Polk commissioner majority to send water contract changes to ICWD

Published 10:14 pm Thursday, August 13, 2015

By Leah Justice


The Polk County Board of Commissioners has made its final changes to a draft agreement to share water resources with the Inman-Campobello Water District (ICWD).

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

Commissioners met Monday, Aug. 10 and agreed by a 4-1 vote to send its draft back to ICWD for its review. Commissioners have amended the draft contract, originally drafted by ICWD, for the last few months.

Commissioner Ray Gasperson was the sole vote against the contract.

The board first heard from residents during citizen comments all of which over the past year have expressed disagreement with the contract and either urged commissioners to slow down the process and/or seek expert advice prior to signing an agreement.

Pat Salomon urged the board to postpone a decision, saying there is no reason to rush into this big decision. She said at this point all the county has is guesstimates on dredging the lake and repairing the dam. She said the county attorney has stated the contract is complex and admitted she is no expert and the county manager has said he is okay with seeking outside advice. Salomon also said she sees that commissioner chair Tom Pack is speaking on the contract at an upcoming republican party meeting and asked why he couldn’t do that for the public, like now, during a county meeting.

Dave Maxwell said he couldn’t help but notice in the Tryon Daily Bulletin a poll that asked about the contract. He said the last time he saw there were 396 participants in the poll who disagreed with how the board majority is handling the contract and 10 who agree with the board.

The poll at www.tryondailybulletin.com asked: “The Polk County Board of Commissioners is proceeding with the Inman Campobello Water District contract in a manner that is in the best interest of Polk County and its citizens,” with choices being strongly agree, strongly disagree, agree somewhat, disagree somewhat, neutral and undecided.

The poll was shut down on Tuesday after one user voted approximately 300 times posting votes for strongly agreeing and agreeing somewhat. Prior to the skewed results, 411 people disagreed strongly, 15 people disagreed somewhat, 12 agreed strongly, 10 agreed somewhat, four were neutral and four were undecided.

“Even though that poll may be a small amount of the population, it’s a pretty good indicator,” Maxwell told commissioners. “396 said they do not agree with you. “That’s pretty serious, folks.”

Andy Millard also mentioned the poll in his comments saying that the poll shows 91 percent of citizens who responded think the contract should be taken a little bit slower.

“I don’t think there is any downside to calling in an expert,” Millard said.

He said by calling in an expert the county would be showing respect to the citizens and commissioner constituents.

Sky Conard asked the board why the county crafted a proposed repair schedule for the Lake Adger Dam presented to the board a year ago and it remains unfulfilled by the board and does not exist in the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) dam safety file nor is it referenced in the current ICWD contract.

Gasperson expressed several concerns with the contract including that if the county would have continued to save money at an originally agreed upon $200,000 per year, Polk would have $1 million to make repairs to the dam.

Gasperson also asked the board to wait a couple of months until the N.C. Senate makes a decision on redistributing local sales tax distributions, which could mean approximately $500,000 more in sales tax for Polk County depending on the state’s decision.

He said the main concern from citizens is the 75-year term of the contract and the public’s desire for an expert to advise the county. He said he is concerned over the lack of Polk ever sharing in water revenues over the term of the contract. Gasperson asked if the majority is going to approve the contract, why not at least write in that at some point Polk can start sharing revenues with ICWD.

Gasperson also express his concern with private property rights and eminent domain in the contract. He said one clause he reads that the board may have to take regulatory steps in the future that may impact private property rights.

“I’m very uneasy about these eminent domain requirements that are in here,” Gasperson said. “Are we trampling on private property rights? I mean…I don’t feel comfortable with that.”

Gasperson asked that the board take the time left on the current agreement with ICWD to see if there’s a possibility of setting up a joint water authority across state lines so the county could have time to look at not only the maintenance of the dam but sedimentation issues in the lake. He said he has never seen anything like the public outcry over the contract and also mentioned the Bulletin’s poll. He said he has never seen as many attorneys who have written letters and come in and spoken about the contract and almost all are in opposition or at least suggest the county get an expert.

“What’s the big deal with waiting,” Gasperson asked.

Commissioner Michael Gage responded to Gasperson.

“I think a show of outcry was the UDO (unified development ordinance),” Gage said. Gage added the outcry over the UDO came when citizens filled a school auditorium and there have been other issues with greater public outcry than the water contract.

Gasperson asked how the county would know when the dam repairs have been done properly by ICWD, asking if DENR will determine that.

Pack said that’s how it is written in the contract, for the dam repairs to be to DENR’s standards.

Gasperson then asked if there is a time when ICWD should have a water plant constructed. Gasperson asked that the county have an end date for a water plant and if ICWD hasn’t constructed a plant that would end the contract.

Pack said as long as ICWD provides Polk with water, that water can come from whatever sources they have.

Commissioner Shane Bradley asked who supports the county’s water system currently.

County manager Marche Pittman said construction of water lines is on the backs of county taxpayers currently. Operation of the system is on the backs of ICWD, Pittman said.

Bradley said he’s heard from residents who say they will never need to use Lake Adger for water.

“Are we going to pump water into Big Hungry,” Bradley asked. “No.”

Bradley said in his opinion, when the county purchased Lake Adger it was a mistake for the county and now the county is dealing with that decision.

Gasperson said if the county is selling water there’s potential for future revenue that other commissioners aren’t looking at.

Commissioner Keith Holbert said he’s heard a lot of people say Polk could start its own water system. He said according to engineers he’s spoken to, it would cost an estimated $17-$18 million in start up costs.

“I don’t know that that is a source Polk County wants to jump on right now,” Holbert said.

After some final adjustments to the contract, the majority voted for attorney Jana Berg to make the modifications to the contract, for her to send the final draft to the clerk and commissioners and then send the county’s draft to ICWD for its review.

In order to implement the agreement, both the ICWD board and Polk commissioners will have to approve the final contract.

Further negotiations are expected once ICWD reviews changes Polk commissioners have made.