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Watauga County's 74-acre old Watauga High School property, located at 400 High School Drive
off of N.C. 105, remains on the market.

Originally published: 2013-12-04 13:03:06
Last modified: 2013-12-04 13:24:55

Committee: Let old WHS reserve expire

by Anna Oakes

Boone's Water Use Committee on Tuesday recommended that the town let the 150,000-gallon-per-day water allocation reserve for the county's old high school property expire at the end of the year.

Water Use Committee member Pam Williamson suggested the town employ the water reserve as a bargaining chip with the county in an attempt to restore the town of Boone's previous share of local sales tax revenue, which the county commissioners voted to alter earlier this year.

"We have a new town council. I think we have a real good opportunity here to ask the county to sit down and renegotiate this water," Williamson said. "There is a really golden opportunity here to make things right for everybody."

The vote followed a discussion of an Oct. 9 letter from Watauga County Manager Deron Geouque explaining the calculations behind the county's water reserve request. In making a request for 200,000 gpd, county staff estimated a developer would want approximately 800 apartment bedrooms (120,000 gpd), 750,000 square feet of retail space (54,000 gpd) and restaurants (26,000 gpd).

"The county would renew its request to maintain the 150,000 gpd allocation (reserve) as it is vital to the sale of the property," Geouque wrote.

The Boone Town Council initially set aside 70,000 gpd for the 74-acre property in March 2011 but later increased the reserve amount to 150,000 gpd. The reserve was set to expire Dec. 31, 2011, but then was renewed until Dec. 31 of this year.

Some committee members expressed skepticism about the property's capacity for such a large development, but Boone Planning & Inspections Director Bill Bailey said the site has enough acreage available under current regulations "to do most of what they're talking about."

Water ordinance extension

The committee also voted to recommend a six-month extension of Public Utilities Ordinance 11-01 -- the water ordinance. Since 2005, the town has instituted a rationing system for water allocations. The council extended the water ordinance in 2011 until the end of this year, allowing for the allocation of 220,000 gpd in 2012 and 2013.

Boone Public Utilities Director Rick Miller said water usage in 2013 is down compared with 2012. But to be conservative, he said, he recommended that the town utilize the 2012 yearly maximum daily average in determining the amount of water it has left to allocate prior to a new water source coming online.

The town currently has a permitted capacity of 3 million gpd. Subtracting from the total capacity the 1.958 million gpd daily average from 2012 and the 590,644 already allocated or reserved for ongoing projects -- including the old WHS site -- Miller said the town had approximately 450,000 gpd left to allocate.

The water intake project is planned to add 4 million gpd to the town's capacity, but it could be three years or more away from completion, Miller said.

The current phase of Boone's water system expansion -- funded by a $25 million bond referendum -- includes adding the capacity to treat 1.5 million more gallons per day. But to treat all of the town's expanded water supply after completion of the new intake, a second phase is required -- an estimated $21 million expansion of the town's water treatment plant that is currently unfunded.

Water committee authority

A request from Water Use Committee member Patrick Beville to include a meeting agenda item on the potential hiring of a project manager for the water intake project prompted town staff to examine the committee's original scope of authority, Miller said.

Town attorney Sam Furgiuele said the committee's scope of authority was outlined in the original motion to form the committee, which states that the committee "will develop priorities for the remaining taps and address future interconnections and consolidation of pressure zones."

But Water Use Committee meetings during the past three years have also included several discussions of state legislation related to water issues, the town's use of grey water and Boone's water intake project, among other subjects. At the October meeting, committee members pressed town staff for more information about the intake project, saying they did not know enough to make informed recommendations to the council.

"I think in the last year there have been discussions and recommendations that have gone beyond what the original mandate was," Furgiuele said Tuesday. He said the town council could vote to expand the committee's scope of authority if it so desired.

The committee also briefly discussed the alternatives evaluated by engineer W.K. Dickson in selecting the site for Boone's water intake project.