Clean Water for NC: Cities, towns citizen groups oppose water-sewer merger bill

Press release from
Clean Water for NC

Statewide opposition grows as water transfer bill advances
Greensboro, Winston-Salem pass resolutions against H488

RALEIGH AND ASHEVILLE, N.C. – Yesterday, the House of Representatives passed the bill sponsored by Buncombe and Henderson County representatives which would force the City of Asheville to transfer its water system to an unelected regional authority with no compensation. Local residents, organizations and businesses are still in opposition to this top-down approach by lawmakers, but the resistance has also moved beyond Asheville to other municipalities in North Carolina, where officials fear this could just be the first in a trend toward removal of local control.

Approximately 60 NC cities and towns have passed a resolution opposing the forced transfer of a water system. During the debate, Representative Susan Fisher (D-Buncombe) drew attention to these cities, saying, “It may be Asheville’s water system today, but tomorrow it could be another municipal utility. Bills like this can impair the ability of cities to borrow money, when there’s no guarantee that a city can keep the asset long enough to satisfy the debt. This bill is really about all of NC’s people, not just about the City of Asheville.”

Winston-Salem and Greensboro are two of the most recent cities to pass a resolution opposing the forced legislative transfer of municipal water systems; they’re also some of the largest. The locally appointed Winston-Salem City/County Utilities Commission also passed a resolution opposing such a top-down transfer. While Winston-Salem has a regional system, their city and county governments voluntarily formed such a system decades ago; the difference between local cooperation to meet water and wastewater needs and outright seizure of a city-owned water asset has not escaped public officials.

The bill sponsors, Reps. Tim Moffitt, Nathan Ramsey and Chuck McGrady, explained to their colleagues in the House that this legislation set up a statutory framework that could be optionally picked up by other areas in the future. Chris Pelly, a member of Asheville City Council, said this seems “like a double standard whereby the State is fine with forcing a merger of the Asheville system, despite governing body opposition, as long as the same legislation doesn’t apply to their communities.”

In fact, House members of both parties raised concerns that the local application of a public bill goes against House rules and the state constitution; in the Finance Committee debate April 9, House Speaker Pro Tempore Paul Stam (R–Wake) said “it’s really a local bill, but is phrased generally to attempt to get around the Constitution.” Based on Rep. Stam’s concerns, an amendment was added to protect his own district from being affected by the bill.

Katie Hicks, Assistant Director of the nonprofit Clean Water for NC, says, “Above all, folks deserve a chance to weigh in on the future of their drinking water, yet despite a clear message from Asheville voters that they don’t want the merger, lawmakers are going ahead with this transfer. Leaving those decisions to local elected officials means you and I get the most opportunities for input. In other areas of the state, people we’ve talked to fear they could be next to lose their voice in water decisions.”

The bill must pass one more reading in the House before moving to the state Senate.

About Clean Water for North Carolina:
Clean Water for NC works to promote clean, safe water and environments and empowered, just communities for all North Carolinians through community organizing, education, advocacy and technical assistance. The non-profit organization has offices in Durham and Asheville, North Carolina. CWFNC’s programs include polluter accountability and preventing harms, safe and accessible water for all, and empowered, just communities. For more information, visit http://www.cwfnc.org or call 828-251-1291.

About Mountain Voices Alliance:
Mountain Voices Alliance works to preserve and protect the natural beauty, abundant resources, and quality of life in our communities. We achieve our goals by working with state and local governments, developers, organizations and individuals to encourage responsible and sustainable growth that is in the best interest of citizens, visitors, future generations, and our environment.

About People Advocating Real Conservancy:
People Advocating Real Conservancy (PARC) is a citizen group dedicated to keeping watch on government action related to land use in Western North Carolina and other issues that affect the public good.

About Western North Carolina Alliance:
For 30 years, the Western North Carolina Alliance has been a trusted community partner, marshaling grassroots support to keep our forests healthy, our water clean, and our communities vibrant.


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