Boone under budget for water allocation

Article Published: Dec. 10, 2009 | Modified: Sep. 7, 2011

The town of Boone now has more water to allocate for development in 2010 and is exploring the creation of non-refundable deposits for new water-connection requests.

The Boone Town Council and the Water Study Committee met Monday to discuss predicted water usage, against the backdrop of building momentum toward a new water intake.

Rick Miller, the town's water and sewer director, presented actual water use to the council and committee, and said all but one newly permitted project used less water than projected. The combined projects used 14,000 fewer gallons per day than predicted, which Miller said could be added back to available water allocations.

Miller said 6,603 gallons per day was allocated for businesses that had relocated due to the King Street highway widening. Miller said with a declining economy and conservation efforts, water usage was down in every month this year besides January.

Miller said that left about 22,000 gpd that could be put back into the available water allocations that the council reviews with each new building permit. The council established the allocation process as usage began reaching capacity thresholds that could have led to state action.

Miller said last month, a one-day water demand was 1.7 million gpd, about 60 percent of the town's maximum permitted usage of 3 million gpd. At the 80-percent level, the N.C. Department of Natural Resources requires an expansion plan and could impose a building moratorium if the town usage reaches 90 percent of capacity.

Council member Janet Pepin said even though the numbers appeared lower now, she said long-term projections pointed toward continued growth in usage.

Miller said work would begin early next year on an interconnection with the Town of Blowing Rock. "At this point, it is an emergency interconnect only," he said, though the engineering for the project ultimately anticipated a daily transfer of 500,000 gallons a day.

The council voted to spread the 22,000 gallons of allocation over the next two years, making them available for newly permitted projects. An additional 3,000 gpd is earmarked for allocation in 2010, plus any unused portions remaining from 2009.

The committee also discussed availability fees, which are designed to go into a fund that pays for infrastructure repair and expansion. Committee member Patrick Beville proposed "right sizing" the availability fee to more closely match actual usage and therefore encourage developers to use low-flow fixtures.

Miller said the collected fees hadn't kept up with need. "I've got a plus-$25 million project on the New River and I have $1.3 million in the reserve fund," Miller said.

Miller said of the $6.5 million water-and-sewer budget, $3 million was derived from water bills and $3.5 million from sewer bills.

The council and committee reviewed an ordinance to address the use of business name changes in what Miller said was an attempt to dodge availability fees. Town attorney Sam Furgiuele said companies were coming forward for permits before their plans were formulated to insure their allocation, but sometimes didn't get around to the project for years.

Developers or landowners have one year to start an approved project and at that time pay availability fees. Miller said one company had held an allocation for five years without paying an availability fee, presenting it under different company names to buy time.

Committee member Tim Wilson proposed collecting a refundable availability fee at the time the allocation is granted and giving the developer one year to build the project. Belville proposed a 5 or 10 percent non-refundable availability fee per property which would discourage frivolous allocation requests.

Miller said the typical availability fee runs about $5,000 for a three-bedroom house, but could be substantial for larger projects. "I've held checks for three-quarters of a million dollars," he said.
Pepin said no water requests inside the town limits had been denied. She said people tended to come for water allocations before they even had solid development plans in place.

The council voted to direct Furgiuele to craft several proposals to create a 5 or 10 percent non-refundable deposit while possibly extending the vested period for the allocation to two years instead of one.

A public-comment period is underway for an environmental assessment conducted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The 30-day comment period began Dec. 4 and is the next step toward the town's plan to construct a plant in the Brownwood community, drawing up to 4 million gallons a day from the New River bordering Watauga and Ashe counties. Town voters adopted a referendum last year for a $25 million bond to fund water improvements.

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