The fate of Asheville’s water system will be considered April 19 at the fourth and final hearing of the legislative study committee chaired by Buncombe County Rep. Tim Moffitt. Moffitt stated in an earlier interview with the Xpress that following the fourth hearing, the Metropolitan Sewerage/Water System Committee could make one of several potential recommendations: requesting the opportunity to continue the study; recommending that the system be left under the current mangement by the city of Asheville; or recommending that the system be managed by an independent regional authority (such as the Metropolitan Sewerage District or a separate entity).
Moffitt introduced the bill that called for the water study, and the committee, which includes Henderson County’s Rep. Chuck McGrady, has met to hear testimony on three occasions so far – January 23 and March 14 in Raleigh, and February 23 (public hearing) in Buncombe County. Handouts and presentations from each meeting may be reviewed on the committee’s website. The April 19 meeting starts at 10 a.m. in Room 643 of the Legislative Office Building. Live audio will be available through the General Assembly’s audio website.
Annexation petition law found unconstitutional—Asheville/Biltmore Lake could be affected
Last June, the House and Senate passed a bill that made pending or completed involuntary annexations subject to an opposition petition signed by the property owners of at least 60 percent of the land parcels in the area to be annexed. The Local Annexations Subject to 60% Petition bill, now Session Law 2011-173, specifically suspended involuntary annexation procedures in eight North Carolina towns, including Asheville and its pending annexation of Biltmore Lake. The planned annexations were not to take place until opportunity was created for the 60-percent petition to be produced. A similar petition option was adopted in the Annexation Reform Act of 2011 (Session Law 2011-296), applying to plans for new annexations.
Five of the eight towns named in the Local Annexations legislation—Kinston, Rocky Mount, Wilmington, Lexington and Fayetteville—fought back in court. And on Tuesday, the 60-percent petition process was ruled unconstitutional by the Wake County Superior Court. According to a report on the ruling by The News & Observer of Raleigh, the cities argued successfully that the petition process constituted an election—in violation of the state’s constitution because only property owners were allowed to “vote.”
The outcome of the court case, which is likely to be appealed, could affect the city of Asheville’s on-again/off-again attempt to annex Biltmore Lake, a process that—as reported by the Asheville Citizen-Times – was suspended during litigation brought by Biltmore Lake residents and remains unresolved.
Further legislative action on the annexation issue could be forthcoming at the May special session of the General Assembly, opening May 16 – a session that had been originally planned to address budget adjustments.
To frack, or not to frack …
There were mixed messages in the draft report on hydraulic fracturing – a process known as fracking – released this week by the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources. The study of the controversial process of releasing gas found in shale formations was mandated by the Legislature, and a final report to the General Assembly is due May 1. The process is currently not allowed in the state, though some legislators have signaled movement toward immediate legalization. But Republican Mitch Gillespie , who represents Burke and McDowell counties and chairs the House Appropriations Committee, announced his opposition to fast-tracking, saying on Wednesday that the state should delay any legalization until more studies can ensure the process can be used safely and responsibly. He was accompanied at his press session by Republican Michael Stone, who represents Harnett and Lee counties—locations of potential drilling, and by Democrat Pricey Harrison of Guilford County.
The agency’s draft report, according to DENR’s press release, states that hydraulic fracturing could be done “safely” in the state, provided the “right protections” are in place before the issuance of any permits for the practice. The report further notes, however, that more information is needed on groundwater resources in any potential drilling area before making final decisions on environmental standards.
Some of the draft recommendations include limiting water withdrawal to 20 percent of stream flow; requirement of full disclosure of hydraulic fracturing chemicals and constituents to regulatory agencies and, with the exception of trade secrets, to the public; clarification of local government regulatory authority and impacts to local infrastructure; and determination of liability related to environmental contamination.
The department held public meetings on the draft on March 20 in Sanford and on March 27 in Chapel Hill. Written comments regarding the report may be sent via email or through postal mail to NCDENR, attn: Trina Ozer, 1601 MSC, Raleigh, NC 27699. Click here to read DENR’s full draft report.
Now you see it, now you don’t
Speaker of the House Thom Tillis, a Mecklenburg County Republican, was quoted this week as predicting that Amendment One, to be voted on during the May 8 primary, will be approved by voters statewide –- only to be repealed within the next 20 years.
The amendment would create a constitutional definition of the only “domestic legal union” that would be valid or recognized in the state—that being “marriage between one man and one woman.” In a speech before a student group at N.C. State, Tillis’ rationale for the amendment’s prospective repeal was that young people are more supportive of marriage rights for same-sex couples.
Tillis continues to support the amendment, according to the report. But the week also saw fellow Mecklenburg County Republican Richard Vinroot -– a former Charlotte mayor and former candidate for governor – speak out in opposition to the amendment. Vinroot, quoted in the Charlotte Observer, offered the following comment regarding Tillis’ prediction: “I can’t imagine amending the Constitution for something he believes is that tenuous.”
by Nelda Holder, contributing editor
(Updated on March 29.)