Citizens organize against Boone intake
by Anna Oakes
The meeting was organized by a group of citizens who oppose the nearly 10-year-old project, which aims to construct a 4 million-gallon-per-day intake on the South Fork New River near Todd. Planned since 2005, the project has faced several setbacks.
Seventy-three percent of Boone voters approved a $25 million bond referendum to finance a new water source in 2008. But the project has faced vocal opposition from other groups, including Ashe County commissioners, state Rep. Jonathan Jordan of Jefferson and Ashe County and Todd area residents, including Frank Packard.
Packard, the featured speaker at Tuesday's meeting, said he moved to the area in 2008 and was told an intake was planned near his property.
"The more I dug into it, the more disturbed I became about the whole project and the process," Packard said.
Packard outlined a number of concerns about the project, including what he characterized as an inflated estimation of Boone's future water needs, a lack of transparency about the project from Boone officials, hidden costs, environmental impacts and infringement of private property rights.
Materials published by the town noted that the town's water demand hit 80 percent of its permitted capacity of 3 million gpd in 2006 and projected that 2009 demand would hit the 90 percent mark -- the point at which the state requires water system expansion to be under way.
But since then, Boone water usage has been on the decline. After peaking at a maximum daily demand of 2.1316 million gpd in 2008, daily demand has not topped the 2 million gpd mark since then, and in 2013, the average figure was 1.7921 million gpd -- the lowest in 10 years.
Packard said he did not believe that Boone will need 7 million gpd by 2030, which is the stated need in the 2009 environmental assessment for the project.
"There's not a critical water shortage in the town of Boone now," Packard said. "I believe the true number is about 4.5 million."
Town leaders have contended that the additional 4 million gpd will be needed for future growth of the town. The town's original calculations included 1 million gpd for currently unincorporated areas and 500,000 gpd for the town of Blowing Rock.
Packard pointed to correspondence -- obtained through public records requests -- between the town's engineers and N.C. Department of Transportation officials about questions over whether or not NCDOT owned the right of way along Brownwood Road in which the town could build its water transmission line from the intake.
The letters noted that the town was "reluctant to condemn" and seeking to avoid public opposition to the project.
"This is still about trying to avoid public opposition to this project," Packard said.
Packard and speaker Mike Williams also said the project endangers the water quality and flow of the New River. The town, however, says that treated water will be returned to the river upstream of the intake site, maintaining river flow "close to original levels."
Phyllis Critcher of Fleetwood said the purpose of the meeting was to inform and to organize.
"Water resources are too precious to be in the hands of a small municipality," Critcher said. "To be taken seriously, we must organize our group to become a nonprofit organization." She asked attendees interested in serving as board members to stay after the meeting.