PAUL DUNN: The Impetuous Charge Of the Bucket Brigade
Moore County faces serious future drought conditions. For that reason, Mayors George Lane of Pinehurst and Theron Bell of Robbins urged county commissioners in Carthage to adopt their parochial solution to Moore County's complex water problems.
Both signed a bilateral "letter of intent" to bring water from Robbins south into the county regardless of contrary public utility management decisions. They acted without ascertaining if necessary water from Deep River could be legally diverted to an obsolete Robbins-sited plant for purification treatment in an inter-basin transfer.
Their costly proposal: Rehab a mothballed and derelict Robbins water treatment plant, running pipelines over 20 miles southward. They pushed this idea before critical cost data became available from McGill & Associates, who've been studying myriad options.
Mayor Bell said that in order to solve Moore County water problems, "It's not out of the question that just Pinehurst and Robbins could work together." Mayor Lane then jumped the gun by asking North Carolina for $7.6 million to fund his Robbins-Pinehurst water project, using Obama's federal recovery stimulus funds.
Lane acted without public meetings in Pinehurst or agreement from county commissioners or utilities officials that they'd support such a scheme. Knowledgeable observers say no federal stimulus monies will be diverted to Lane's pet project given strict loan criteria and vital projects already in the pipeline.
On March 16, Moore County Public Works officials released their own comprehensive long-range water plans. They're diametrically opposite of the mayors' proposals. County water experts recommend that a totally new county-owned and operated water plant be built at an alternative Robbins site for $16 million.
They recognize the folly of investing in a rundown facility of little value. The Lane-Bell bilateral approach would have required the county to become a long-term purchaser of water from Robbins' old plant, with Robbins marking up the cost of the same water that Moore County will one day acquire on its own.
(Robbins currently buys Montgomery County water for $1.75 per thousand gallons and sells some of it to Moore County for the Davis community for $3 a thousand gallons -- a 58 percent markup).
The precipitous actions of Bell and Lane remind me of the Crimean War's Battle of Balaklava and the famed charge of the Light Brigade poignantly captured within days of the debacle by Alfred, Lord Tennyson. "Forward the Light Brigade! Was there a man dismay'd? Not tho' the soldier knew someone had blundered: Theirs not to make reply. Theirs not to reason why. Theirs but to do and die."
Tennyson wrote of dash and lan over judgment. The disastrous charge bitterly symbolized that haste makes waste. The brigade's precipitous cavalry action resulted from faulty intelligence, poorly executed communications and failure of those in command to move cautiously. The result: wanton slaughter of brave British officers and men.
Is Balaklava at all like Carthage? The poem reads, "Half a league, half a league onward." (A league is about three miles). Clearly Robbins and Pinehurst are more than a league from Carthage, where the mayors launched a bold attack on Moore County's officialdom. But their foray was also a rash action, the antithesis of thoughtful planning for the common good.
Needed instead is a carefully developed countywide water program that maximizes efficiencies and assures water needed for a growing population.
Are county commissioners saluting the mayors' bold initiatives? Hopefully not, but one thing is certain: There'll be more droughts and less water in years ahead without a sound water program. Needed are cautious leaders who scout out the terrain first, and then determine risks and costs before ordering the buglers to blow the charge.
Paul R. Dunn, who lives in Pinehurst, may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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