Polk County Commissioners look to sell Lake Adger
Published 4:28 pm Tuesday, January 26, 2016
By Leah Justice
What started as an agenda item to ask commissioner Ray Gasperson what his plans are for the future of Lake Adger quickly turned to all commissioners agreeing to research selling the lake and dam.
Polk County commissioners met Monday, Jan. 25 and approved a motion made by commissioner Shane Bradley to instruct county manager Marche Pittman and attorney Jana Berg to research the surplus value of the lake and dam with the potential of selling it and to research potential customers.
Gasperson said his plan was for the county to hire experts to advise the county, including to evaluate current county and municipal water systems and their values; to guide the county of future water needs; to guide the county for water system expansions and improvements; and to help the county develop a capital improvement plan. Gasperson made a motion for the county to get advisors with no other commissioner seconding his motion.
“From a business standpoint, we’re sitting here with a liability returning nothing,” said commissioner Keith Holbert.
Holbert said the county can study it until they “turn blue in the face.”
“We can do studies and everything else but that doesn’t stop the tax bearing drain in maintaining this thing for no return,” Holbert said. “So I don’t really understand what the studies are going to do.”
Gasperson said the county has had citizen after citizen stand at the lectern and plead with commissioners to have independent advisors come and help guide the county.
“We need to have something comparable to our 20/20 Vision Plan,” Gasperson said. “It really is vitally important.”
After some back and forth about the now failed agreement to share water resources with Inman-Campobello Water District (ICWD), commissioner Bradley said everyone already knows how he feels about the purchase of Lake Adger.
“I’m going to agree with commissioner Gasperson,” Bradley said. “I think we need to get some expert advice on what the lake is worth and how easy it would be to get rid of it. Sell the lake and the dam.”
Commissioner chair Tom Pack said he agreed.
“We need to try to get out from underneath it,” Pack said. “What we had done in the (ICWD) contract that commissioner Gasperson really opposed, I mean, he opposed it to no end, is we had the burden off the taxpayers. We still got the water resources out of it for Polk County if we needed it. I don’t know what else you could ask for.”
Gasperson answered that Polk never had a deal with ICWD. Pack told Gasperson to let him finish.
“But you opposed it and you opposed it and you opposed it,” said Pack. “We had an agreement.”
Gasperson said, “No you didn’t. You didn’t have an agreement.”
Pack said the county didn’t have experts involved on their side because they didn’t need them.
“And our deal was better than what they were looking to do,” said Pack.
Again, Gasperson said the county never had an agreement.
“You never had one,” Gasperson said. “That’s the bottom line. You never had one.”
Holbert asked if the county sold Lake Adger, could the county put an inlet in below the dam and still pull water. Pack answered yes.
Pack then asked Bradley if he was going to put having the county manager research selling the lake in the form of a motion.
Gasperson said he’d actually vote in favor of that because he would like to know what the number is and to see what happens.
County manager Pittman asked for clarification on what exactly commissioners want him to do saying, “That happened really fast.”
County attorney Berg said the county selling the lake would take a legal process. She said the board could have Pittman research the lake’s appraisal and then she can inform the board on the process and prepare the needed steps to surplus the lake.
Gasperson said he wants to research it, but not necessarily sell the lake. The motion for the county manager and attorney to research the value of the lake and dam, the potential of selling the lake and dam and researching potential customers to purchase the lake passed unanimously.
Commissioner Michael Gage placed the item on Monday’s agenda to ask Gasperson his plans.
Gage said in past meetings he and Holbert have asked Gasperson about his ideas on what to do about Lake Adger and eventually getting water out of it or Gasperson’s ideas on what the future may be. Gage mentioned a citizen who spoke during citizen comments, Pat Salomon, who Gage said mentioned a plan from Gasperson.
“I guess (Gasperson’s) been telling us about his plan for many months,” Gage said. “I must be turning a blind eye to it or an ear because I’m not hearing it.”
Gasperson made it clear at the beginning of the meeting that he thought it was disrespectful of Gage to put it on the agenda without calling Gasperson to tell him.
“I would never do this to you or to any commissioner on this board, certainly without asking ahead,” Gasperson said.
During the discussion, Gasperson also said he inherited the same questions on Lake Adger as the lake was purchased prior to him being elected. He also said he doesn’t recall ever saying the county could make a profit or lots of money with the lake.
“It’s obviously a valuable resource that’s sitting there,” Gasperson said. “Without a doubt it’s a reservoir with an approved watershed.”
Holbert said Gasperson is correct, that the lake was purchased about six months before Gasperson took office.
“So my question to you is why haven’t you initiated these studies in the last eight years,” asked Holbert. “Because you’ve been chairman and had the guiding ability to do so.”
Holbert continued by saying he’s not trying to beat Gasperson to death with it, but there’s a lot of citizens who say to him that the they are paying tax money on something they are getting nothing out of and the county has no plans to do anything with the lake.
“I don’t know how to answer them,” Holbert told Gasperson.
Gasperson said that’s why the county needs expert help.
“And if you all aren’t willing to move forward with this then I sincerely hope that the next commissioners, the three new ones that will be here next November will be willing to take this as a serious study,” Gasperson said.
Holbert said the county had an agreement with ICWD and Gasperson kept calling for a study and when the end results came down, Polk had a better deal than ICWD was willing to follow through with so they pulled back.
Polk County worked with ICWD for over a year on a contract to share water resources for 75 years, including that ICWD would pay for initial repairs to the Turner Shoals Dam at Lake Adger and run at least $100,000 worth of water lines in the county as well as continuing to operate Polk’s water system. ICWD is still under an old agreement and operates the county’s water system. The first draft of the contract was abandoned after the N.C. Local Government Commission (LGC) said the state would not approve of the contract because the first draft stipulated that if the contract were ever cancelled, Polk County would have to reimburse ICWD for any investments it made within Polk County with depreciation.
The state said they would not approve such a contract because that would place the cost of an enterprise system under taxpayers, who may or may not have benefited from the resource.
The next draft included no reimbursements, but that ICWD could use water out of Lake Adger for the next 75 years. ICWD said they wanted the 75-year term because they may not need to use water out of Lake Adger for the next few decades.
Polk County amended ICWD’s second draft of the contract last year with the stipulation that ICWD pay for 75 years worth of repairs to the dam and after ICWD sought expert advice on the contract, ICWD pulled out of negotiations. The 75 years worth of dam repairs was the main reason ICWD ended negotiations.
Gasperson told Holbert Monday night he was glad he mentioned the agreement with ICWD.
“I’m glad you said that because in the end, what did Inman Campobello do that Polk County never did?” asked Gasperson. “They got experts to come in and help them evaluate where they were at. So in the end, we never had anything.”
Holbert said if we had a better deal to start with, “Why did we need an expert to tell us that?”
Holbert also said Gasperson has fought this thing for four years, “just as hard as you could fight it.”
It was not clear whether county manager Pittman and county attorney Berg could have all the information on the lake’s appraisal, steps to declare the lake surplus and getting a list of potential buyers for the lake by the county’s next meeting, which is scheduled for Monday, Feb. 8.
Polk County agreed to purchase Lake Adger from Northbrook Carolina Hydro LLC in May 2008 for $1.6 million, although the actual closing of the deal did not occur until late 2009.