Boone Files Intake Easement Condemnations Just Before Eminent Domain Bill Passes

Published Friday, September 18, 2015 at 4:51 pm

By Jesse Wood

Interim Boone Mayor Rennie Brantz expressed “his disappointment” to the passage of a bill that targets the town’s water intake project along the South Fork of the New River.

Interim Boone Mayor Rennie Brantz

Interim Boone Mayor Rennie Brantz

This past week, State Sen. Dan Soucek advanced the bill, which was sponsored by State Rep. Jonathan Jordan in April, through a committee and onto the Senate Floor despite rejections from the Town of Boone.

House Bill 875 prevents municipalities in Ashe and Watauga counties from exercising eminent domain outside of its planning jurisdiction without the consent of elected officials in those counties.

Earlier this year before the bill passed, Jordan said that elected officials in the jurisdiction where a property is being condemned should have a decision regarding eminent domain.

He also added, “Boone is not very transparent. Anything done to have them discuss things out in the open is a good thing.”

In announcing that he was advancing the bill through the N.C. Senate, Soucek said, “During the months since the bill passed the House, [I’ve] been in frequent contact with property owners, as well as Town and County officials in a thus far futile effort to find a non-legislative resolution to the concerns brought forward by property owners.”

The bill’s sponsorship in April came on the heels of the Town of Boone notifying landowners of its intent to acquire easements along the transmission line route of its proposed water intake near Todd – either through a fair negotiation or eminent domain.

On Thursday, Brantz said that the town was able to negotiate about two-thirds of the needed easements (most of which were out-of-town properties) and that the town filed 16 condemnation actions on Wednesday afternoon, a day prior to the bill passing in the N.C. General Assembly.

“Over $2 million has been invested in the Raw Water Intake Project, which will supply water for Boone, Blowing Rock and Watauga County. The Town of Boone chose to act due to the fact that HB875 would add additional delay and costs to the project,” Brantz said in an emailed statement.

“The delays involved with changing state law at the end of the easement acquisition phase of the project could compromise approximately $ 22 million in loans and grants the Town of Boone has secured.”

Read Brantz’ entire statement:

“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. Two-thirds of the required easements have been successfully secured through negotiations. Like in many public projects, some property owners have chosen not to negotiate. This is where the Town of Boone has utilized existing state law that currently applies to all jurisdictions across the state to continue our pursuit of easement acquisition so this important economic development project can be completed.

On 9/16/2015 the Town of Boone filed 16 condemnation actions, all in Watauga County, in order to secure the remaining easements necessary to move forward with the Raw Water Intake Project. Two-thirds of the required easements, have been successfully secured through negotiations with property owners, most of which are outside the town limits of Boone. Over $2 million has been invested in the Raw Water Intake Project, which will supply water for Boone, Blowing Rock and Watauga County. The Town of Boone chose to act due to the fact that HB875 would add additional delay and costs to the project. The delays involved with changing state law at the end of the easement acquisition phase of the project could compromise approximately $22 million in loans and grants the Town of Boone has secured.”

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