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Water Becomes Attached to ETJ Controversy in Boone

By Jesse Wood

June 26, 2014. With the N.C. General Assembly voting to abolish Boone’s extraterritorial jurisdiction on Wednesday, town water has become a hot topic and perhaps a bargaining chip for the Town of Boone.

Once the House decisively passed the second reading of Sen. Dan Soucek’s bill to eliminate the town’s ETJ on Tuesday, it was apparent the local bill would become law because no signature was needed from Gov. Pat McCrory. The law goes into effect Jan. 1, 2015.

Immediately following that vote, Boone Mayor Andy Ball released a statement that expressed the town’s disappointment and that the town would consider its legal options to fight this law.

Ball added, “Council will now be forced to immediately reconsider all water policies in light of this bill becoming law, and consider whether water can continue to be provided to Boone ETJ properties or any unincorporated areas of the county. We are awaiting a detailed legal opinion on this bill’s impact on residents of the Boone ETJ, and will continue to work to protect these property owners as we are able.”

Last fall, the town’s Water Use Committee, which includes members of the Boone Town Council, voted – in a non-binding straw poll – to oppose supplying water from the proposed water intake into “unregulated growth 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.

The water intake system has been a work in progress for years. In 2008, town voters approved a $25-million bond referendum for a new intake system, garnering 73 percent support for the project. And two years later, the Boone Town Council accepted a $20.5-million loan from the USDA to finance the project. Since then, the town has already spent at least $2 million on the project for property, consulting and engineering fees – and if the project were to be completed, that completion date is still years away. At past Water Use Committee meetings, members discussed folding the project because of the possibility of the state taking over the intake once it was completed.

Pamela Williamson, a member of the Water Use Committee and a Democrat activist, spoke about water in light of the ETJ vote in a Facebook post on HCPress.com:

“Well, there goes than neighborhood and an unfortunate but necessary rethinking of the water wars,” Williamson wrote. “I can’t imagine why Boone taxpayers should be expected to continue to finance a multi-million dollar water intake project to run water lines (and therefore promote) high-density development into unregulated areas, up Howard’s Knob, and up every other steep slope surrounding Boone and its few remaining neighborhoods…”

Republican officials at the state and local level who were in favor of eliminating Boone’s ETJ  – such Soucek and Watauga County Board of Commissioners Chair Nathan Miller – have described the town’s move to reconsider water policies in the ETJ with words like “petty,” “vindictive” and “intimidation.”

“I think this has been typical of how they have handled the entire process with threats and intimidation and an unwillingness to work with anyone. I see no reason why if they’ve been able to supply water to the ETJ of Boone [in the past], why they can’t do it now,” Soucek said on Thursday. “If it was so important, why wasn’t this brought up [before]?”

Miller, who said the passage of Soucek’s bill “represents a victory for liberty,” said it was the Town of Boone’s prerogative to eliminate the water that could curb development outside the Town of Boone’s limits. When asked about the comments by Ball in the initial release after the House vote, Miller said:

“That shows the pettiness and vindictiveness of the leadership of the Town of Boone. The people who receive water outside of the city limits of the Town of Boone already pay double the rate, and that withholding water and trying to centralize it just inside the city limits, it’s certainly their prerogative because they have control of the water,” Miller said.

Jeff Templeton, who spoke in favor of Soucek’s bill in Raleigh, said in a statement: “…In addition, the possibility for a county water system should be further explored in an effort to ensure the long-term water needs of county residents in the event the Town of Boone is unable or unwilling to provide water to properties outside the town limits that could realistically be served from the Town of Boone system…”

After noting that the topic of a countywide system has been broached before and discussed for some while, Miller said it would be very costly.

If the Town of Boone rethinks supplying water to properties in the ETJ or will not supply water to new properties in what will be the former ETJ, Miller said that developers would just continue digging wells and utilizing onsite septic systems as they currently do. For example, The Cottages of Boone development – which is actually located just outside of Boone and the ETJ – is the largest student-housing development in the county and has its own well and septic system.

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