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Originally published: 2013-11-19 21:20:21
Last modified: 2013-11-20 10:38:08

Beech Mountain water intake set for hearing

County commissioners have set a public hearing for Dec. 17 to allow community members to comment on a proposed Watauga River water intake to serve Beech Mountain.

Beech Mountain Public Works Director Robert Heaton and consultant Lee Spencer appeared before the Watauga County Board of Commissioners Tuesday to request that the county support the reclassification of a segment of the river to allow the project to progress.

If all goes as planned, Beech Mountain will construct the water intake near Guy Ford Road in Sugar Grove to help provide the town with water during periods of significant drought.

"Beech Mountain realizes this is not a cheap endeavor, but it is also for the benefit and the public health of its citizens and the investments of its citizens," Spencer said.

The town is requesting the reclassification of part of the surrounding watershed to a Water Supply IV designation. The reclassification would affect about 15 percent of the county's land area, according to county staff.

Under a WS-IV designation, lots within the affected area would have to be at least one-half acre. This would represent no change for area residents, as Watauga County's subdivision ordinance currently requires the same lot size.

A portion of the watershed is currently designated High Quality Waters by the state, requiring one-acre lots in new developments. Lots existing prior to the reclassification would be grandfathered, according to county staff.

Spencer said the primary reason for the intake is drought protection, citing a recent example in 2010 when Beech Mountain's Buckeye Lake reservoir dropped tremendously low.

He noted that the intake will pull water only when water levels become abnormally low and could draw up to 2 million gallons per day from the river.

"What Beech Mountain will be pulling out will be the proverbial drop in the bucket," Spencer said.

The extra water supply also would provide protection in case the reservoir became contaminated, and it would help maintain high water quality by keeping the reservoir full, Spencer said.

If successful, the intake would include no visible physical structure in the river, but would include a pump house adjacent to the river. A raw water-line would run along the shoulder of the road, with two or three booster pump stations to overcome the elevation difference, according to town officials.

"As you can see, it's very unobtrusive," Spencer said. "Once installed, the vast majority of people will never know it's there."

Heaton said the town had received site approval from the state and entered into a long-term lease for the property required. He said the town is early in the process and has not yet determined how the project -- expected to cost about $4 million -- will be financed.

He also did not offer an estimated completion date.

Commissioners voted unanimously to hold a public hearing at 6 p.m. Dec. 17, in keeping with the same process used when the town of Boone requested a New River reclassification for its proposed water intake.

Commissioner Billy Kennedy praised Beech Mountain for its long-range planning.

"I agree we need a countywide water policy, and we'll be working with all the towns to make it happen," Kennedy said. " ... All of this is part of a big picture that we need to look at."

Other business

The board also:

-- Voted against a committee member list for the Smoky Mountain Center board of directors in continued opposition to a state law change that altered the makeup of the board, which oversees mental health services in Western North Carolina.

As a result, Watauga and other counties will lose their direct representation on the board, which commissioners have opposed because they provide funding annually to SMC. "I think they've heard my message. It's really a Raleigh problem," said Kennedy, who currently serves on the board, but will no longer have a seat. "I feel like I have pushed as hard as I can on this."

-- Approved the High Country Regional Bike Plan and chose two priorities to submit to the N.C. Department of Transportation for its comprehensive transportation plan. The commissioners chose Bamboo Road from Wilson Ridge Road to U.S. 421 (widen lanes and improve intersections) and Wilson Ridge Road (widen lanes and improve intersections) as their two priorities. The prioritization does not necessarily mean the projects will move forward in the near future, commissioners noted.

-- Approved the tax schedule of values, the standards and guidelines under which properties were assessed for the ongoing revaluation process.

-- Accepted an annual report from the Project on Aging and two grant requests for emergency management.

-- Approved an interlocal agreement allowing Watauga County Planning & Inspections to enforce floodplain regulations on land recently annexed by Seven Devils. Before the annexation, the county enforced similar regulations on the property, so "it amounts to no change for us," Planning and Inspections Director Joe Furman said.

-- Approved several routine budget amendments and a lease agreement for the Old U.S. 421 container site.

-- Canceled the board's Jan. 7 meeting.

-- Met in closed session to discuss land acquisition and attorney-client matters, including a lawsuit filed by former New River Behavioral HealthCare employees and two other lawsuits.

The board of commissioners will meet at 6 p.m. today at Boone Town Council chambers for a joint meeting with the council on extraterritorial jurisdiction appointments to Boone boards and commissions.