JEFFERSON —The Environmental Protection Agency will need to seek approval from the North Carolina Department of Transportation before they can extend Jefferson’s waterline.
That’s an effort designed to bring relief to the Ore Knob Mine community, but one that might not be so easy to accomplish.
The news comes from Public Works Director Tim Church who said he spoke with EPA Project Manager Loften Carr last week regarding the proposed EPA Ore Knob Water Line Project. Church appeared before the Jefferson Board of Aldermen on Monday, Nov. 23 to update them on the project.
Contamination in Ore Knob
Fifteen residents are currently affected by water contamination in the Ore Knob Mine community with nearly 50 residents located in a “zone of concern.”
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.
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 EPA recently announced their decision to move forward with the EPA Ore Knob Mine Waterline project that could potentially be started in 2016 with an estimated cost of $9-14 million.
Although funding to build the waterline will not cost anything to the town of Jefferson or Ashe County, the town will be responsible for maintenance costs after the EPA officially turns the waterline over to them.
Crossing the bridge
According to Church, the North Carolina Department of Transportation must grant permission for the EPA to use the bridge’s right-of-way when crossing the waterline over the river to get it to the Ore Knob Mine community.
“Getting permission from DOT to the cross the bridge with the waterline can be a challenge, but it has been done,” Church said. “That’s an important item I think needs to be taken care of on the EPA’s end of things and the Army Corp of Engineers.”
Church said using the bridge is the first choice for the US Army Corps of Engineers, which is currently working on designing bid specifications for the waterline project.
“If DOT doesn’t grant a right-of-way across the bridge for the waterline then the only other alternative is to go under the river and from talking some of the fellows from the Army Corp of Engineers, that could get very expensive and that’s not their first choice,” Church said.
Church also mentioned that the contaminated wells in the area pose a threat of cross-contamination to Jefferson’s waterline if the wells remain active.
“We certainly don’t want those wells remaining active and hooked up physically to the home,” Church said.
According to Church, Loften assured him that the EPA would pay the cost of abandoning the wells of every home that connected to town water.
Church also said that this could mean that those homes would have to stay hooked onto the town’s water system. Aldermen had previously expressed concerns about keeping the affected residents on the waterline who have no obligation to do so.
“I don’t know where else they would go for a water source,” Church said.
Carr previously told aldermen that the waterline could have a positive impact on the town, stating that anyone in the future who wants to hook up to the new waterline would become a customer of the town of Jefferson.
But there is still uncertainty as to how many – if any – will hook up to town water.
“Just because it’s there, doesn’t mean they will,” Town Manager Cathy Howell said.
According to Church, to his knowledge, no survey had been conducted by the EPA to determine how many residents in the area would choose to sign on to the waterline.
Hannah Myers can be reached at 336-846-7164 or on Twitter @cmedia_hmyers.