its website, “Answers to the Top 10 Most Recent Questions Regarding the Town of Boone’s Proposed Water Intake Project.” That document can be seen here.
See copies of the filings below: