09/13/10 — Water on county's to-do list for state

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Water on county's to-do list for state

By Steve Herring
Published in News on September 13, 2010 1:46 PM

Protecting water resources and watersheds and building reservoirs are two projects that are going to require building partnerships with other counties, Wayne County commissioners say.

More reasonable state rules and regulations are also a must if counties are going to protect not only water supplies, but development efforts, board Chairman Jack Best said.

Those are just two of the agenda items county commissioners have asked legislators to consider as they make their plans for the upcoming session.

Commissioners across the state have been asked by the N.C. Association of County Commissioners for their input into the formation of its legislative priority list.

For Wayne commissioners, water was the top issue during last week's work session along with annexation and loss of sales tax and lottery revenues for use by public education.

"I know Mr. Best talked to me about some of the issues of not just nutrient runoff, also some of the rules as they pertain to watersheds in North Carolina and how that may impact development, industry, construction and jobs," County Manager Lee Smith said.

The county needs to weigh in on Jordan Lake and Falls of the Neuse Lake nutrient runoff rules hard because they will eventually go statewide, Best said.

Best reminded the board that developers around those lakes have been told they will have to pay millions of dollars to comply with the rules.

Smith said based on meetings he has attended, expansion of the rules should be expected.

"We need to make sure that the rules are reasonable," Best said. "The problem is (the state) is making up rules as it goes along."

Best was critical of current rules he said turn what should be relatively short-term projects into 20-year ones.

"That is killing development all over the state. I am not saying they you don't need to do something, but they need to be reasonable," Best said. "We have got to get involved in a regional reservoir

"We need to be able to build a watershed lake without the environmental people killing us. You can build it in three years and not 20. If we don't do it, we are going to be way behind our needs."

Best praised former Goldsboro city manager Richard Slozak for his insight in ensuring the city had enough water and sewer for 20 years. However, that 20-year window has almost expired, he said.

"I don't know where the project should be," he said. "We have several watersheds where we could build if we could get the permits to build them in the next three years."

"On the reservoir projects, Wayne County can't do it," Smith said. "Duplin County can't do it. Johnston County can't do it. But if you put them all together and include Wake County, because they need water, too, that is how big it has got to be because it is really political. It is going take the humph to get the money and we need the vote of legislators and congressional folks which means that we need Raleigh. If we can operate on (Raleigh's) coattails then let's do it."

Smith suggested that commissioners ask the association for the development of partnerships across the state for watersheds and water resources in the state.

"That is what you have to develop first because it is going to take us all," he said.

The way the permitting situation is today you cannot get a project done, Best said.

"You have got to get around the permitting. We have got to kill a few crayfish to get (a reservoir) built," Best said.

There are ways to mitigate the effects of such a project, Smith said -- and if they are, a reservoir of thousands of acres could be built in the county, Smith added.

However, if wetlands are involved the Army Corps of Engineers would not let the county do it, Smith said.

He recalled his first year in the county following Hurricane Floyd.

"We looked at the diking (of the Neuse River) of Seven Springs or building a reservoir for flood control," Smith said. "When I showed (the Corps of Engineers) the property, they were here for three different days. They looked and said, 'that is wetlands and we will not do it,' and they drove back to Wilmington. They would not even talk to me. They wouldn't even discuss it."

That is why the county needs partners like Wake and Durham counties, he said.

Smith said he has attended meeting at which officials from Orange County and Chapel Hill, who have accepted the regulations for Jordans Lake and Falls of the Neuse Lake, had said that development needed to be stopped.

So Wayne County won't get support there, he said.

"Wayne County can't stop. It is trying to build," he said. "But I think there are more counties like Wayne that would do something than won't. You have got to find partners "

Smith suggested commissioners ask the association to work toward commissions being formed by counties to look at water resources, particularly as they relate to watersheds and surface waters.

Commissioner Andy Anderson said he wanted to see more done on goals to modernize the state annexation law particularly preventing cities from changing county zoning when an area is annexed.

Anderson said he would like to at least see the city consult with the county before changes are made.

Best said he remains concerned that state lawmakers "lack the wherewithal" to buckle down and live within the state's means.

"Jack, I would like to add to that under public education that when things start to go off the track, (legislators) take wrong actions," Commissioner Steve Keen said.

Keen said he wants to see the state give more of the sales tax proceeds to public schools. The same holds true for the lottery proceeds, he said.

"That is hurting our school system," he said. "It is hurting public education. It is the same way with the lottery. They will take every penny that they can take. It is like a misappropriation."

"All they did when (the state) took the sales tax from the schools, all they did was to cause a local tax increase for local property taxpayers," Smith said. "It is like the inventory tax and all the others (monies taken by the state) and now the lottery."