Friday, August 21, 2015

The Politics of Water in Watauga County

So this morning we find out that a deal has been struck between the town of Boone and Watauga County Commission Chair Jimmy Hodges: the county will grant two small easements for a Boone water line across property it owns in exchange for 500,000 additional gallons a day (gpd) of Boone water to be used for largely unregulated development outside the town, managed by private interests for their profit. (The town had already granted 250,000 gpd -- 100,000 more than the recommendation of Boone's own Water Committee -- for any developer who will take the old high school property off the county's hands.)

The likely boom in development will come first along the water transmission line from Todd, principally in the Deep Gap to Boone corridor.

This deal was engineered by Jimmy Hodges, working the levers on some members of the Boone Town Council who have been desperate to complete a water intake on the New River near Todd. Hodges' two fellow Republicans on the County Commission voted against the deal, immediately raising an expectation that Hodges may face a Republican primary in 2018.

Boone town government has always held the position that it shouldn't give away its water to unregulated development. Boone has land-use planning and development regs that have transformed the town in 30 years from a jumble of sometimes shoddy sprawl to a destination city recently named "Best Small Town in North Carolina."

But that principle of "no piping of town water without land-use planning" is now out the window. To drive home the point (and also underline the complete collapse of Boone's negotiating skills), Hodges is quoted in the Watauga Democrat: “We can get water from the town without the county having to pay for it.”


The Unseen Hand of Sen. Dan Soucek in This Deal
Rep. Jonathan Jordan has been trying to stop the new Boone intake on the New River, along with an assortment of Ashe and Watauga citizens who have a variety of motivations.

Jordan's "local bill H875" would halt the intake dead, without the approval of the two affected county commissions in Ashe and Watauga. What happened to that bill? Soucek is holding it -- blocking it -- and creating the unmistakable impression that he's now in cahoots with the real estate developers (and Jimmy Hodges), who are lusting after that water.

That should come as no particular surprise, but the political ironies are striking: Soucek has built his legislative reputation as a bitter enemy of everything "liberal Boone" stands for. Now he's in bed with the Town Council for the sake of that water intake.

They say the next great wars will be fought over water. Perhaps the next great cross-species romances will also happen over water.


Anonymous said...

So the Democrat Boone Town Council has now made common cause with the apartment developers and anti-zoning crowd. Bad sign for the future. What happened to the "neighborhood protection" principles that they all campaigned on? Next election I'm going to have to think long and hard about whether they mean what they say.

Jesse Steele said...

As someone who has been a vocal proponent of this project, or at the very least a proponent of a factual debate about it... (something new river advocates would be incapable of if you hit them over the head with a clue by four) I will say this.

The town's unerring ability to keep shooting themselves in the foot never does cease to amaze.

Jus Sayin' said...

Yes, I am too. If we take water out of the New River, we shouldn't have to share any of it with the people who gave us easements through their land to get it. It is BOONE'S water; They are lucky we don't just take it all!

Anonymous said...

Yeah. I'm not real happy about Welch and Kennedy who also signed onto this deal. The Town of Boone should be ashamed of itself. They are like keystone cops. Why are we providing water to the county to promote unregulated development? That's just nuts. And the Town can't seem to keep itself from rubberstamping every development proposal that comes before it either. It's like they all drank some weird koolaid.