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Watauga’s Agricultural Advisory Board Recommends Boone Halts Condemnation of Farmland

By Jesse Wood

Following a public hearing regarding the Town of Boone’s intention to condemn farmland within the Watauga County’s Voluntary Farmland Preservation Program, the county’s Agricultural Advisory Board recommends that the town “reconsider, reevaluate or discontinue” the proposed condemnation of the Cooper’s Farm.

The board had ten days to release its findings after the public hearing and published its report on Watauga County’s website.

Agricultural Advisory Board: Chair Kelly Coffey (left), Andrew Ellis, Joe McNeil and Johnny Moretz. Far right is Conservation Technician Brian Chatham, who moderated the public hearing.

The Town of Boone is seeking easements near Todd for the construction of its proposed water intake system along the South Fork of the New River. For those property owners that it couldn’t negotiate a settlement, the Town of Boone says it intends to obtain the property through eminent domain.

The property in question is a 1.81-acre parcel owned by I.S. Cooper, Ronald Cooper and Donald Cooper. The Town of Boone offered $23,700 for a permanent easement over, under and across the parcel. This property is adjacent to 10-acre tract that the Town of Boone bought from the Cooper’s cousins for about $85,000 per acre in 2009.

The Coopers that own the property the Town of Boone’s intends to condemn recently filed a complaint in court in June seeking a permanent injunction against the condemnation and also demanding a public hearing for the condemnation.

Following the filing of this complaint, the Town of Boone reached out to the Agricultural Advisory Board of Watauga County and requested the public hearing, which is required by law if the property in question is officially part of the voluntary farmland preservation program.

The Agricultural Advisory Board was tasked with looking at three issues:

  • Has the need for the project requiring the condemnation been satisfactorily shown by the agency requesting the action?
  • Has a financial impact analysis been conducted by the agency seeking the action?
  • Have alternatives been considered to the proposed action that are less disruptive to the agricultural activities and farmland base of the voluntary agricultural district within the proposed action to take place?

After reviewing information presented at the public hearing, the advisory board recommends that the Town of Boone “reconsider, reevaluate or discontinue the proposed action.”

“Evidence of the need for the project presented by the Town of Boone is not convincing, in terms of future use projections, the maximum utilization of existing resources and alternatives to the proposed project. The financial impact analysis is incomplete. The infeasibility of options to the project has not been proven satisfactorily and the effect of each option on agricultural activities and the affected farmland base has not been explained. Based on the information we have received, we recommend that the town of Boone reconsider, reevaluate or discontinue the proposed action.”

The agricultural advisory board consists of five members: Kelly Coffey, Andrew Ellis, Joe McNeil, Jennifer Miller and Johnny Moretz. See the report here.

While citizen activist Deborah Greene, who presented before the advisory board and is a member of the New River Advocates, which opposes the intake project, called the report “damning” for the Town of Boone, this report may not have much of an impact on whether or not the project is stalled or moved forward.

Following the public hearing about two weeks ago, Brian Chatham, a conservation technician with the Water and Soil Conservation Office in Watauga, said that the Town of Boone only has to take whatever the recommendation is into consideration.

Town Manager John Ward didn’t immediately return a request for comment about this report.