Commissioners hear water contract concerns

Published 10:00 pm Thursday, October 9, 2014

At the Oct. 6 Board of Commissioners meeting, 14 citizens voiced their concerns and questions about the draft Agreement for Water System Services By and Between Inman-Campobello Water District, S.C. and Polk County, N.C.

The county and ICWD are in the beginning stages of drafting a 20-year contract that would essentially create a water system to be built, maintained and managed by ICWD, using ICWD’s resources on the Broad River, North Pacolet River, and in the future, Lake Adger. According to the draft, oversight of the partnership would be provided by a Joint Coordinating Committee, to be made up of three Polk County member representatives and two ICWD representatives.

The county received notice Sept. 2 from the Department of Environment and Natural Resources that Lake Adger was reclassified to Watershed –IV status, a necessary first step in the county’s plans to be able to draw water from the lake.

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During the citizen comment period, Sky Conner said that Lake Adger residents were not asked for their input on the purchase of Turner Shoals Dam or the decision to reclassify the lake to Watershed-IV status. She also cited an environmental impact statement regarding the William States Lee nuclear power plant near Gaffney, S.C., which will require 282,000,000 gallons of water per day. The statement, she said, includes Lake Adger as a water source on their water supply map.

Scott Clune, secretary of the property owners association of Lake Adger, said that landowners have a “fair amount of concern” over the proposed agreement.

“This [agreement] appears to allow ICWD to significantly expand the sale of water to industrial customers in South Carolina. While this may be good for ICWD and South Carolina, is it good for Polk County and for Lake Adger?” asked Clune.

Clune also asked if there will be a maximum limit of withdrawals, whether withdrawals fluctuate, who will control the amount of withdrawals, what is the environmental impact of the withdrawals, and, what will happen if there is a drought.

George Baker and Tommy Melton asked the commissioners to hold off voting on an agreement until after the election. Melton expressed concern that the contract puts out-of state customers ahead of Polk County’s current and future needs.

Mary Baker, Pat Salomon, Ed Krause and Renee McDermott expressed concern over the contract’s termination clause that states that ICWD will retain the right to remove water from Lake Adger even after the end of the 20-year contract. Salomon, McDermott and Susan Johan added their concern that the contract allows for the use of eminent domain to support ICWD in the expansion of water lines.

McDermott also referenced the clause that required Polk County to pay ICWD back for the water lines if the contract is terminated. She also said that Polk County should retain the expertise of a water utility expert in the drafting process.

Marilyn McCredie and Susan Johann referenced the hotels to be built at the Tryon International Equestrian Resort over the next few years, and asked how their water usage would impact the lake.

Before hearing a presentation from ICWD General Manager Jeff Walker, Interim County Manager Marche Pittman stated that he and Walker will take the citizens’ comments under consideration as the contract’s drafting process goes forward.

“This is a draft contract. We got some really good citizen comments and we’ll take all those into consideration, and we’ll try to work through them. This is a process. This is not a final document by any means,” said Pittman.

Walker spoke at length about the specifics of the draft contract, addressing many of the points raised by citizens.

Walker stated that he expected the equestrian resort to use 235,000 gallons per day when it is fully developed.

Walker also said that from ICWD’s perspective, Lake Adger ranked fourth in its water supply hierarchy, citing the fact that there is no permit in place for an intake system, and the fact that the lake is 15 miles from the nearest possible connection to an existing water line.

“Lake Adger,” he said, “is the least feasible and cost-effective option.”

Regarding citizens’ concerns about fluctuating water levels, Walker said that there are studies that show that “even if you withdrew two million gallons a day … you would never see the lake level drop, or even if you withdrew larger amounts.”

Commissioners and Walker discussed the makeup of the Joint Coordinating Committee, of which the majority of its five members would be from Polk County. Commissioners Pack and Owens asked that two citizen appointees be designated as representatives rather than sitting county commissioners as the draft currently calls for.

Regarding the termination of the contract, Walker said that Polk County would retain their water assets, but, the county would be obligated to repay ICWD for its investment in water lines and the Lake Adger dam, less depreciation. Commissioner Pack asked Walker to provide depreciation schedules for water lines, machinery, pump stations, the dam, and other assets.

Commissioner Pack asked Walker whether Lake Adger water could be sold outside the county or water district, a concern that several citizens cited.

Walker responded, “In Inman-Campobello’s sense, we’ve made our water source available to this county, and in a way it will always be available to the county, and vice versa. But only the county, and only Inman-Campobello, even during the contract, without both parties agreeing to do something else [with the water].”

In a hypothetical scenario, Walker said that if another water system asked to purchase water from ICWD, both parties would have to agree to it in order for it to happen.

Pack asked that this be clearly outlined in the contract.

Commissioner Gasperson asked that the board not rush the process through, and take a period of due diligence. He also asked that the county retain legal counsel to review the draft and assist the process as it moves forward.