JOHN MARCUM: New Approach Needed on Water
In 2003, Pinehurst's residents passed a $16 million water bond to enable our council to purchase Pinehurst's water system from Moore County. Unfortunately, negotiations were botched and the effort was finally abandoned.
Just two years later, the Sandhills region experienced one of the worst droughts in modern history, with river basins and lakes drying up and the Middendorf aquifer dropping to worrisome levels. Luckily, Mother Nature finally gave us a pass, and recent rains have restored much of the shortfall.
The memory was still fresh in the 2007 municipal elections and water strategy plans became an important issue. I was running for mayor at the time and presented a comprehensive plan to expand our capacity and guard against future shortages.
I pointed out that simply buying water from river basins in neighboring counties would not solve our problem since these could dry up in severe droughts and we might be cut off in favor of local users.
For that reason, I proposed we should join with Southern Pines and others to build a large regional reservoir which Southern Pines was already planning. I proposed we use our $16 million bond to pay for our portion of the reservoir and to help the county utility fast-track new deep wells, upgrading of our sewer and water lines, and conservation incentives.
To my surprise, one of my opponents, George Lane, at first seemed unaware of the bond and later repeatedly criticized my position, arguing along with Village Manager Andy Wilkison that it was too late to use the bond.
Today our water situation is improving and the county utility is proceeding with new deep wells, a new water tower, and the long-delayed sewer and water line refurbishments. The recent McGill report shows that these measures should meet our needs for the near future and notes that out of county facilities may not be needed for several decades.
Nevertheless, our mayor is now considering using this same water bond to buy an old industrial water plant at Wagram, which doesn't even produce potable water. The price tag for acquiring and modernizing the plant, converting it to produce potable water and building the lines to bring the water uphill to Pinehurst would probably cost well over $20 million.
This would be purchasing water facilities we don't need at a price we can't afford. The result would be a huge and unwarranted increase in Pinehurst's indebtedness and tax burden.
One key question is whether the water bond could even be used for this purpose. Although the language of the bond is rather general, its legislative record makes clear that it was intended to repurchase our own facilities and refurbish them at a faster pace than the county.
Trying to extend that objective to dilapidated facilities and vulnerable water supplies in Scotland County in the Lumber River Basin seems quite a stretch. At a minimum, voters should be asked to reaffirm the bond and its use for this altered purpose.
In the future, more water may be needed for growth in golf resorts and other developments outside our extraterritorial jurisdiction, but that is not the Village Council's responsibility. Such needs should be pursued by the county utility on a regional basis, with the costs borne by developers rather than Pinehurst's residents.
John Marcum lives in Pinehurst. Contact him at email@example.com.
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