Tuesday, April 16, 2013

History of the Asheville / Buncombe Water System

Link to 2012 -2013 Mountain Xpress articles via  "water system"  search results.

I have used mostly Mountain Xpress articles for this information blog.  Citizen Times has done a lot of coverage , but their articles are available for just a short time. However members of Asheville library can access via the library computers.

History of Sullivan 1, 2, and 3

Note: Sullivan 3 was passed in June, 2005  Sherrill, Goforth and Fisher introduced the bill

Video links 
Dr. Gene Rainey
click to view video 

Part one  2.13.12 Water Forum

Part two  2.13.12 Water Forum

By Jonathan Barnard on 02/08/2006 02:00 PM

In Asheville, fifth Tuesdays of the month are traditionally reserved for neighborhood gripe sessions. Instead, City Council earmarked Jan. 31 for a special water session. And though it was far from the first time city leaders have waded into this stormy issue, the contrast with the past could not have been starker.

Like the May 24, 2004, Council meeting (see "Then and Now", below), this one could aptly be described as having marked a new chapter in the turbid history of local water politics. But this time, Council members and city staff alike were taking pains to show that the process would be altogether different -- in tone, pace and transparency.

In her opening remarks, Mayor Terry Bellamy described the search for new water policies as an "interactive decision-making process that is starting, not ending, tonight." And she reaffirmed that Asheville is "open to working with the county."

City Manager Gary Jackson then delivered a lengthy staff report. With the stated aim of providing "reliable, safe and affordable drinking water to all customers throughout the region," it examined five policy areas: "capital investment, rate structure, growth and development, financial policy and governance models."

The portion dealing with capital investment covered well-trod ground. An asset-management study prepared by consultants Brown and Caldwell several years ago for the old Regional Water Authority cited the need for $57 million worth of system repairs and refurbishment by 2012. Reviving a familiar bugaboo, Jackson showed how a capital-improvements fee on meters could at least provide a start on generating the needed funding. Twice endorsed by the Water Authority and approved by City Council only to be vetoed by Buncombe County each time, this approach was most recently voted down by the new City Council in December amid concerns about public perception and the need for outreach. And though the proposed meter fee would affect all system customers, the bills of large commercial and industrial users would increase by a higher percentage than those of smaller residential users. C'ntd here.

By Jerry Sternberg on 09/07/2005 02:00 PM

Well, the fire finally put the water out. Water am I talking about?
If you can stand it, here is another postpartum analysis of the aborted water negotiations between the city of Asheville and Buncombe County. You might find it somewhat surprising that Gospel Jerry has some particular insight into the excruciating process that plagued our county commissioners and City Council members.
A few weeks before the Water Agreement was to be washed down the drain, I was asked to help negotiate a settlement. Here is a thumbnail version of how we got into this quagmire.
Since 1985, the local water supply has been under the administration of the Asheville-Buncombe Water Authority, which became the Regional Water Authority of Asheville, Buncombe and Henderson after Henderson County joined.
Asheville city has always run the day-to-day operation of the Water Department, developing the budget and controlling the hiring and firing. The Authority was primarily in charge of policy and rate-setting.
At the Asheville City Council winter retreat of 2004, the Council decided to reclaim its birthright and take back the water system from the Regional Water Authority in order to appropriate additional water revenues to increase city income and control growth. I doubt that any of the City Council members envisioned that this act would become a battle of Cain and Abel proportions. It is also doubtful that any of the parties involved were prepared for the ensuing firestorm that resulted from this action.
The rest of the discussion has to be prefaced by the assertion that all parties in this kabuki dance were absolutely sincere and felt they were representing their constituencies to the best of their abilities. It is my opinion that the Water Agreement broke down because of three things: AFFRONT, VICTIMIZATION and POLITICS.
Unfortunately, North Carolina is a "may I" state. Cities and counties in North Carolina cannot pass such things as new taxes or other revenue sources, change annexation regulations and a whole host of other ordinances without express permission of the state Legislature. The city's failure to recognize this fact and consult with the Legislature before making this draconian move was a fatal mistake.
Notification to the Authority by the city of its withdrawal was viewed by Buncombe leadership as a hostile act, and they were seriously AFFRONTED. They immediately began to look around for defensive measures that they felt would protect the county residents from paying a higher rate on their water bills and threatened to invoke the Sullivan Act, which prohibited a differential water rate between city and county.
The city immediately countered by declaring that the Sullivan Act only applied to the water customers and lines that were in existence at the time the Legislature passed the act 70 years ago. The county then appealed to the local legislative delegation to pass new laws that would clarify the matter with acts known as Sullivan II and Sullivan III prohibiting differential rates between the city and any part of the county.
The city was outraged at this action by the county, and they felt VICTIMIZED. I must say that if I walked up to the biggest guy in the bar and punched him in the face, I could hardly feel that I was a victim if he then wiped up the floor with me. Such action might also preclude further negotiation.
One might then ask why would the legislative delegation want to get into this act? After all, several of them live in the city. The answer is that they were loath to even touch this third rail and were hoping against hope that this would be settled by negotiation between city and county. And they brought considerable pressure to bear on both sides.
The problem the delegation had was POLITICAL. These legislators have to run again next year. They are savvy enough to understand that if they failed to act and the city raised county water rates, the county residents would hold them responsible and might vote against them, while the city dwellers would give credit to City Council for lowering their rates.

By Jonathan Barnard on 03/23/2005 02:00 PM

In Asheville, fifth Tuesdays of the month are traditionally reserved for neighborhood gripe sessions. Instead, City Council earmarked Jan. 31 for a special water session. And though it was far from the first time city leaders have waded into this stormy issue, the contrast with the past could not have been starker.

Like the May 24, 2004, Council meeting (see "Then and Now", below), this one could aptly be described as having marked a new chapter in the turbid history of local water politics. But this time, Council members and city staff alike were taking pains to show that the process would be altogether different -- in tone, pace and transparency.

By Jonathan Barnard on 07/30/2003 02:00 PM

Nero fiddled while Rome burned. Here in Asheville and environs, long-running enmities and political infighting maintain a state of functional paralysis while the crumbling water infrastructure continues to decay and more than a quarter of the water produced by the system is lost to leaks.

By Jonathan Barnard on 11/27/2002 02:00 PM

It's come down to just $500,000. That appears to be all that's keeping Asheville and Henderson County from putting an end to their long-running water wars -- provided, that is, that the two sides can cut a deal before the new Henderson County commissioners take their oaths of office in early December.
At a special Nov. 14 meeting called specifically to address the situation, the Asheville City Council voted 6-1 to offer Henderson County three options for resolving their disputes concerning the implementation of the 1995 water agreement (Brian Peterson was the sole dissenter). All three plans call for creating a "regional infrastructure council" that would include the city of Hendersonville, which is not a member of the current Regional Water Authority.
"Option 1," as Mayor Charles Worley labeled it, would simply leave the 1995 water agreement intact, with all parties once again agreeing to abide by it.

By Jonathan Barnard on 10/30/2002 02:00 PM

After years of wrangling over water issues, Asheville and Henderson County may be close to making peace.
On Oct. 16, the Henderson County Board of Commissioners voted 3-2 to allow Chairman Bill Moyer to negotiate with Asheville on a plan he drew up that would amend the Water Agreement and settle the county's lawsuit against Asheville, the Regional Water Authority and Buncombe County. After looking over an outline of Moyer's proposals, Asheville Mayor Charles Worley told Xpress that they aren't far from what the city had previously offered and would require only minor changes and clarifications on a few unspecified points.
Under the Moyer plan, two of the thorniest issues -- the funding of water lines in northern Henderson County and the fate of a Bent Creek property transferred to Henderson County under the 1995 agreement -- would be resolved through a land-for-cash swap. Asheville would get back the Bent Creek property (which has been assessed at $2 million); in return, Henderson County would receive $2 million to build water and sewer lines in Cane Creek.

Double, double, toil and trouble
Regional water issues come to a boil
by Margaret Williams | mwilliams@mountainx.com 4.25.01

Asheville-area reservoirs may be full for the first time in several years, but listen closely: There's trouble a-boil in the depths.

On Jan. 25 of this year, Regional Water Authority Chair Jack Tate sent a letter to Asheville, Buncombe County and Henderson County officials. He asked these governing bodies to come together to address murky issues in the 1994 Water Agreement, which created the Regional Water Authority.
To date, there's been no official response from any of them. But in the interim, Tate and other Authority members have spoken publicly about the underlying issues, both at their meetings and to nonprofit groups such as Citizens for Safe Drinking Water and Air.
The Authority has also sought to form a committee of its board members and governmental representatives to discuss reorganizing as an independent agency – which would, among other things, stave off the rising costs the Authority incurs when the state Department of Transportation relocates water lines.
Meanwhile, Henderson County officials recently sued the city of Asheville, the Authority and Buncombe County over an alleged failure to hand over, in good faith, nearly 140 acres off Brevard Road. The exchange was supposed to be part of the deal that gave Asheville the land needed to build the Authority's Mills River Water Treatment Plant. But after the city finally transferred ownership in 1999, Henderson County officials claimed Asheville had placed severe restrictions on the deed, limiting both Henderson's clear ownership of the land and future use of it.
It's a recipe for a bitter brew. Toss in the frustration shown by Authority board member (and Henderson County Board of Commisioners chair) Bill Moyers about the lack of progress in figuring out who will pay for a master plan that includes his county's Cane Creek area. Add a dash of Asheville Mayor Leni Sitnick's annoyance that city appointees to the Authority's board haven't been more forthcoming with information on the situation. (On April 17, she urged Council to immediately implement a policy of automatically removing Council members from boards and commissions when their term on Council ends; former Council member Tommy Sellers, defeated in the last election, still serves on the Authority's nine-member board.) Then sprinkle in Asheville City Manager Jim Westbrook's admonition (at the Authority board's April 17 meeting) that Tate's public remarks weren't helping things any.
Mix it all together, and City Attorney Bob Oast's April 17 observation that there are "many issues percolating in the Water Authority right now" becomes a tactful understatement of the situation.
Enter the League of Women Voters, wading right into the frothing waters. The local Buncombe and Henderson branches are teaming up to host a forum on the Authority's past, present and future.
"The League is interested in working on regional problems cooperatively," says Nelda Holder, president of the Asheville/Buncombe chapter. "The situation that the Water Authority is facing in terms of its legal position [is] what spurred [this] forum. [The Authority's] history is part of the discussion, too: How did we get to where we are now, and why? And where do we go from here?"
Everyone, it seems, has a point of view. Former Buncombe County Board of Commissioners Chair Gene Rainey, who signed the 1994 agreement with Henderson and Asheville, says: "I regret the problems that Asheville, [the Authority] and Henderson County are having at this time. I think [these problems] need to be worked out, but Asheville may have to make some concessions [particularly with regard to the pending lawsuit]." The 1994 agreement, he asserts, was a model "in terms of other agreements ... that bring regional cooperation between cities and counties."
UNCA Professor Rick Maas, who served on the Authority's board a few years ago, adds: "We had an agreement. We got the Mills River [property] and Henderson County got the Brevard Road site [for a potential wastewater-treatment plant]. It was that simple. We shouldn't squabble over the details." Maas, who chairs UNCA's environmental studies department, urges regional cooperation, calling on Asheville and Buncombe leaders "to abide by the intent and spirit of the Water Agreement."
Local-government watchdog Jerry Rice remarks: "There's never been a public meeting to sit down and talk about all the issues involved in the Water Agreement. ... We need Buncombe County and Asheville and Henderson County sitting down and talking about every piece of this and the options." The lawsuit squabble and the laments about the DOT costs "are the tip of the iceberg," says Rice.
Mayor Sitnick agrees that the issue is complex. "I've been asking for a review of the Water Agreement for years," she points out. On April 17, she demanded that city staff prepare – as Council member Brian Peterson had suggested – a report on all the water issues, including the pros and cons of an autonomous Authority. She hopes to have that in hand sometime next month. But in light of the lawsuit initiated by Henderson County, she guarded her remarks, saying only, "The efforts of the Water Authority to become a true [autonomous] Authority ... is interesting."
Holder, meanwhile, maintains that "Everybody needs to talk to each other. The forum is an opportunity for the public to understand what the issues are."
The event, scheduled for Monday, April 30, will be held in the community room of the Skyland Fire Department on Hendersonville Road, from 7-9 p.m.
All elected officials of Asheville, Buncombe and Henderson have been invited, and former Asheville Mayor Russ Martin, former Henderson County Board of Commissioners Chair Vollie Good and Authority at-large member Leslee Thornton will be on hand for a question-and-answer session. Former Henderson County Board of Commissioners Chair Renee Kumor and former Buncombe County Board of Commissioners Chair Tom Sobol will present a historical perspective on the Authority. Tate will provide an update on the Authority's status.

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