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Officials seeks water deal by state / May 05, 2010
The economic development committee of the Mecklenburg County Board of Supervisors on Monday agreed that Virginia and North Carolina should negotiate an agreement to buy the remaining water allocation in John H. Kerr Reservoir.

The committee will present its recommendation for action Monday by the board.

By purchasing the allocation from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the state, rather than the Corps, would acquire the responsibility for doling out allocations within their states.

State purchase of the allocation is one of five options presented this spring by a committee of the Roanoke River Basin Bi-State Commission. The commission is scheduled to vote on the options in August after weighing input from both states’ advisory committees.

The Corps has postponed ruling on a long-standing request from the City of Raleigh that, if granted, would put beyond reach for other communities most of the water available under current law for municipal and industrial use.

The Corps historically has allocated water on a first come, first served basis; it has, however, asked the states to come up with a better game plan.

Sen. Frank Ruff, Del. Tommy Wright, and chairman John Feild of the Bi-State Commission met with the committee of supervisors to discuss the five alternatives.

“It would be to the advantage of both states … to see this issue resolved,” Wright commented. Both he and Ruff serve on the Bi-State Commission.

Echoing concerns voiced by the board of supervisors when members first considered the alternatives, committee members devoted most of their discussion to strategizing how to protect local interests.

They are concerned that, if Mecklenburg County needs more water for development in the future, none will be available.

“We need to purchase our portion so we won’t lose it in a court battle,” supervisor Dan Tanner commented.

He commented that Mecklenburg County needs to stay in the forefront of achieving a bi-state agreement, since it has the biggest stake. Most of the reservoir is located here.

He suggested that county staff “follow through with other counties.”

Feild told the committee that to purchase an allocation, an entity must demonstrate a current need, something the county can’t do.

The motion they adopted pegged their support for state acquisition on “the current and future needs of the Roanoke River Service Authority.”

Feild told them the Authority can demonstrate current need since it has no allocation of its own.

“They’re essentially paying rent at the whim of their landlord, Dominion Power,” he said.

They discussed an expanded role for the authority, acquiring and managing an allocation and serving a larger area.

Feild said the authority has the infrastructure in place to expand.

He has been giving presentations to get buy-in from local governments within the county and in surrounding counties.

Feild said that in Virginia a coalition of elected officials, working with the Southside Planning District Commission, might be able to get Virginia to sign on to negotiating with North Carolina. The two states could decide how much of the remaining allocation should be acquired by each, he said.

“The state has taken no position,” Ruff said. “It would have to pushed, not to protect the rights of Mecklenburg County but to protect the rights of other Virginians. …”

Feild commented that North Carolina has demonstrated a “marked difficulty” in getting their members actively involved.

“Unless they’re at the table, we’re spinning our wheels,” he said of the North Carolina contingent.

The Bi-State Commission was formed on paper six years ago, as were advisory committees for each state. Virginia’s advisory committee has been meeting regularly over the years. North Carolina’s held its first meeting last year.

The commission, which will vote on a water allocation protocol to recommend to the states and the Corps, began meeting last spring.

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