By Jesse Wood
Preliminary work on the Town of Boone’s water intake project is set to begin at the intake facility near Todd in a few weeks, according to Boone Town Manager John Ward, who made the announcement at Thursday’s council meeting.
Ward said that site preparation for the intake access road included tree cutting to minimalize the environmental impact for endangered bats in the area that were identified in the environmental assessment of the project. Ward mentioned that wood cut would be donated to a local charity.
After years of planning, it looks like construction of this controversial project will finally begin.
In 2008, 73 percent of town voters approved the $25-million bond referendum for a new intake system. Two years later, the Boone Town Council accepted a $20.5 million loan from the USDA to finance the project, which included about 63,000 linear feet of line from the proposed intake in Todd to the town’s water treatment plan on Deck Hill Road, according to a 2008 article in High Country Press.
The project hit a number of roadblocks since being approved by voters.
In 2012, N.C. Rep. Jonathan Jordan tried to pass a bill through the N.C. General Assembly that would have killed the project, and at the beginning of 2013, Federal Emergency Management Authority (FEMA) halted the project because Ashe County officials declined to sign off on a required flood-mapping document related to the project after Boone officials didn’t notify Ashe County that it was financing an access road to the intake facility, which is located in Watauga County but passes through Ashe County.
But Jordan’s bill didn’t pass and the Town of Boone was able to sidestep the need for the flood-mapping document. Last November, the Boone Town Council voted to extend the timeline of the $25 million bond agreement, which was set to expire, by three years.
In March of 2015, the Town of Boone began sending out letters to property owners along the transmission-line route, alerting them of easement negotiations in the near future. Those letters also mentioned that if a settlement couldn’t be agreed upon, then condemnation would be the only other option for the town.
Then Jordan introduced a bill preventing municipalities in only Ashe and Watauga counties from exercising eminent domain outside of its planning jurisdiction without the consent of elected officials in those counties. But the Town of Boone was able to file condemnations needed for the project the day before the bill passed and immediately went into effect.
In June and October, attorneys representing Ronald and Linda Cooper and Donald and Deveta Cooper, property owners of condemned land, filed civil lawsuits against the Town of Boone seeking an injunction against the condemnation, among other judgments.
In December, Town Attorney Allison Meade announced to Ward and Boone Town Council that a judge essentially dismissed what remained of the Cooopers’ challenge of the condemnation.