Not kidding. The Metropolitan Sewerage/Water System Committee is requesting comments from the public on it’s draft report and it’s a pretty fascinating read. There’s a long history of how the systems in and around Asheville were created and consolidated and how disputes developed.
(FYI: Sewerage is the collection system. Sewage is what flows through it.)
Given the long history, the jurisdictional issues and the kind of money involved this will no doubt be a WNC flashpoint as the General Assembly contemplates legislation.
Here’s the committee’s recommendations.
Recommendation 1 – The Committee recommends the Metropolitan Sewerage District Act be amended to:
1. Reflect population shifts in single-county districts.
2. Modify representation in multicounty districts.
3. Allow metropolitan sewerage districts to exercise the same authority as metropolitan water districts.
Finding 2 – The Public Utility Water System, currently managed by the City of Asheville Water Resources Department, continues to be a topic of substantial concern within the unincorporated (non-City of Asheville) community. . .
[Several pages later]
. . . Given all of the foregoing, this Committee makes the following conclusions:
1. The City of Asheville does not own the entire Public Utility Water System;
2. Buncombe County owns part of the Public Utility Water System;
3. The Public Utility Water System is a “Public Enterprise” and, therefore, the City of Asheville cannot profit from its management;
4. The City of Asheville is constrained and prohibited from charging non-City of Asheville rate-payers higher water rates by Sullivan I;
5. The City of Asheville is constrained and prohibited from charging non-City of Asheville rate-payers higher water rates by Sullivan II;
6. The City of Asheville is constrained and prohibited from adopting rules for the provision of water that provide for differential treatment for non-City of Asheville rate-payers by Sullivan III;
7. The City of Asheville has attempted to charge non-City of Asheville rate-payers higher rates for water than City of Asheville rate-payers in direct violation of the Sullivan Acts;
8. The City of Asheville has intentionally failed to fulfill contractual obligations to other governmental entities regarding the Public Utility Water System;
9. The City of Asheville has refused to reach a reasonable agreement with Buncombe County regarding the Public Utility Water System;
10. It is the intent of the City of Asheville to charge non-City of Asheville rate-payers substantially more for water than City of Asheville rate-payers;
11. The City of Asheville desires to maintain control of the Public Utility Water System until persons sympathetic to the City of Asheville are elected into office and can repeal the respective Sullivan Acts;
12. Buncombe County has substantially contributed to and invested in the Public Utility Water System;
13. The City of Asheville refuses to acknowledge Buncombe County’s contribution and investment in the Public Utility Water System;
14. The non-City of Asheville rate-payers should not continually face the threat of double, triple and possibly quadruple increases in their water rates; and
15. The non-City of Asheville rate-payers are at risk of inequitable treatment by the City of Asheville (i.e. paying a disproportionately high portion of the water rates and “forced” voluntary annexation).
It is the Committee’s opinion that direct repeal or defiance of the Sullivan Acts would produce such substantially negative outcomes in the region that a proactive remedy must be pursued and implemented in a timely fashion.
Recommendation 2 – After careful consideration of the information presented, the Committee recommends merging the Public Utility Water System with the Metropolitan Sewerage District of Buncombe County.
The benefits of combining the two utilities are undeniable. The benefits include, among numerous others, the following:
1. Each utility essentially serves the same residential, commercial and industrial customers;
2. Wastewater volumetric charges are directly linked to domestic water metered consumption;
3. Treatment of raw potable water and wastewater requires similar expertise, and similar interaction with Federal and State Authorities;
4. Economies of scale can be achieved in the areas of administration, planning and engineering; and
5. Single location for water and wastewater availability and planning.
The Committee recommends that the 2013 Session of the North Carolina General Assembly consolidate the Public Utility Water System with the Metropolitan Sewerage District of Buncombe County. Should the interested governments craft their own solution for consolidation, which achieves all the objectives of the Committee, before the 2013 North Carolina General Assembly convenes, due consideration would be given to the local plan. Action will not be taken if the parties are engaged in good-faith negotiations on this matter.
Finding 3 – The 1996 Asheville Watershed Conservation Easement is designed to protect the drinking water in and around Asheville. There are some places where the language in the conservation easement could be clearer. However, the issue can be addressed directly with the City of Asheville and the General Assembly does not need to act at this time.
Recommendation 3- The Committee recognizes the efforts of the Conservation Trust for North Carolina in protecting the drinking water in and around Asheville. It recommends that the Conservation Trust for North Carolina continue to work with the City of Asheville as the parties consider clarifying the 1996 Asheville Watershed Conservation Easement.
Got all that?