By Jesse Wood
Sept. 9, 2013. According to July 23 meeting minutes, the vast majority of Town of Boone Water Use Committee members present opposed supplying any water derived from the proposed intake system into “unregulated growth areas” outside of Boone.
In a non-binding straw vote to gauge where individual committee members stood on issues pertaining to the proposed intake system, eight of the 11 members present opposed supplying water into “unregulated growth areas” while one member Patrick Beville supported the measure of supplying water to unregulated growth areas. Two other members Kristan Cockerill and Tim Wilson were “undecided.” Voting nay were Loretta Clawson, Emily Bish, Lynne Mason, Andy Ball, Joanna Weintraub, James Buchanan, Jamie Leigh and Pam Williamson.
In another non-binding vote in response to the question – “Do we want to continue financing a new water intake if it is reasonably possible that the State could confiscate the intake once completed?” – the majority of the board present at the meeting favored the continuation of funding the project in the face of uncertainty. While Lynne Mason and Joanna Weintraub voted “undecided,” these six members voted to continue moving forward with the project: Emily Bish, Andy Ball, Patrick Beville, Kristan Cockerill, Tim Wilson and James Buchanan.
Loretta Clawson, Pam Williamson and Jamie Leigh voted to stop funding the project that stems from when nearly 75 percent of town voters approved a $25-million bond referendum for a new intake system in 2010. Following the referendum the Boone Town Council accepted a $20.5-million loan from the USDA to finance the project. To date, the town has spent “well over” $1 million on consulting, engineering and planning fees for the project, according to Town Manager Greg Young at a meeting earlier this summer.
One of the main topics of discussion at Water Use Committee meetings this summer has been the slew of bills in the N.C. General Assembly that could give the state or regions authority to take over a municipal utility such as an intake system. For example, committee members noted the takeover of the Asheville water system and the creation of a regional authority to assume control of the Charlotte-Douglas Airport.
Past and potential legislative action has caused the Water Use Committee members to reconsider moving forward with the project.
Earlier this summer, Young drafted a letter dated June 17 on behalf of the Boone Town Council to see if the Town of Blowing Rock and Watauga County would interested in participating in a “cost-share” to help provide additional water to areas outside of Boone “in order to gauge the County’s support of expanding water service in Boone and the surrounding areas,” the letter read.
Two days later, County Manager Deron Geouque responded on behalf of the Watauga County Board of Commissioners that more information was needed – as the letter provided little details as to what a “cost-share” would entail and requested that the Town of Boone provide dates for a possible meeting between the two entities.
While thanking the Town of Boone in considering the county “as a potential partner in providing water resources to the community,” Geouque noted in the letter that the 150,000-gallon water allocation for the old Watauga High School property, which Rick Miller, the Town of Boone’s Public Utilities Director, said is set to expire at the end of the year, is a crucial component to the successful marketing and sell of the property. In that letter, Geouque inquired about the status of that allocation and the possibility of increasing the allocation.
On Monday, Rick Miller said the Water Use Committee will address the old WHS water allocation at its next meeting in September. Miller also added that other than that, he hasn’t “heard of any meetings” pertaining to water resources regarding the town and county.
Watauga County Board of Commissioner Chair Nathan Miller said the he hasn’t heard of any other progressions regarding water issues between the county and town since those two letters either. Chair Miller has said previously that he doesn’t “have a problem” with the intake.
But as for the unbinding vote at the July 23 meeting about members opposing supplying water into “unregulated growth areas,” Miller said, “In my opinion that is completely shortsighted and selfish. We all need water to grow and if they are going to go out into the county to get water and then say we are taking it out of the county and not sharing it with anybody out in the county, that’s not playing very nice.”
According to the minutes of that July 23 meeting, Boone Mayor Loretta Clawson noted that both Blowing Rock and Watauga County, from her “interpretation” of their responses to the town’s inquiries on potential participation, that “both entities wish to have a meeting to discuss the proposed New River intake.”
At that same meeting however, one of the members noted the “division” between members of the Water Use Committee on how to proceed with the intake and said the body should hold off on any future meetings with other potential partners until deciding on how to move forward itself.
See June letters between town and county below.
See minutes from July 23 meeting.