By Jesse Wood
Earlier this month, the Town of Boone mailed letters to property owners along the transmission-line route for the proposed raw water intake system near Todd, alerting them of easement negotiations in the near future.
High Country Press obtained a copy of a letter, dated March 4, that was mailed to one landowner on Brownwood Road in Watauga County. The letter notes thatif the Town of Boone and landowner can agree on a settlement, the property owner will sign a permanent easement for the proposed water line that will be recorded in the Watauga County Register of Deeds.
“If a settlement cannot be negotiated with the claimant, the only option for the Town of Boone would be to acquire the water line easement through Eminent Domain,” the letter reads.
In February, the Boone Town Council approved budget amendments totaling $250,000 for right-of-way negotiating services and W.K. Dickson engineering services on the water-intake project.
It also approved a contract with Blowing Rock-based Sweeting Appraisal Services to appraise a few dozen properties affected by the proposed raw water intake system along the New River. The contract totals $84,600, plus a proposed hourly rate of $175 per hour for additional services as an expert or witness. In all, the budget amendment for appraisal services totals $101,520.
According to the contract, the initial scope of work includes Sweeting preparing narrative appraisal reports for 37 properties along Brownwood Road and seven properties along the New River Hills section. Plus, Sweeting would appraise three more properties, identified as alternative route choices, within the New River Hills section.
Once the individual appraisals are completed, Sweeting Appraisal Services, which was given 100 days to fulfill the scope of work outlined in the contract, is directed to turn in his appraisal reports, so the Town of Boone can begin negotiations with property owners, according to the contract.
Letters mailed to property owners note that existing improvements, such as fencing or retaining walls, along the transmission-line easements, that are disturbed during the construction of the project will be “replaced in like kind in as good or better condition as they presently exist by the contractor.”
It also notes that areas disturbed will be reseeded at no cost to the property owner and that the appraisals will estimate damages properties incur from the construction of the project.
“The Town of Boone wants each property owner to receive just and fair compensation for the damages incurred to all properties,” the letter states. “After the appraisal is received and just compensation has been estimated, an offer to purchase this permanent easement will be made to each property owner for the settlement of this claim.”
This project is years in the making – perhaps a decade. 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.
But as former Town Manager Greg Young and Public Utilities Director Rick Miller has said at previous meetings, the project has hit a number of roadblocks that have stalled the project. For two examples:
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 that document. The project picked up steam again several months ago. Last November, the Boone Town Council voted to extend the timeline of the $25 million bond agreement that was set to expire November 2015 by three years.
Before the Boone Town Council voted to extend the bond agreement, the New River Advocates, a group that formed in opposition to the raw water intake project, spoke out against the project during public comment as it had done so many times in the past. This was essentially a last-ditch effort to kill the project.
As an email from the New River Advocates noted before the meeting: “This may be our last chance to stop the intake.”
During a budget retreat with the Boone Town Council, town staff and department heads, Miller noted that the intake project continued to be a priority.
According to a memo from Miller submitted during budget preparations last month, “This project is progressing towards construction and will require completion of several items within this upcoming budget year.”