Intake bill likely to die in committee
by Anna Oakes
The town of Boone plans to build a new 4 million gallon-per-day raw water intake facility on the South Fork of the New River between Todd and Brownwood in Watauga County. Jordan introduced House Bill 1227, “Disapprove New River Basin Rule,” on June 14, nearly one month after the 2012 legislative session began on May 16.
The bill has serious implications: By disapproving the state regulatory measure needed for the facility to receive permits, the legislation would put a stop to the seven-year-long project for which nearly $2 million has already been spent in engineering and planning costs, and the town would undoubtedly lose a 40-year, 3.25-percent-interest loan for $20.5 million from the U.S. Department of Agriculture for the project.
An additional $2.25 million in grants has been awarded from USDA and the N.C. Rural Economic Development Center for the facility.
Jordan, a Republican, said he filed the bill because of concerns about the location chosen for the intake, because of questions about the town's water usage data and because he felt not enough people knew about the project and were allowed to provide input.
“I had a lot of concerns about the project,” Jordan said. “Lots of my constituents were concerned as well.”
Jordan said he felt Boone should have given more consideration to other alternatives studied for a new water source, such as a reservoir on a tributary to the New River.
“I feel like this particular site was sort of favored from the beginning. I think this is a very poor, poor site,” he said.
He said he had doubts about Boone's water shortage being as dire as has been suggested. Although town usage of water exceeded 80 percent of capacity in 2006, water usage has since declined. Town officials say decreased consumption is due in part to the economic downturn and that they expect usage to increase again as the economy recovers.
“Boone needs water; we all know that. There are questions about exactly what their water situation is,” said Jordan.
The water intake facility requires a state water quality classification for an area 10 miles upstream of the intake site to Water Supply (WS) IV. Sources used for drinking water are classified WS I through V, with WS-I carrying the most restrictive standards.
The state Environmental Management Commission unanimously approved the reclassification on Jan. 12, and the state Rules Review Commission signed off on the change in February. However, if the Rules Review Commission receives at least 10 letters objecting to the reclassification, a legislative review is triggered. Jordan said the commission received more than 50 objection letters.
If a bill disapproving the reclassification is approved by the General Assembly and enacted into law, the reclassification will not become effective, but if the bill does not pass, the rule takes effect.
The bill was referred to the House rules committee and then re-referred to the House Committee on Environment, said Jordan.
Ultimately, with the prospect of losing more than $20 million in federal money for the project and the session rapidly coming to a close, the legislation is not likely to advance out of committee, Jordan said.
“I'm afraid, with federal funding hanging out there, that will go away if this specific project is not started,” he said. Jordan said he had hoped for some kind of compromise on the project, but that the reclassification procedure was the “kind of situation where there really can't be a compromise situation.”
Jordan said that if anyone thinks he does not want Boone to grow or have water, “that's false. My concern was this particular site.”
Jordan said his assistant tracked contacts with constituents about the bill, and that constituents favored the bill by a ratio of about two or three to one.
“Basically it's just come down to where there's not enough time,” he said.
Following the issuance of a statement from the town of Boone opposing the bill, the Blowing Rock Chamber of Commerce released a statement that the legislation “could present a devastating blow to our economic development.”
After Blowing Rock faced water shortages several years ago, the town of Blowing Rock constructed an interconnection line to Boone for the transfer of water from Boone or Appalachian State University during times of emergency. Blowing Rock has also discussed the possibility of purchasing up to 500,000 gallons per day from Boone once its new intake facility comes online.