By Jesse Wood
Feb. 20, 2013. The hands of the Watauga County Board of Commissioners are tied for the time being.
With Commissioner David Blust the lone naysayer, the board voted 4-1 in approving state-required changes to Watauga County’s watershed protection ordinance at Tuesday’s board meeting in order to avoid fines handed down from the state.
The amended ordinance will incorporate a new watershed along the South Fork of the New River that is located in the vicinity of the Town of Boone’s proposed water intake system in between Todd and Brownwood.
The adoption of a map of the watershed and the changes to the ordinance are required to be implemented by the state because of the newly classified segment of the South Fork of the New River, which was required to be reclassified because of the town’s proposed intake system.
The changes will be effective March 30, 2013.
Planning and Inspections Director Joe Furman said all existing lots located within the proposed watershed along the South Fork of the New River will be grandfathered in and won’t be impacted by any lot-size changes to the ordinance.
Furman mentioned that the new regulations will have an effect on future multi-family and commercial development as far as the percentage of coverage of land of future developments.
“You can cover up to 36 percent of your total lot,” Furman said, adding that a 30-foot setback is required from the edge of creeks. Currently, the setback that exists is 25 feet.
However, Furman stressed that the commissioners didn’t have much say in the matter.
“If the county does not do this – I forwarded you an email from the Division of Water Quality – they will do it. It’s going to be implemented one way or the other,” Furman said. “[By not approving this] it would take away local implementation and beyond that it would make the county subject to potential civil penalties up to $10,000 a month for not doing it.”
Commissioner Perry Yates objected to having to make a vote, saying he didn’t want to cost the taxpayers $10,000 a month.
“I don’t see a choice but to approve it and then revisit it,” Yates said. “I don’t like being caught between the town that is violating private property rights … and the state saying you have to do something.”
The commissioners heard from four citizens opposing the Boone water intake project during the public hearing on the watershed ordinance at Tuesday’s commissioners meeting.
Karen Carter said she “vigorously opposed” the water intake plans as a rural citizen.
“This project is an attempt to steal rural water resources,” Carter said.
Another citizen opposed to the Boone water intake project was Frank Packard, who said he is “thoroughly convinced” that Boone’s intake system is too big.
He mentioned that he has reviewed water supply plans submitted to the N.C. Division of Water Quality for Boone, Blowing Rock and ASU, which as apart of the Boone-Blowing Rock Interconnect project those municipalities would be connected on the same water system.
“Based on my calculations … other options that were looked at might be more feasible, less intrusive and cost effective,” Packard said, adding that the commissioners may have another chance to take a stance against the intake project.
“I think you have an option just like the Ashe County board [of commissioners] found to have an impact on this project,” Packard said.
Packard was referring to the Ashe County Board of Commissioners refusing to sign a document essential to Boone moving forward on the project because, among other reasons, Boone didn’t notify Ashe County officials that it was financing an access road to the intake facility that went through Ashe County.
After Packard spoke, Commissioner David Blust asked Furman what future scenarios were possible for this project moving forward now that it was stalled.
Furman mentioned one option, which had its roots in a decision made by the prior board of commissioners.
In 2011, the prior Watauga County Board of Commissioners voted to endorse the Boone intake project and signed off on a flood-related form required by federal authorities for the project to continue to move forward.
Since the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) terminated the project indefinitely because of Ashe County’s refusal to sign, Boone would have to resubmit all its data and application forms necessary for the future of the intake system – giving Watauga County Board of Commissioners perhaps another chance to sign off – or not – on the project.
That was one scenerio Furman mentioned, but he added that Boone could go another route and possibly get a state engineer to sign off on the project, at which point Watauga County would have to approve the necessary permits.
“We can’t deny a permit cause we are against it. You can only deny it if something is wrong with it,” Furman said. “Perhaps they will will come up with some alternative design that doesn’t require either one.”
Blust, who was on the prior board, voiced his concerns with the project and the Town of Boone loudly and clearly.
“I feel like Boone has misled a lot of people with their water situation … Figures can lie and liars can figure. When you are not giving all the stats, all the information, that really bothers me,” Blust said, referring to previously submitted data from the Town of Boone and figures researched by Packard.
“I don’t like this situation with the water and what Boone has done. That government is out of
control with the control of development. I think its going to give the Town of Boone – I don’t care if it’s the Town of Seven Devils – major control for years to come. I don’t like that at all.”
In light of the $10,000/month possible fine, the board passed a motion to adopt the official map and ordinance and send it to the N.C. Division of Water Quality just before the deadline expires on March 30.
Board members also agreed to revisit the ordinance and options Watauga County has to stand in the way of the project – including the 2011 endorsing of the project by the prior commission – prior to the end of March deadline.