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Water committee divided on intake project

by Anna Oakes

A majority of Boone Water Use Committee members recently indicated they believe the town should continue financing a new water intake even with the possibility of a state or regional takeover of the town's water system.

The forced regionalization of Asheville's water system and delays in the town of Boone's water intake project continue to spark debate amongst the town's Water Use Committee on how to plan for Boone's water needs.

Committee members on July 23 continued a months-long discussion about continued funding for the water intake project, with committee member Pam Williamson posing specific questions to members in the form of straw votes.

By a vote of six in favor, three against and two undecided, committee members indicated they believe the town should continue financing the intake project if it is "reasonably possible that the state could confiscate the intake once completed," according to meeting minutes.

The mayor and all Boone Town Council members serve on the Water Use Committee in addition to other appointed members. Committee members Emily Bish, Andy Ball, Patrick Beville, Kristan Cockerill, Tim Wilson and Jim Buchanan said the town should continue pursuing the project, while Loretta Clawson, Jamie Leigh and Williamson said the town should not. Voting "undecided" were Lynne Mason and Joanna Weintraub.

The General Assembly earlier this year enacted a law transferring control of the City of Asheville's water system to a district authority, and legislators floated other proposals related to regionalization of water and utility systems. The City of Asheville has sued the state over the action.

Williamson has repeated concerns that the state could take away the town's control of its water system, including the planned 4 million-gallon-per-day intake on the South Fork New River in Todd that has been planned since 2005.

"I think we're going to lose the water facility if we build it," Williamson said at a June 11 meeting.

But other committee members have argued that the town would still have a need for additional water regardless of who may control facilities in the future.

The water intake project received the support of 73 percent of Boone voters in 2008 but has faced staunch opposition from some who say the project endangers the water quality and flow of the New River and that the town would control too much of the region's limited water resources. The project has also faced a number of bureaucratic hurdles.

Watauga County Board of Commissioners Chairman Nathan Miller told Watauga Democrat Sept. 4 that a regional water authority "only makes sense up here" but that he knows of no official steps being taken to pursue one.

"I don't know if there's interest. The state's the one that'd have to do something," Miller said. "It's certainly been on my mind because water's important."

Earlier this year, at the committee's recommendation, the town sent letters to Watauga County and the town of Blowing Rock asking them to verify their continued intentions to obtain water from Boone via the new water intake, as well as the financial commitments they could pay toward their water allocations.

Both local governments responded by indicating they would like to meet with Boone to discuss the issue further, according to local officials. Watauga County Manager Deron Geouque indicated the county hopes the town will continue its 150,000-gallon-per-day reserved water allocation for development of the county's old high school property.

The reserved allocation expires at the end of this year.

The next meeting of the Boone Water Use Committee is Wednesday, Sept. 25, at 5:30 p.m. at the Council Chambers, located at 1500 Blowing Rock Road.


Kellen Short contributed reporting to this article.