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Originally published: 2013-12-13 16:12:25
Last modified: 2013-12-13 16:13:11

River reclassification set for hearing Tuesday

by Kellen Short

Watauga County commissioners will hold a public hearing Tuesday on a river reclassification necessary for the town of Beech Mountain to pursue a Watauga River water intake.


Beech Mountain has proposed situating an intake near the Guy Ford Road bridge to provide water to the town when its reservoir becomes depleted, as is has before during times of drought.


Before the project can progress, the town must secure the reclassification of part of the surrounding watershed to a Water Supply IV designation. The reclassification would affect about 15 percent of the county's land area, according to county staff.


Under a WS-IV designation, lots within the affected area would have to be at least one-half acre. This would represent no change for area residents, as Watauga County's subdivision ordinance currently requires the same lot size.


A portion of the watershed is currently designated High Quality Waters by the state, requiring one-acre lots in new developments. Lots existing prior to the reclassification would be grandfathered, according to county staff.


Beech Mountain staff said the intake could draw up to 2 million gallons per day from the river.


The town has not yet determined how it will finance the estimated $4 million project or what the timeline will be.


Beech Mountain Town Manager Randy Feierabend said in a letter to commissioners Oct. 15 that the intake is "critical to the future viability of Beech Mountain," but the idea is not universally appreciated.


Watauga Riverkeeper Donna Lisenby said in an email to supporters Dec. 4 that the "water grab" would "have long-term, profoundly negative impacts on the water quality of the river for generations to come."


The meeting begins at 5:30 p.m., with the public hearing at 6 p.m., at the Commissioners' Board Room at 814 W. King St., Boone.