Polk commissioners to discuss water contract Monday, July 20

Published 12:32 am Friday, July 17, 2015


By Leah Justice


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Following hearing from the public in June, Polk County Commissioners will discuss a proposed water contract during a work session on Monday, July 20. The work session will follow the county’s regular meeting, which begins at 6 p.m.

Commissioners have been working on an agreement with the Inman-Campobello Water District (ICWD) since last year with the first proposal shelved after discovering the N.C. Local Government Commission (LCG) would not approve because of the potential tax burden on Polk residents to pay back ICWD investments made within Polk County if the contract was ever cancelled.

The new proposal was first introduced in last year and includes a 75-year agreement. During the June public comment session, 29 residents spoke regarding the contract, all against the current proposal. Many residents expressed concern over the 75-year term. Several residents suggested the county hire an expert to represent the county on the contract as commissioners are not water experts and ICWD is, while others questioned the rush of entering into a contract and questioned the needed dredging of Lake Adger.

ICWD general manager Jeff Walker and Polk commissioner chairman Tom Pack answered questions last week regarding residents’ concerns.

When asked why the agreement must be for 75 years instead of shorter, renewable terms, Walker agreed that 75 years is a long time, but currently has a great water source in the Broad River Water Authority (BRWA). Walker said perhaps decades from now, the day will come when purchasing from BRWA either isn’t mutually beneficial or when growth in Broad River’s system or ICWD’s means that BRWA can’t provide ICWD with the water they need, ICWD has to be prepared. Walker said ICWD has to plan for decades, which is why they have already purchased property, completed engineering and received a permit to withdraw 8 MGD (million gallons per day) to construct an intake on the North Pacolet River that could feed ICWD’s future water treatment facility.

“Concerning the agreement, the idea is to make sure BRWA is the first priority,” Walker said. “Then, the next priority is the future ICWD water treatment facility. The final priority in terms of water resources would be those in Polk County.”

He said no one knows when ICWD will need access to water in Polk County, but he thinks it will be at least 20 years and only then in a severe drought.

“It could easily be 30 years or more,” Walker said. “Growth is very hard to predict over several decades but none that have looked at it can see the ICWD needing more than 8 MGD in even 50 years and that includes customers in Polk County (but not the towns) and yes, we are accounting for the Tryon International Equestrian Center. Since it will be say, 30 years before water in Polk County will likely be used, the agreement needs to be really as long as we can make it so that if things should fall apart between the ICWD and Polk County, the investment the ICWD has made in Polk County will still have some value remaining.

Walker also said it’s critical for people in Polk County to understand that there is no scenario in the agreement where water would be accessed in Polk County for use at the future ICWD water treatment plant and leave Polk County without water they need. He says 2 MGD is reserved for Polk County should it ever wish to build its own water plant and 2 MGD is at least double what is expected to be needed 50 years from now in Polk County.

“But much better than that, for the entire 75-year term, should the ICWD build the water treatment facility, Polk County can purchase treated water from us at the actual cost it takes to produce it,” said Walker. “Since the ICWD water treatment facility would be many times larger than anything Polk County would ever need to build, the cost of the water will be many, many times lower and again, it’s for 75 years.

“So yes, 75 years is a long time. But once one considers that what ICWD is paying for won’t likely be accessed for 30 years of more, it’s easy to see why, in my opinion, 75 years is the term for that part of the contract.”

On dredging Lake Adger, Walker said it is not the goal of ICWD to dredge the lake. In the proposed contract, ICWD is agreeing to make repairs to Lake Adger’s Turner Shoals Dam to the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resource (DENR) standards as well as run an estimated $100,000 worth of water lines per year within Polk County.


Walker said it is not part of the original agreement for ICWD to improve the dam to DENR’s requirements and then to bear the full cost to maintain the dam for the full 75 years. County commissioners have proposed in the revised agreement for ICWD to maintain the dam for the full 75 years, and Walker said he is aware of that change.

Walker said he can understand why Polk County would take that stance.

“On the one hand it makes a lot of sense,” Walker said. “On the other hand, when one considers that 2 MGD is reserved for the county no matter what and that treated water at actual cost will be available to the county for the duration of the agreement, the county has a stake in the future of the dam as well. So I don’t know what our response will be to that idea. We will weigh everything out and decide.”

Pack answered the same question regarding dredging the lake and maintenance of the dam.

Pack said in his response to the question about dredging, in the proposed agreement, ICWD will take over dam repair and maintenance for the next 75 years.

“This will free up monies to spend on silt abatement,” said Pack. “If you look at both things as Lake Adger maintenance, then ICWD will be taking on approximately half of the responsibility of lake maintenance.”

On dam maintenance, Pack said in the county’s requested contract changes, there is a modification making ICWD responsible for maintaining the dam for 75 years.

“That part is up for negotiation at this point, but it is very important to us (the county),” said Pack.

On residents’ concern there is rush to approve the agreement, Walker and Pack said there is not a rush.

Pack said there are two issues to address, lake maintenance and water service. Maintenance of the lake will be ongoing for years and the county is responsible for funding all improvements, including dam maintenance and silt abatement.

“The only reason water service is tied to this agreement is because part of the consideration is access to Lake Adger as a water source,” Pack said. “Our current plan submitted to DENR for dam improvements has us starting construction well before the expiration of the water service agreement with ICWD. Silt abatement is important to us and we feel like it needs to be addressed sooner than later. This contract frees up monies for us to spend on silt abatement.”

Walker said there is no rush on the contract from ICWD’s perspective. He said ICWD has the BRWA connection to access 8 MGD more so if Polk were not part of the equation, ICWD would be fine for the short and long term.

“That doesn’t mean that it doesn’t make a lot of sense to us to work with Polk County and end up with an agreement that is good for both parties,” Walker said. “It just means that there is no rush from our perspective.”

Walker added that while he can’t speak for the county, he doesn’t believe Polk can wait another seven years, which is what is left on the current contract for ICWD to operate Polk’s water system, to make improvements to the dam and the silt issue in the lake.

“So, if the county is going to partner with the ICWD in a way that will help in these two areas, the time would seem to be now,” Walker said. “Also, we’ve already been working on this for at least a year and we are not there yet. It’s understandable as these types of arrangements certainly aren’t done all of the time and while the concept is rather simple, the details get fairly complicated. Regardless, if we had started this process with just a year or so left on the current contract, based on what we’ve experienced so far, it would appear that it wouldn’t have been enough time and that certainly would have been a mistake.”

Answering a question, “What’s in it for ICWD?” Walker said ICWD does not need the county’s water resources, but in times of severe drought, it is much better to have access to two or three water sources rather than just one.

Walker said ICWD is anticipating a $6.5 million investment in Polk County.

“With the growth not anticipated to be so large that it will pay for this investment, on the surface it does seem either foolhardy on the ICWD’s behalf or it could seem like there is some sort of secret, nefarious agenda,” said Walker. “That’s absolutely not the case. In the water system business, if a water system can acquire another water source, and a reservoir at that, for $6.5 million, it’s going to be worth that investment most of the time. Further, if that same water system can acquire another water source and at the same time, help those that need public water get it while providing that service at a lower cost than they would otherwise be able to have, that’s all the better. You have to understand that the ICWD exists to provide water service.  We have no other purpose. The ICWD is not a charity, but it is certainly fair to say that any investment we make, even a water line extension, usually takes decades to ‘pay back’.”

Pack was asked additional questions on whether the board is considering hiring an expert to advise the county on the contract as suggested by residents.

Pack said the board will certainly entertain outside council if a majority of the board doesn’t feel comfortable with any section or term of the contract.

Pack also answered a question regarding what the county plans on doing regarding dredging Lake Adger.

He said the county is currently talking with the N.C. Wildlife Resource Commission (WRC) to initiate an annual meeting about the maintenance of the marina going forward, as agreed upon in a 2005 agreement between WRC, the county and Lake Adger Homeowners Association.

“To our knowledge these meetings were never held after the marina access contract was signed in April 2005, so we are working with wildlife to get that process started again,” Pack said. “We expect WRC will be a player in any dredging efforts conducted by Polk County.”

Both the county and Walker have welcomed questions and comments on the contract. Commissioners gave the public until a couple of weeks ago to submit comments so commissioners could review them in order to make final changes to the contract.

It is not known when commissioners plan to vote on the contract. Monday’s meeting will begin at 6 p.m. in the commissioner’s meeting room on the second floor of the Womack building in Columbus. The work session on the water contract will not take place until the regular board meeting has concluded.