JEFFERSON —After nearly a decade of water quality issues in the Ore Knob community, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has decided to move forward with the EPA Ore Knob Mine Waterline Project.
That’s according to EPA Project Manager Loften Carr who addressed the Jefferson Board of Aldermen on Sept. 28.
The tainted water comes directly from copper mining that occurred at the Ore Knob Mine from the 1850’s to 1962. The EPA and the North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources began studying the Ore Knob Mine in May of 2006 and placed it on the “National Priorities List” in 2009 because of acidic compounds found in surface water.
Fifteen residents are currently affected by the contamination with nearly 50 residents located in a “zone of concern,” according to Carr.
From April 2010 to June 2012, the EPA sampled 79 potable water sources including 64 private wells and 15 springs. The EPA has been providing bottled water for residents and has installed or upgraded 11 whole house treatment systems since discovering the water issue.
The idea of the Waterline Project was first brought up in June of 2014 at an Ashe County Planing Board meeting where it was estimated that the project could potentially be started in 2016.
According to Carr, the EPA completed an engineering evaluation cost analysis this past February to look for different options for residents with drinking water contamination. Carr said those options included taking no action, using household treatment systems, community water supply systems, or building a waterline extension from Jefferson.
Using input from the community, the EPA chose to build a waterline from Jefferson to Ore Knob since it will provide a permanent long-term solution, require low maintenance and will permanently eliminate potential human health risks associated with the impacted water.
According to Carr, the waterline is estimated to cost $9-14 million.
Although funding for the project will not cost anything to the town of Jefferson or Ashe County, several Jefferson Aldermen raised concerns that the waterline could potentially cost the town substantial money in maintenance costs after the EPA officially turns the waterline over to them.
“We are trying to make things right, because when you get a superfund site in your backyard, nobody wants that,” Carr said. “We are trying to make it so things are better than they were.”
“We understand that, and we’d like it to be better for them, we just don’t want to take on any costs that the town of Jefferson is going to have to be responsible for in later years,” Alderman Mark Johnston said.
Johnston also raised concerns that the town of Jefferson would have no way of using their own equipment for maintenance without a truck or trailer to transport it which would cost money to the town to purchase or rent.
“We just don’t want to do something that would impact our citizens in Jefferson,” Johnston said.
According to Alderman Charles Caudill, his concern is keeping the affected residents on the waterline who have no obligation to do so.
“They can get off it if they don’t want to pay the $60 per month bill. That’s my biggest concern,” Caudill said. “What’s going to happen to Jefferson when we take over the maintenance and instead of having 50 (residents), we end up with 10?”
Carr also revealed that the waterline project could have a positive impact for the town.
“You could have a lot of people hook up and it would be a positive thing,” Carr said.
According to Carr, anyone who in the future wants to hook up to the new waterline would become a customer of the town of Jefferson.
Moving the waterline forward
According to Carr, the EPA received $9.3 million in funding to design and construct the waterline project this past June. Within a month of receiving the funding, the EPA chose the US Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) to help EPA implement the project.
USACE will work to design the project bid specifications, award design and construction contracts and will oversee design and construction work.
USACE is currently designing bid specifications for the waterline project.
During his presentation to Jefferson Aldermen, Carr reiterated that the town of Jefferson would be included throughout the entire project.
“We are going to have the town of Jefferson involved every step of the way,” Carr said.
Hannah Myers can be reached at 336-846-7164 or on Twitter @cmedia_hmyers.