Western: Troubled waters

 In NC Trend

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Asheville bought land in the early 1900s to create Burnett Reservoir in Black Mountain.

With rivers such as the French Broad, Swannanoa and Pigeon, water would seem the least of western North Carolina’s worries. But a reminder of the region’s vulnerability in the form of last fall’s record drought, followed by a December court ruling that leaves control of the area’s biggest water system in the hands of Asheville, shows differently.

The decision by the N.C. Supreme Court means that, for the time being, the system’s more than 120,000 customers will see no change in rates or service. Getting to that point, though, has involved a nasty fight that may not be over.

“There were areas in western North Carolina having to institute water conservation measures last year,” says Asheville Mayor Esther Manheimer. “We did not. That’s because we have a plentiful source — we own our own watershed, which is almost 20,000 acres — which is unusual. So you can see how it’s something others might want to get their hands on.”

The December court ruling overturned a state law signed in 2013 by former Gov. Pat McCrory that would have handed the Asheville water system to a regional authority. Asheville sued to block implementation. A lower court granted the injunction, ruling the law violated the state constitution, but an appeals court reinstated it in 2015.

N.C. Rep. Chuck McGrady, a Republican from neighboring Henderson County, is among those who accuse the city of using the water system to dominate smaller towns and rural areas.

“Asheville has nearly a hundred years of using its water as a weapon,” McGrady says, while also accusing the city of diverting water revenue from nonresidents to pay for city projects. Buncombe County has five municipalities in addition to Asheville. Courts have ruled it can’t charge higher rates to out-of-city users.

Democrat Manheimer says that the 2013 law, similar to one Republicans passed attempting to transfer oversight of city-controlled Charlotte Douglas International Airport to a regional board, went too far. “The real issue is governance,” she says. The water law would ultimately have given Asheville, whose residents make up about 60% of users, three seats on a 15-member board. Republicans who took control of both branches of the legislature in 2010 are grabbing power, the mayor says.

“This water war has had a lot of political collateral damage,” she says, adding that two of the bill’s legislative sponsors, Buncombe Republicans Tim Moffitt and Nathan Ramsey, were defeated by Democratic candidates in November 2014. McGrady is the only lawmaker who continues to show “an interest in furthering this discussion,” she says. “I’ll always fight to protect our water system but will continue to try to communicate with our legislators to head off further legislation.”


BREVARD — Earth Renewable Technologies raised $2.5 million from 10 investors, according to a federal filing. The company produces packaging using plant-based resins as an alternative to plastic. Richard Scalzo, founder of Brevard-based supplement maker Gaia Herbs, is chief executive officer.

SPINDALE — Ameridial will lay off 160 workers at its local call center because of the loss of a contract with a health-insurance company. About 100 workers will remain at the center. The privately held North Canton, Ohio-based company operates 10 call centers in the U.S.

ASHEVILLE — HomeTrust Bank will acquire United Financial of North Carolina for an undisclosed amount. Fletcher-based United Financial provides financing for the purchase of firetrucks and equipment and construction of fire stations and other municipal buildings. HomeTrust had assets of $2.8 billion as of Sept. 30.

 

Photo courtesy of Zen Sutherland

 

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