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Originally published: 2014-07-03 18:36:57
Last modified: 2014-07-03 18:41:05

Boone council begins talks on revoked ETJ impacts

by Anna Oakes

The Boone Town Council on Wednesday began discussing the impacts of Senate Bill 865 -- the law passed by the General Assembly that revokes Boone's extraterritorial jurisdiction authority as of Jan. 1, 2015.

Council members discussed potential impacts the legislation could have on the town's future water extensions and briefly discussed the feasibility of annexations into the ETJ area.

Boone Planning & Inspections Director Bill Bailey and town planner Jane Shook noted that their department has little experience with town-initiated annexations, as most annexations have been voluntary and related to water and sewer service requests.

They reminded the council that laws passed by the General Assembly in recent years have made it much more difficult for municipalities to initiate annexations, including requirements for resident votes on annexations.

"It's bleak; it's not impossible," Bailey said.

Voluntary annexations initiated by residents also present several challenges, including the costs of extending town services, town staff and council members said.

Council members agreed not to encourage ETJ residents to apply for voluntary annexation until they received more information about the issue.

Town attorney Sam Furgiuele said he would require more time to evaluate the law and draft a legal opinion of any recourse measures and implications. Council members asked that an opinion be provided at the regular July council meeting if possible.

Furgiuele said even if the council pursues annexation, the General Assembly has recently passed a number of laws undoing municipal annexations across the state, and the same could happen in Boone. Legal challenges to the deannexations could take multiple years for a final decision from the state's appellate courts, he said.

Council members also plan to explore the repercussions, if any, the new law could have not only for new water extensions into ETJ areas, but also for existing water customers.

Councilwoman Jennifer Pena questioned the point of constructing a new water intake if the town no longer has an ETJ. Boone's multiyear-long, $25 million water intake project proposes to draw up to 4 million gallons per day from the South Fork New River near Todd and transport it back to Boone.

But Bailey and Councilwoman Lynne Mason expressed concerns about alternatives to an expanded town water system. If property owners drill a lot of wells in the area, the water table will drop, creating the potential for septic drainage and groundwater contamination. A reduced water table would also impact stream and river levels, which would have impacts downstream, Mason said.

"Costs across the region are going to go up just to provide safe drinking water," Bailey said.

Sen. Dan Soucek of Boone, a Republican, introduced S865 with support from Rep. Jonathan Jordan of Jefferson.

The bill's passage means the town of Boone will no longer have authority to apply its zoning regulations to an area in the county roughly one mile outside of town limits, a power it has exercised since 1983. Nearly 200 municipalities in the state exercise the same power, which has been authorized statewide since 1959.

ETJ residents cannot vote in town elections, do not pay town taxes and do not receive town services, but residents of the ETJ serve on the town's Board of Adjustment and Planning Commission.