Fate of Bent Creek property may play unspoken role in water system dispute

In the furor over the fate of the city’s water system, one important aspect has escaped notice: in July, Henderson County is due to transfer an 137-acre property near Bent Creek to the city of Asheville. Lawyers for both acknowledge the deadline, but are staying mum about its relation to the current dispute.

“There’s that provision in the deed,” City Attorney Bob Oast confirms. As for whether this affects the current water system situation, “I can’t answer that.”

Is the transfer still going forward? “As far as I know,” Henderson County Attorney Charles Burrell tells Xpress, declining to go into further detail after agreeing that the water system issues are extremely complex.

“I’m going to stop right there.”

The story begins in 1989, when a referendum to build an additional water plant for the Asheville system on the Bent Creek property failed, partly due to water-quality concerns about the French Broad River. Instead, Asheville worked out a 1995 deal with Henderson County, arranging to build a new plant at the confluence of the French Broad and Mills River. A non-binding part of the agreement declared that the two governments “shall in good faith work towards the formation of a regional water authority.”

As part of that deal, Henderson would get the Bent Creek property to meet its own future sewer needs.

In 2002, after a failed land deal and two lawsuits alleging that the city wasn’t living up to its obligations, Henderson got the property. That started the clock ticking: Henderson officials had a decade to build a sewer plant in the area, with an expected transfer to the Metropolitan Sewerage District if a larger regional authority were formed.

But in 2005, the city cited numerous management issues and backed out of the water agreement with Buncombe County (see “Water Torture” for background on what led to the dissolution of the agreement). The move effectively scrapped any hopes of a building a larger regional authority and left no small amount of bitter feelings with Henderson County’s leadership, who had their own slew of pre-existing complaints about the city’s conduct.

“This whole issue has played such an important role in Henderson County politics,” says Jonathan Barnard, a contributing editor for Xpress who has long studied local water-system issues, observes.

In 2008, discussions over the property’s fate also failed to reach a resolution.

With the deadline looming, there are no plans for a sewer plant on the site, meaning Asheville will get the property in July — unless the water system changes ownership again, such as through state legislation that would give Asheville’s water assets to either MSD or a regional water authority.

The latter options are exactly what the commission chaired by Rep. Tim Moffitt is studying, and his original proposal called for giving the system to MSD outright.

Indeed, Barnard notes that Henderson officials have told him over the years that they might pursue “a legislative solution” to the property’s fate. In 2009, then-Henderson County Commissioner Chuck McGrady noted that if the county couldn’t negotiate its way to a settlement, it “was content to pursue a judicial or legislative remedy.”

McGrady is now a state representative and, along with Moffitt, sits on the committee that may decide the water system’s fate.

For more articles about the water system, click here.

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15 thoughts on “Fate of Bent Creek property may play unspoken role in water system dispute

  1. tatuaje

    No comment from Moffitt?

    Any details on the land in question? Coordinates? Current estimated value?

  2. Paul Bosign

    Good work, Xpress, for pointing this out. Why is a Buncombe County representative Tim Moffitt working so hard to annex the city’s water system for Henderson County’s benefit?

    An October op-ed in the Hendersonville paper helps put Rep. McGrady’s motives in perspective: If Northern Henderson County could become part of a regional water system, then they could get Buncombe/Asheville water payers to subsidize their expensive sewer needs. The article points out that “Sewage systems generally follow the lay of the land to take advantage of gravity, so Henderson County can

    • D. Dial

      Since some of your comment bleeds off the comment window, I’m guessing you’re asking why Moffitt is so keen on Henderson’s sewerage issues. Possibly because what little I can glean from his headhunter business revolves around folks in the sewerage/ waste business. Conflict, much?

  3. Barry Summers

    Oct. 2011 BlueRidgeNow article showing how Henderson County really doesn’t want to have to spend their own money to build their own waste treatment plant – they want Buncombe County’s MSD to handle their… “waste” for the foreseeable future.

    http://www.blueridgenow.com/article/20111002/ARTICLES/110021009?p=1&tc=pg

    “Henderson County leaders are correct to look at future sewer needs in northern Henderson County. At the same time, taxpayers should be wary of the costs that could come with the county getting into the wastewater treatment business.

    “To put things in perspective, MSD can treat up to 40 million gallons per day, but has for years operated at less than half its capacity since the closure of some major industries in Buncombe County.

    “Sewage systems generally follow the lay of the land to take advantage of gravity, so Henderson County can

  4. Bill&Suzi

    Will the AC-T or the Hendersonville Paper read this? Better yet, will they publish this? Good stuff David!
    Chuck – You stink!

    • jburhoe

      You are incredibly disrespectful to
      a State Representative of any party.
      Shame on you. At least have a civilized
      conversation finding out facts,
      before calling names.

  5. Elaine Lite

    This speaks volumes towards explaining
    why this whole issue is now surfacing – the
    10-year window approaches. Water is only
    part of it – the Henderson County sewage
    issue seems to be the other strong driving
    force. So are Buncombe County ratepayers
    expected to subsidize this project for
    Henderson County in the form of a “regional
    authority?”

  6. Chuck McGrady

    I find it interesting that Mountain Xpress would print the article without any attempt to talk to me. And Elaine Lite’s and Barry Summer’s comments are particularly disappointing–they should know better.

    Chuck McGrady
    State Representative

    • Barry Summers

      Okay, I have a question for Rep. McGrady. Henderson County has held this property for years – why haven’t you built the treatment plant there that the County so sorely needs?

  7. Margaret Williams

    We’d like to follow-up with Rep. McGrady on the latest pulse on this issue. On Friday, we pushed to get the basic story out there

  8. Chuck McGrady

    No sewer treatment plant was built on the property because, with the loss of some manufacturing facilities in Buncombe County, MSD has plenty of capacity and doesn’t need to build a new plant. I’ve also been told that if a new plant were to be built ideally it would be on the other side of the river. I don’t know if that is true, since there is no need for further sewer capacity.

    The property wasn’t expected to be used for a Henderson County plant; the intention was that Henderson County would pass title to the property to MSD. At that point, Henderson County would be part of MSD and the now-defunct regional water authority.

    Those expectations were not met. Henderson County is not part of MSD, and Henderson County is not part of a regional water authority, because that authority was dissolved—not, I should add because of any problem as between Asheville and Henderson County.

    As was stated in yesterday’s committee meeting, the property is scheduled to go back to Asheville or go to MSD in June of this year. At that point, one could argue that Henderson County got almost nothing in return for allowing Asheville to build its water plant in Henderson County. It isn’t part of any regional water or sewer authority, and it had to sue to get Asheville to get a water line extension and to even get the Bent Creek property transferred in the first place.

    Chuck McGrady
    State Representative

  9. Barry Summers

    No sewer treatment plant was built on the property because, with the loss of some manufacturing facilities in Buncombe County, MSD has plenty of capacity and doesn’t need to build a new plant.

    Seriously Chuck? After all the resentful talk of deals broken and promised services not delivered, this is the explanation why no sewer plant on the Bent Creek property? “Why should we build our own treatment plant when MSD has all that excess capacity?”

    The article says this:

    “As part of that deal, Henderson would get the Bent Creek property to meet its own future sewer needs.”

    Yet you say this:

    The property wasn’t expected to be used for a Henderson County plant

    Are you saying that this quote from the article (and one of the supposed tenets of this whole conflict) is completely false? You seem to be saying that the Bent Creek property was never intended for a treatment plant, but was only meant to be a ‘chit’ for Henderson County, in the ultimate trade-off leading up to the regional authority. I’m sorry, but that is not plausible.

    And what follows in your comment is the familiar linking between the failure of the regional authority, and how Henderson County got screwed. Yet the only real damage to Henderson that I have ever heard (aside from the lawsuit over the delivery of water, which you won long ago), is that you were disappointed to not be a part of the promised Regional Authority, because Asheville pulled out. The implication being that they did it deceitfully, and Henderson is owed a huge cask of retribution…

    Yet here you are in the hearing on Wednesday, facing Jan Davis, literally making his case for him in front of the Study Committee (transcribed from video – copy available to any who want it):

    “Under the agreement, the City (of Asheville) had the ability to unilaterally withdraw from the authority, and they gave appropriate notice to the other parties, and the authority came to an end pursuant to it’s terms.

    “The dispute really… was much more between, at that point, Buncombe County and the City of Asheville. It wasn’t Henderson County – we had just sort of arrived on the scene, but there was a dispute between Buncombe County and the City of Asheville with respect to the improvements, the capital that was going to be expended on the system, and when those two entities couldn’t get together on the same page and approve the program going forward, the City, pursuant to the agreement, unilaterally withdrew from the authority, thus ending it.”

    These were literally the last words on the Henderson/Asheville dispute in the Committee hearing. You acknowledge the position that Asheville was in circa 2004, with Buncombe County not wanting to spend the necessary money on improving the system, and this is why Asheville pulled out of the regional authority. All things afterwards fell apart because the Buncombe leadership in 2004 refused to spend the money commensurate with providing clean, reliable water service to the ratepayers throughout the region. Asheville did the responsible thing, and withdrew from a dysfunctional process, and the Asheville water users, including those in Henderson County, have benefited ever since.

    Whatever good intentions were on the drawing board between Asheville and Henderson County got torpedoed by the Buncombe County Commission under Chairman Nathan Ramsey, not the long-gone City Council of 2004. Yet lo and behold, it’s the current City of Asheville that has to surrender the assets to provide for Henderson’s growth 8 years later.

    I’ll repeat my earlier caution that pushing to seize Asheville’s water system under this flag of unjustified retribution, will lead to another generation of tit-for-tat reprisals. And it will never end.

  10. Barry Summers

    Last question for Chuck:

    At the hearing Wednesday, General Manager Tom Hartye indicated MSD’s previous and current willingness to bring northern Henderson County into the governing structure of MSD, so that they will have a permanent seat at the table, and assurance that their sewerage needs will be met. Your committee staff is looking into how to adjust the MSD authorizing legislation to accommodate new members, and I think everyone expects that this will be part of any legislation coming out of the Study Committee report.

    What now, if any, are the reasons for Henderson County to want to see the Asheville water system taken away from Asheville’s control?

    • Chuck McGrady

      I think your observation are right. It would appear that the legislation that will be offered by the House committee will include a fix for the MSD governance issues.

      The focus has never been on taking over someone’s control of water and sewer. Over several decades, many groups and persons have urged the creation of regional water and/or sewer.

      Chuck McGrady
      State Representative

  11. D. Dial

    Here is the link the the livestream video of the water forum at Grace Covenant Church, sponsored by League of women voters and Moun tain Express. Lots of different points of view on this link. You’ll need to wait for the annoying ad to do it’s thing.

    http://livestre.am/1hKSZ

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