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Originally published: 2013-10-18 11:38:02
Last modified: 2013-10-18 11:38:02

First tap to emergency interconnection line planned

by Anna Oakes

As planned, Appalachian Regional Healthcare System's new post-acute care facility would be the first development to directly tap onto the new emergency interconnection water line between Boone and Blowing Rock.

But town leaders currently disagree over whether a direct connection would be permissible under the 2008 agreement that authorized the creation and use of the line.

The two municipalities entered into an agreement in April 2008 to construct a 12-inch water line connecting the two town's water systems. In the event of a failure or other emergency within either town's water system, the non-failing system will provide water to the failed system, according to the agreement.

The five-mile interconnection line was completed in 2011 and cost $2.8 million to build; it was funded by grants and loans from the 2009 federal stimulus package, the Appalachian Regional Commission and the N.C. Rural Center. The lines runs along U.S. 321 from Blowing Rock's water plant to Deerfield Road in Boone.

ARHS plans to close the Blowing Rock Hospital in downtown Blowing Rock and replace it with a new $20 million post-acute care facility on 68 acres off of U.S. 321 and across from Edmisten Road. The Blowing Rock Town Council approved the satellite annexation and general business zoning of 25 acres of the property last year, and the rest of the property lies within the town's extraterritorial jurisdiction, according to Blowing Rock Planning Director Kevin Rothrock.

Rothrock and Blowing Rock Town Manager Scott Fogleman confirmed this month that plans are to connect the ARHS property to Blowing Rock's water system via the interconnection line -- which would be the first direct tap to the line since its completion in 2011.

But Section 4.8 of the April 2008 Emergency Water Supply Agreement reads, "Except for the aforementioned fire hydrants, neither party shall allow any taps or water connections to its respective side of the interconnect. In addition, neither party shall allow any other connection for water service to be made from any other part of its water system to any property which is outside its planning jurisdiction and between Boone and Blowing Rock until comprehensive land use planning and zoning is imposed upon the property by the appropriate governmental entity."

In response to questions from Watauga Democrat, Fogleman and Rothrock said that Blowing Rock's understanding of the agreement all along has been that connections to the line would be permitted as long as the water service was being provided to property that was zoned by the town.

Boone Town Manager Greg Young said he disagreed with that interpretation of the agreement in comments to Watauga Democrat earlier this month.

"I'm not a lawyer," he said, but "I interpret the wording to say that neither party shall allow any taps, period."

Young said he felt the agreement would permit the extension of water to the project via a separate line that could run parallel to the interconnection line, however.

Fogleman said he discussed the issue with Young on Wednesday, and that both managers confirmed they interpret the agreement language differently.

"We continue to think that because that property is annexed and appropriately planned within the community, that the connection to the interconnection line is something that can be done," said Fogleman, who became Blowing Rock manager this year. In discussions with Blowing Rock leaders about the interconnection line's history, "I think we agree that the wording of the agreement, if that was the intent, perhaps did not as clearly document it as it could have," he said.

Fogleman said he and Young agreed to spend more time thinking about the issue and to touch base again in the next few weeks.