Judge hears Asheville suit fighting water-system transfer

The city of Asheville bought the 22,000-acre watershed that feeds North Fork Reservoir in the 1920s. (photo courtesy of the city of Asheville)
The city of Asheville bought the 22,000-acre watershed that feeds North Fork Reservoir in the 1920s. (photo courtesy of the city of Asheville)

One year ago, the city of Asheville filed suit to block a state bill that mandates the transfer of the water system to the Metropolitan Sewerage District of Buncombe County. On May 23, a Wake County judge heard both sides plead their case. And both say that no matter the judge’s decision, an appeal is likely, Carolina Public Press reports:

At the end of nearly two hours of oral arguments, Judge Howard Manning Jr. offered little confirmation of how he would rule. [He] said a decision on the latest case depends on whether the legislation was, in fact, a local bill and whether it applied to sanitation and public health, a combination that would run afoul of Article 2, Sec. 24 of the state constitution, which says the General Assembly cannot enact local legislation “relating to health, sanitation, and the abatement of nuisances.” He also declined to consider legislators’ statements from committee hearings or from the floor of either the state House or Senate. “Our constitution says what it says. Section 24 says what it says,” Manning said. “That’s where we are. So, gentlemen, we need to get to the merits of this thing, because this is your final shot.”

Manning didn’t set a date for his decision, but “according to a previous order, an injunction preventing the formation of the regional water system expires 30 days after Friday’s hearing,” Carolina Public Press reported.

Reps. Tim Moffitt, Chuck McGrady and Nathan Ramsey — all Republicans — cosponsored a 2011 bill mandating the transfer. It was the latest in decades of disputes about the water system, which serves Asheville, Buncombe County and part of Henderson County. Managed for more than a decade by a regional board that included representatives of all three local governments, the water system has been under city control for several years.

Asheville officials argue that the city owns the system and its infrastructure. Not long after sponsoring the bill, Moffitt told Xpress that management of the water system should be approached “as an asset of the people, not any particular government body.”

Asheville residents organized to fight the bill, and so did other municipalities in the state: In early 2013, the N.C. League of Municipalities adopted the defense of local utilities as one of its top priorities, and 40 cities and towns across North Carolina passed resolutions against state government taking municipal infrastructure, Xpress reported.

Rep. Moffitt, who attended the hearing, told Carolina Public Press, “whatever the decision is, one side — or both sides — will pursue an appeal.”

Asheville Mayor Esther Manheimer said, however, that she felt the city had a strong case, “given Manning’s focus on the constitutional issue.”

About Margaret Williams
Editor Margaret Williams first wrote for Xpress in 1994. An Alabama native, she has lived in Western North Carolina since 1987. Follow me @mvwilliams

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