James HowellStaff Writerjhowell@heartlandpublications.com
November 14, 2012
Ashe County may no longer have a voice in the Boone water intake project because the intake facility’s access road and transmission lines may not cross into the county.
But the matter is still far from settled.
Over the past year, the Ashe County Board of Commissioners have maintained they had no authority to stop Boone’s proposed water intake facility on the New River.
“We have been told all along… that the water project would not be coming to Ashe County,” said county board chair Judy Porter Poe during a recent meeting where the issue came up.
Recently, there has been some confusion about the location of transmission lines that would carry water to Boone from the intake facility on the New River.
According to Ashe County Manager Dr. Pat Mitchell, a 2009 environmental assessment map used by the county indicated the transmission lines crossed into Ashe County.
With an access road to the water transmission line appearing to traverse a portion of Ashe County, federal statutes allowed county officials to play a role in the decision-making process of the project.
The commissioners, using that authority, challenged the permit allowing the construction of the water intake facility by refusing to sign floodplain documents issued by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
A Sept. 24 letter from Mitchell to the N.C. Department of Public Safety said the county was opposed “to any section of the access road crossing county land.”
On Oct. 29, Mitchell met with Greg Young, Boone’s town manager, to discuss the water intake facility. According to Mitchell, Young said the 2009 assessment map was wrong, but Young, said Mitchell, “would not grant” the county an updated map.
Mitchell said there were two main reasons why the board of commissioners was hesitant to sign the floodplain documents.
The first reason, she said, is that the board of commissioners had not been given access to all of the information that could play a part is their decision, like receiving new maps and surveys of the area.
The second reason the board was hesitant to sign the floodplain documents was because changing the floodplain in that area could have an impact on the property owned by citizens residing in Ashe County, said Mitchell.
“There are restrictions on properties in floodplains,” said Mitchell. “Only five or six people would be impacted by changing the floodplain, but we don’t want to have an impact anyone’s property.”
Two days after Mitchell’s meeting with Young, Mitchell met with an appraiser who had a map that indicated the access road and transmission lines were not on Ashe County property. She said if that map was correct, the board would no longer have the authority to comment or challenge the permit for the intake facility.
However, as of Tuesday, Nov. 13, Mitchell said “the latest official information I have still shows the access road and transmission lines are on Ashe County property.”
Despite there still being some questions as to whether or not the access roads and transmission lines cross through the county, Mitchell said the county’s motivation during this process was “to serve the people of Ashe County, as well as protect a natural resource.”
According to George Santucci, the executive director from the National Committee for the New River (NCNR), there isn’t any evidence to suggest the water intake facility would harm any aspect of the New River in Ashe County.
“Most of the water from the intake facility will be cycled back into the river, and with fewer impurities,” said Santucci.
Mitchell acknowledged this, saying “there is no scientific data to suggest taking water out of the river and returning it upstream would hurt the river.”
“Of course,” said Mitchell, “people question the scientific data.” Mitchell said many constituents from Ashe County oppose the water intake facility, fearing it will harm the river.
“There are a number of people who have concerns the facility will harm the New River’s water level, the water quality and recreation,” said Mitchell.
Board chair Judy Porter Poe said she was “opposed to taking the water out of the New River.”
Poe said she fears the water will not be cycled properly and will not return to Ashe. “It’s been said part of the water from the intake facility would go to Blowing Rock and not return to Ashe,” said Poe.
Also, Poe said if the municipalities in Ashe County continue to grow, those municipalities may need an increased water supply for their own citizens.
Ashe County’s involvement with the water intake project will be determined when more information about the location of the transmission line and access road is revealed.