By Jesse Wood
July 22, 2014. The Boone Water Use Committee, which makes recommendations to Boone Town Council, met on Tuesday evening to discuss possible revisions to the town’s water ordinance and policies concerning new and existing water connections in Boone’s extraterritorial jurisdiction (ETJ).
This meeting was scheduled in light of N.C. General Assembly’s decision to pass legislation that abolishes the town’s ETJ come Jan. 1, 2015. The bill was sponsored by Sen. Dan Soucek and passed the legislature in June.
The Water Use Committee, which is comprised of Boone Town Council members in addition to other community members, unanimously voted – in the words of Committee Member Tim Wilson – to leave current water connections in the ETJ alone.
Committee members noted that residents and property owners of the ETJ were concerned that their water would be cutoff after Mayor Andy Ball noted in a release that the elimination of the ETJ would force the Town of Boone to “immediately reconsider all water policies” for properties in the ETJ and outside of the town’s corporate limits.
The Water Use Committee, in a 9 to 2 vote, also recommended to council that, as of Tuesday, July 22, no new extensions or water hookups occur outside city limits – including what is now the short-lived ETJ. This recommendation came with the exception that the Boone Town Council would consider – but not automatically grant – requests that featured hardships.
Discussion then turned to attempting to define what exactly is a hardship – whether it’s a financial hardship or a health-safety issue such as well water contamination or a dried-up well. Another question that was asked and didn’t receive consensus among committee members: Does a hardship apply to existing structures or those to be built?
Currently, the town’s water ordinance defines a financial hardship as a family living below the poverty line. Committee Member Patrick Beville noted that it costs thousands of dollars to drill a well and only several hundred dollars to hookup to the town’s water service. He asked if this was a financial hardship. There was no consensus answer to that question either.
The Water Use Committee then voted to direct Town Attorney Sam Furgiuele and town staff to draft a definition of what potential hardships would be eligible to appear before the council for the committee to later peruse and refine.
After a brief introduction from Ball and Town Manager Greg Young, Council Member Lynne Mason, who called the elimination of the town’s ETJ “a game changer,” started off the discussion by saying that she couldn’t “support sending water into unregulated areas.”
While Watauga County has an Ordinance to Regulate High Impacts Land Uses, such as asphalt plants, cement mixing facilities, chemical storage facilities and so forth, it only zones two areas – Valle Crucis and Foscoe/Grandfather. Both of those areas are firmly beyond the ETJ. (The Watauga County Board of Commissioners are holding a public hearing in August to listen to what if any regulations county residents would like enacted by the commissioners.)
Beville, though, disagreed with the water issue becoming attached to the issue of the elimination of the ETJ.
“Water and zoning in the ETJ are truly separate issues,” Beville said, adding that the courts have set a legal precedent that water can’t be used to dictate zoning.
While noting environmental concerns that would occur if too many wells are drilled and the water table drops, Beville added that the town took a leadership position in recognizing the growing need for water in the future by taking on the New River water intake project near the border of Ashe County. With 73 percent support, town voters in 2008 approved a $25 million bond referendum to construct a 4-million-gallon-per-day system. The completion of that system is still years away. Beville mentioned that the purpose of this intake was to create a regional water supply with cooperation from the county and surrounding municipalities.
Beville was one of the two Water Use Committee members voting against recommending to council that no new extensions or water hookups, aside from undefined hardships, take place outside city limits – including what is now the short-lived ETJ.
Committee Member Pam Williamson responded shortly thereafter, “I love Patrick and do disagree on the fact that water and zoning are not related. I believe they very much are. It is evident, in my opinion, that wherever you run water there is development. That is just … the nature of the beast. Whether it should be or not is besides the point.”
Earlier in the meeting, Furgiuele was asked by Williamson whether or not it was legal for the town to require developments to meet town ordinances and building guidelines in exchange for water connections.
“That’s an unsettled question,” Furgiuele said. “Probably not.”
The Boone Town Council will discuss these recommendations at its Thursday council meeting that begins at 5:30. The agenda for that meeting can be seen here.