JEFFERSON — In response to a public hearing about the Boone Water Intake Project that took place at the Watauga County Agricultural Advisory meeting on Tuesday, July 14, the Ashe County Board of Commissioners adopted a resolution opposing the project.
The Boone Water Intake Project has been a controversial issue between locals of Ashe and Watauga counties for many years. The project would have a second intake built on the South Fork of the New River near the Ashe and Watauga county line to pull out nearly 4 million gallons of water from the river per day. To move forward with the project, the town of Boone will need to gain access to property owned by Ronald and Donald Cooper.
The Cooper farm is part of the Farmland Preservation Program and N.C. law and a Watauga County Ordinance required a public hearing to be held before the town of Boone could condemn the 1.81-acre parcel of land.
The project has been criticized by the New River Advocacy group who claim the project is based on inaccurate, misleading and outdated information. The group has also voiced concerns about the environmental impact a new intake could have on the New River.
Members of the New River Advocacy group along with other concerned Ashe and Watauga county citizens attended the public hearing.
During the hearing, town of Boone attorney Allison Meade addressed the rumor that the town of Boone will develop a road on the Cooper property. According to Meade, a road would not be built on Ashe County land but later stated that the town does not anticipate putting a road on Ashe County land.
During the public comment session of the Ashe County Board of Commissioner meeting on Monday, July 20, seven people spoke in opposition of the project while addressing the alleged plans Boone has to build a road on land in Ashe County as well as Boone’s water need and the environmental impacts of the proposed intake on the New River and Ashe County.
According to New River Advocate Deborah Greene, Boone originally offered the Cooper’s $85,000 per acre but are now offering $23,700 for the 1.81-acre parcel. Greene and many others believe the road will go through Ashe County property despite Meade’s statement.
“The town of Boone needs to be stopped and I believe that this board has the power to stop them because we now have found out that the road goes through Ashe County,” Greene said. “The attorney said the road will be built on Cooper farm for the easement from the original land they bought. That road goes through Ashe County,” Greene said.
Ashe County Commissioners have previously stated they would not allow any part of the project to be built on property of Ashe County.
“Ashe County has already written a letter stating to the North Carolina Department of public safety (stating), ‘no part of this construction will be through Ashe County’ but apparently Boone does not believe you,” Greene said. “Boone says they’re going to build it.”
According to commissioner Larry Rhodes, in a letter written by former County Manager Dr. Pat Mitchell on Sept. 24, 2012 it was stated: “The board is opposed to any section of the access road crossing Ashe County line and is opposed to the idea they have to issue the flood plain permits for that construction. Commissioners have consistently told their constituents that Ashe has no authority for this project and that appears now to be the case.”
“That does not change for me,” Rhodes said. “I still oppose that road or anything coming into Ashe County.”
New River Advocate member Frank Packard presented the board with a spread sheet showing Boone’s water usage over the last seven years.
According to Packard, Boone does not have a seven million gallon a day water need that was previously stated.
“They haven’t justified, in my mind, that they need that much water,” Packard said.
“They don’t need the water. They have a lake up there with over 100 million gallons of water and 300 acres that they aren’t even tapped into. The college doesn’t need to the water, it has its own water supply,” Tom Pope, Ashe County citizen, said. “The future is coming for when this county is going to be crying for water. It’s just plain common sense that we don’t need to give up our water for somebody else’s pocket book.”
A total of seven people spoke to the commissioners during public comment opposing the Boone Water Intake Project and encouraged the board to take action.
“Its amazing how five people could change the future of the whole county,” Pope said.
The board voted 5-0 to adopt a resolution opposing the Boone Water Intake.
During the meeting, the board also revisited House Bill 875 which Ashe County is currently in the process of being removed from.
The board previously voted 3-2 to remove Ashe County from H.B. 875, sponsored by Rep. Jonathon Jordan (R-Jefferson), titled “Restrict Municipal Eminent Domain,” which would require municipalities to obtain county consent before attaining a property through condemnation.
The bill was passed by the N.C. House of Representatives and has remained in a committee in the State Senate since April 30.
If H.B. 875 were to pass, it would require Boone to seek the approval from Watauga County Commissioners before they could condemn the land at Cooper farm.
Ashe County Commissioners previously expressed concerns that the bill could cause unnecessary friction between municipalities in Ashe County and Rhodes readdressed those concerns during the July 20 meeting.
According to Rhodes, he does not support H.B. 875 because of the good working relationships the county has with the town of West Jefferson, Jefferson and Lansing.
“I have complete confidence that they being elected officials they would make the proper decision,” Rhodes said.
According to Commissioner Gary Roark, supporting the bill would give support to Watauga County Commissioners who were opposed to the project.
“I’m not doing it to hurt our municipalities here in the county, just to show support to the Watauga County Commissioners,” Roark said.
“But you are telling the three municipalities in Ashe County that we need to take them over and they can’t have rights,” Rhodes said. “If you agree with that (H.B. 875), then that’s what you’re saying.”
The board voted 3-2 to write a letter in support of H.B. 875 with Rhodes and Commissioner William Sands voting in opposition.
Hannah Myers can be reached at 336-846-7164 or on Twitter @cmedia_hmyers.