Water intake project faces more hurdles
by Anna Oakes
Uncertainty continues to loom over the town of Boone's water intake project, Boone Water Use Committee members indicated Thursday.
Committee members said a slew of bills currently moving through the General Assembly aiming to take away local control from municipalities could affect the water intake project.
"We don't even know if getting the new intake is a sure deal at this point," said Boone Town Councilwoman Lynne Mason.
The Water Use Committee includes all five Boone Town Council members and the mayor, as well as other appointed members.
House Bill 488, "Regionalization of Public Utilities," filed Thursday, would transfer ownership and operation of "certain public water or sewer systems" to a "metropolitan water and sewerage district." Several other bills in the House and Senate relate to the control of local utility systems.
In addition, two bills in the House would eliminate the exercise of extraterritorial jurisdiction by municipalities. Boone currently has an ETJ area that extends about a mile outside of town limits; the town extends water and sewer service to about 300 customers in the ETJ.
"The political situation is (that Republicans) have a veto-proof majority in both houses down there," said Councilman Andy Ball. "In the past they've talked about the importance of local control, and that's been one of their principles for years. These bills seem to contradict those principles."
Committee member Pam Williamson suggested that the town may need to recalculate its future water needs given that it could potentially lose its ETJ and because it is more difficult for North Carolina towns to grow via annexation because of legislation enacted last year.
Critics of Boone's water intake project have questioned Boone's assessment of its future water needs; Boone Public Utilities Director Rick Miller told the committee that the town's water study was based on population growth trends.
Williamson and committee member Tim Wilson said town citizens should know about changes that could affect the project, including the potential for the town's water system to be taken by a state or regional authority, before more money is spent on the water intake project.
The town has been planning for a new water source since 2005. Town manager Greg Young said the town has expended about $1 million in engineering and other planning costs on the project. The town has secured a $20.5 million loan and $1.8 million grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to finance the project.
The committee approved a motion to set a meeting in May to receive information from staff about the effects of legislative bills that are passed.
Miller said the town has acquired about 50 percent of the permits needed for the project, some of which relate to right-of-way acquisition for the water intake's transmission line. Miller said he could not provide more details about the acquisition process.