LETTERS / The Rest of the Story – Untold Version of Soucek-Boone-Watauga Negotiations

Published Thursday, October 22, 2015 at 4:11 pm

Dear Editor,

Rennie Brantz, Mayor Pro-Tem wrote the following statement at the passing of House Bill 875 on September 16, 2015:

“The Town of Boone would like to express its disappointment in the Senate’s recent passing of HB 875. The Town of Boone has made significant investments in the Water Intake Project over the past 10 years, which will provide water for Boone, Blowing Rock and Watauga County. Now that Boone is in the final stages of the Water Intake Project and poised to advertise for bids, it is rather late in the process to change the laws that Boone is required to abide by.

This bill stands to only add costs to the taxpayers, and potentially add significant delay to future economic investment and job creation in Boone and the surrounding area. Initial efforts to make this a statewide law were unsuccessful, and we feel that it should not have been narrowly focused to address this single project as the bill is currently written.

The Town of Boone Mayor, Mayor Pro Tem, and Manager all met with Senator Soucek to review and discuss the Water Intake Project. Since that meeting in August, the Town Manager has routinely updated Senator Soucek as to the status of easement acquisition. ”

Whoa, “disappointed”, really? Now, wasn’t it part of the negotiations for Senator Soucek to hold off on passage of House Bill 875 long enough for the town of Boone to negotiate the 500,000 gallons of water exchange with the county for a much needed easement, filing of condemnations prior to the effective date of the bill and everybody coming out smelling like a rose?

Whoa, “rather late in the process to change the laws”, really? Now, wasn’t House Bill 875 passed in the NC State House on April 30, 2015? Isn’t it true the town of Boone did not even start acquiring easements until May, 13, 2015? Isn’t it true the town of Boone attempted to circumvent acquisition of easements and colluded with the State DOT to give the impression they did not need to acquire right-of-ways?

Whoa, “Town of Boone has made significant investments in the Water Intake Project over the past 10 years, which will provide water for Boone, Blowing Rock and Watauga County”, really? Wasn’t the town of Boone claiming they were in dire need of the water for Boone residents? Wasn’t Boone threatening moratoriums on new hookups? Isn’t the USDA loan a Rural Service Loan initiative for small communities in dire need of water who cannot qualify for financing through regular channels? Didn’t the town of Boone hire lobbyist to negotiate a waiver of the population requirement for the loan, a qualification Boone exceeded? Didn’t Boone’s engineers base the need for water on growth in the town of Boone? Didn’t Boone’s engineers report only an emergency hook-up for Blowing Rock to NCDENR when Boone was questioned why the Blowing Rock need was not factored in the future need equation? Isn’t it true Boone never told the USDA that the service area included the county? And, isn’t it true Boone never told its citizens that water was going to be given to Watauga County, free of charge?

Whoa, “This bill stands to only add costs to the taxpayers, and potentially add significant delay to future economic investment and job creation in Boone and the surrounding area.”, really? Isn’t it the town of Boone’s continued push for an unnecessary boondoggle that is costing the taxpayers’? Isn’t the real reason job creation has failed in the town of Boone is bad planning on the part of its leadership? Isn’t Boone’s real issue with House Bill 875 is that it adds a layer of protection to property owners, an added layer of protection against unwarranted projects, projects that cannot stand on their own merits?

WHOA! Just what is the town of Boone worried about? Doesn’t the deed to the easement with the county call for the 500,000 gallons of water to come from the new intake? Why would the county commissioners negotiate 500,000 gallons of water from an intake that they would kill by voting against the condemnation of easements that would be necessary for the construction of the intake? Didn’t the county vote 3-2 in favor of the 500,000 gallon of water in exchange for the intake? Why would the county not just vote against giving Boone an easement instead of the condemnation?

Whoa, “The Town of Boone Mayor, Mayor Pro Tem, and Manager all met with Senator Soucek to review and discuss the Water Intake Project. Since that meeting in August, the Town Manager has routinely updated Senator Soucek as to the status of easement acquisition. ”

Now for the rest of the story, House Bill 875 was a bargaining chip for the 500,000 gallons of water. Senator Dan Soucek told members of New River Advocates, Inc. about the negotiations when questioned why House Bill 875 was being held up in committee. It stands to reason, if House Bill 875 was being held up for the 500,000 gallons of water that it was important for House Bill 875 to become effective after the condemnation of the easements were filed.   Senator Soucek told members of New River Advocates, Inc. that the town of Boone agreed to not proceed with condemnations as long as the county and town were in negotiations. The county agreed to accept the 500,000 gallons of water from the new intake free of charge and without development strings and signed the easement on September 1, 2015.   We know that the condemnations were ready to be filed from the closed session minutes that were recently released. Senator Dan Soucek contacted members of New River Advocates, Inc. in advance of House Bill 875 being released from committee and we can rest assured Soucek notified the town of Boone. The town of Boone filed the condemnations on September 16, 2015, one day prior to the effective date of House Bill 875 (a bill that would require the county commissioners’ approval prior to final condemnation). We can rest assured that the town of Boone thought everything had gone according to plan as they signed the deed for the easement in exchange for the 500,000 gallons of water with the county on September 17, 2015, the day after House Bill 875 passed.   We can rest assured that all of the politicians involved thought their plan was a splendid one and everything had gone according to plan; Senator Soucek would champion his property rights’ image, the commissioners would not have to vote on the condemnations and show their hand, the county would get 500,000 gallons of free water without any development restrictions attached, those pulling the strings of the politicians could make millions and the boondoggle would continue for Boone. And, what did the county have to lose? Senator Soucek told New River Advocates, Inc. members that a regional water authority was still a viable option.

However, the politicians did not take into account the obvious; Boone could not start condemnation proceedings on property when the owner of the property has filed an injunction against the condemnation until such injunction is ruled on. Or, were they counting on a judge dismissing the injunction? And, they were not counting on the town attorney failing to file the required memorandum of condemnation with the Watauga County and Ashe County register of Deeds putting the vote for final condemnation in the hands of the county commissioners.

And, they were not expecting the public to see through their plan and push for answers. Last, but not least, they did not expect the Coopers to take a stand against the town of Boone’s blatant disregard for an open and transparent process in the taking of their property.

Boone has attempted to take an easement for a private use, a private subdivision road and utilities for a private subdivision, a negotiation made in the deed for the property acquired for the intake facility in 2009.

It is incompetence that resulted in Ashe County standing up to Boone’s right of way through Ashe County, an attempt to hide negative impact and taking of property in Ashe County from Ashe officials.

The town of Boone does not need to look to the Coopers, New River Advocates, Inc., disgruntled citizens, citizen activists, the State legislature or legislation for the excuse for their boondoggle. Those who scoff at the taking of the Asheville Water System, fail to grasp the fundamental argument, the source of local government power is the State legislature; “what the legislature giveth, the legislature can taketh away”. So, when you are looking for something or someone to blame for your Boone-Doggle, just look in the mirror!

Deborah Greene

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