Polk Commissioners review history of Lake Adger purchase
Published 10:00 pm Thursday, February 11, 2016
By Leah Justice
With the investigation of selling Lake Adger now in full swing, Polk County Commissioners discussed this week the history of the purchase of the lake, what the county could do to ensure access to water if the lake is sold and a recreational/public access easement that would be included in a potential sale.
Commissioners met on Monday, Feb. 8 and heard from commissioner Ray Gasperson, who reviewed county meeting minutes from 2007 and 2008 as well as the public access agreement from 2004 from Duke Energy.
Gasperson said at the last meeting he made a motion with four points and didn’t get a second but in essence the county is evaluating some of its raw water supplies so he did get part of what he is looking for.
According to minutes from Oct. 15, 2007, former county manager Ryan Whitson noted how the board had recently voted to start an intake on the Green River and there was a motion to form a water authority with the towns. There were also plans at the time to run a water line from Mill Spring to Columbus, which has since been completed. Gasperson said there were a lot of issues with the Town of Columbus in trying to start a water authority with the towns. The idea of a water authority between the county and towns failed.
The next minutes reviewed were from May 1, 2008, when Polk County signed a contract to purchase Lake Adger for $1.6 million. Gasperson said it was a fascinating meeting with many dignitaries, including then Congressman Heath Shuler, regional field representative Randy Flack, Senator Tom Apodaca, David Nicholson with the N.C. Association of County Commissioners and Advantage West Economic Development Group President and CEO Dale Carroll and Pam Lewis, director of regional programs.
Then commissioner Ted Owens motioned to approve the resolution authorizing the agreement for purchase of sale. Owens said at the time “the agreement will allow Polk County to utilize the water resources of the Green River for all its citizens by way of an intake at Lake Adger, which, the county is advised, is the most advantageous, cost effective and environmentally responsible means of securing such water resources.”
Commissioner statements at time of purchase
At the time of the motion to purchase Lake Adger in 2008, then commissioners Owens and Tommy Melton (chairman at the time) made statements regarding the importance of purchasing Lake Adger.
Owens said he sincerely thanked God for the events that were taking place.
“Because ‘water is life,’” Owens said in 2008. “I want everyone to understand that obtaining a water supply for the citizens of this county is above any politics, any individual government entity or any one individual’s wants and desires. This is a momentous time in the history of Polk County.”
Owens compared the importance of the purchase of the lake to the railroad coming to Polk County through Tryon.
“But as important as that was, this is far more important because water is life and the future of this county depends on it,” Owens said in 2008.
Melton said in 2008 that Governor Easley issued a statement five years ago asking the towns and counties to get their water systems in place.
“This is the one time that we can say we have supported life, because without water we do not have life,” said Melton in 2008. “We have just experienced the worst drought in a hundred years and we are not out of it yet. The most precious resource for our citizens is water and that is what this board has secured for the future.”
Both Owens and Melton attended Monday’s commissioner meeting. The Bulletin asked both former commissioners how they felt now about the county proposing to sell the lake.
Owens gave some history and ultimately said he believes Polk County should continue to own Lake Adger.
Owens said as he’s said over and over, water is life and one cannot live without it.
“As most people who know me, having been through a drought as mayor of Columbus I am passionate about having a water supply for the citizens of Polk County,” Owens said this week.
He said the board of commissioners in 2004 and 2006 realized due to the many wells going dry and requests for water from citizens that it became a priority to find a solution. Owens said he contacted Northbrook (from which Polk County purchased the lake) in 2007 and discovered that another entity had approached them to buy the lake. Owens also said the county had a couple chances earlier to obtain the lake and chose not to.
Owens said during a visit to the N.C. Local Government Commission (LGC), Polk found out it would need at least 2,000 customers to build a water treatment plant and he realized this was going to place a tremendous burden on the taxpayers.
“Thus a search for another solution was undertaken,” said Owens. “ICWD (Inman-Campobello Water District) presented an offer to the county that even Commissioner Gasperson said at the time, ‘what a deal for Polk County.’ This would have taken the heavy tax burden off of the taxpayers in maintaining the dam and putting in a water system. That deal failed.”
Owens said due to budgetary restraints and the high cost of maintaining the lake he can understand the reasons for researching selling the lake.
In any consideration of selling the lake, Owens said a water supply that supplies the needs of Polk County should be secured.
“Since the ICWD deal failed, I’m not comfortable that will happen and everything cycles, we have no way of knowing, but a drought will happen again. Although we taxpayers will bear the burden of paying for maintaining the lake, I believe we should retain ownership.”
Melton said he wants to bring in a water expert to analyze the situation and tell the county the advantages and disadvantages of owning Lake Adger at the present time.
“On May 1, 2008 when we bought Lake Adger we had just begun our second year of the worst drought in the history of Polk County,” Melton said. “We had people from Green Creek coming to our board meetings pleading with us to help them get water because their wells were going dry.”
Melton said he would like to explore the possibility of working with ICWD and the Broad River Water Authority to see if all three entities could work together for the benefit of all parties. He said Polk could supply needed water to ICWD and Broad River that Polk County owns and all three could share in the expense of the dam and dredging the lake.
“And we would protect Polk County citizens’ water for future generations,” Melton said.
The public access agreement
During Monday’s county meeting, Commissioner Gasperson reviewed a public access agreement for Lake Adger from December 2004 that was put into place before the county owned the lake. Gasperson said he’s had some questions from citizens regarding whether, if the lake is sold, that would affect public access to the lake. Gasperson said the easement runs with the lake so he thinks the county is safe.
Polk County attorney Jana Berg said the agreement does run with the land and when Polk County purchased Lake Adger that recreational easement is there, so should Polk sell the lake that sale would be subject to the recreational easement. Berg said the only way the easement could go away is if Duke Power gave it up.
Gasperson also noted that the easement also includes that the N.C. Wildlife Commission pays the Lake Adger Property Owners Association $15,000 a year for the ramp, etc. and the agreement also says there should be annual meetings with the homeowners association, the wildlife commission and the county.
Berg said the agreement does say to have an annual meeting but doesn’t say who calls the meeting or how the meeting occurs. She said the property owners probably have the biggest interest in a meeting so they should probably call the meetings. There is also a clause in the agreement that the wildlife commission is to dredge the lake.
County Manager Marche Pittman said one of the things that was a consideration for the wildlife commission when he’s spoken to them regarding dredging the lake is sedimentation coming down the stream. Pittman said that is going to be the challenge in any conversation with commission that the county is going to have to take care of sedimentation coming into the lake first.
How Polk can secure water rights if lake is sold
Gasperson said if the county can have an easement such as the recreational/public access easement, why doesn’t the county go ahead and place a permanent easement for a water intake on the lake for up to 8 mgd (million gallons per day) of water.
“That way if the lake was ever sold, we’d have an easement,” said Gasperson.
Berg said the county can always sell the lake subject to the condition that the county have an 8 mgd intake.
Gasperson said the county could have an easement on a particular site so the county could still have access to the water.
Berg said the county could sell the property and retain a portion of it to allow for water withdrawal facilities.
“You own the lake, you could sell it how you want to,” Berg said.
Commissioner Chair Tom Pack said that wouldn’t be an easement but rather that would be a piece of property the county would continue to own.
There was also discussion of the county being able to place an intake on the Green River below the dam for access to water, which would also be possible if the lake were sold.
Gasperson said there are situations in an extreme drought where there is little to no water going over the dam so suggested the county have rights to secure an intake on the actual lake.
“It is a reservoir,” Gasperson said. “That’s huge.”
Commissioners agreed in January to research how to make the lake surplus property to sell and for county officials to research possible buyers for the lake as well as appraisals for what the lake is worth. Commissioners have not yet received the information, but it is expected discussions will take place during the next meeting on Feb. 22 or during a March meeting.