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A newly proposed access road for Boone's water intake project would bisect this cattle farm off of Brownwood and Cranberry Springs roads in Watauga and Ashe counties.
Anna Oakes | Watauga Democrat

Originally published: 2012-11-02 09:50:41
Last modified: 2012-11-02 09:54:07

Water intake access would bisect farm

by Anna Oakes

An appraiser who “said he specialized in condemnation” this week contacted farmer Ronnie Cooper about constructing a new access road across Cooper’s farm for Boone’s planned water intake facility on the South Fork of the New River.

Cooper and his brother Donnie own a farm — listed on the National Register of Historic Places — near a 10-acre tract the town of Boone purchased in 2009 from Larry Cooper, Randy Cooper and Amy Cooper Greer, who are relatives of Ronnie and Donnie.

On Monday, an appraiser named Larry contacted Ronnie Cooper, stating he had been hired by the town of Boone and that “he specialized in condemnation,” Ronnie Cooper said. The appraiser said the town wants to build an access road across his property to Brownwood Road, Cooper said.

Town manager Greg Young was out of the office and did not respond to emailed questions as of presstime. Public Utilities Director Rick Miller also did not respond to phone and email messages as of presstime.

The town agreed as part of its purchase of the 10-acre water intake site to build a subdivision-grade road and underground utilities for use by the Larry, Randy and Amy Cooper families, and the families agreed to an easement granting the town access along the road to the water intake site.

According to a map in the 2009 environmental assessment for the project, the access road was planned to connect to Cranberry Springs Road, which connects to Brownwood Road, by crossing into Ashe County.

But in September, the Ashe County commissioners indicated they opposed any portion of an access road for Boone’s planned water intake facility crossing into Ashe County land, according to a letter from Ashe County Manager Pat Mitchell.

N.C. General Statutes §153A-15 states that “before any county, city or town, special district or other unit of local government which is located wholly or primarily outside another county acquires any real property located in the other county by exchange, purchase or lease, it must have the approval of the county board of commissioners of the county where the land is located.”

Last month, Young said the town was “surprised” at the Ashe County position but that “there’s other alternative ways to get out of the property.” Young declined to be more specific.

According to the map presented to Ronnie and Donnie Cooper on Monday, crossing their farm would allow for the access road — and transmission line, to be buried below or alongside the road — to remain in Watauga County.

However, Ronnie Cooper said he believes the county line is off by about 100 yards on the map and that the transmission line and access road as drawn would still cross into Ashe County territory.

The appraiser and a town official were scheduled to meet Ronnie and Donnie Cooper at Riverside Restaurant in Brownwood to discuss the plans at 2 p.m. Thursday, but at 2:15 p.m., the appraiser called Ronnie Cooper to say the town’s representatives could not attend the meeting.

State Rep. Jonathan Jordan, whose district includes Ashe and Watauga counties, and Ashe County Chairwoman Judy Poe also attended the meeting at the Coopers’ invitation.

Ronnie Cooper said he was open to consideration of a transmission line crossing his property when town officials approached him about it a year ago because the line would be buried — but he and his brother are opposed to an access road, he said.

“We told them from the very start … we don’t want no roads across us,” Ronnie Cooper said. He said town representatives have changed their plans and offers each time he has spoken with them.

“We was willing to talk to them a little bit about putting the water line in,” he said. “But now … we don’t even want to talk to them.”

Cooper said he would probably have to go to court over the matter.

Municipalities have statutory authority to condemn property, known as the power of “eminent domain,” for public purposes such as a public water supply. Municipalities must compensate owners of condemned property according to fair market value.

Tommy Odom of Charlotte-based The Odom Firm, which has expertise in condemnation and eminent domain, said that condemnation might require an inter-local agreement between the town of Boone and Watauga County.

At Riverside, Poe wondered out loud if the town of Boone was trying to “force our hand” in Ashe County with a threat of condemnation of the Cooper farm. Jordan said he had been frustrated with his inability to obtain clear information about the project from the town.

“You don’t get the benefit of the doubt when you’re showing bad faith,” he said. Jordan said he would ask the research staff at the General Assembly to provide more information about condemnation.