A new face for the Water Authority

The owner of an Asheville lumber company was appointed last week to fill a seat on the Regional Water Authority of Asheville, Buncombe and Henderson.

On a split vote, the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners chose Ed Metz, president of Westall-Chandley Lumber Co., to fill the seat vacated by Gary Semlak, who resigned March 19 (see “Board resignations spotlight Water Authority woes,” April 3 Xpress).

It’s a tumultuous time for the Water Authority, which is embroiled in a controversy over a disputed land swap and bogged down in a dispute over the cost of providing a water line to north Henderson County. A push to make the agency fully autonomous has strained relations with the city (which owns the system’s infrastructure).

Metz garnered the votes of board Chairman Nathan Ramsey, Vice Chairman Bill Stanley and Commissioner David Young. Commissioners David Gantt and Patsy Keever backed Rick Maas, chairman of UNCA’s Environmental Studies Department. Maas served on the Water Authority from 1993 to 1999 (including a stint as vice chairman).

During an interview with the commissioners just before their April 23 administrative session, Metz mentioned that he served on the board of the regional nonprofit RiverLink for eight years (1990-98), including two years as chairman.

“I think I have a background and penchant toward problem-solving,” said Metz, adding later in the interview that he would try to head off problems early before they became controversial. He also said he believes in competition — both in the building-materials business and in water rates.

Maas, meanwhile, stressed his expertise in the water-supply field, which includes conducting dozens of research studies and serving as a drinking-water consultant to the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power and the New York City Department of Environmental Protection.

Maintaining a “bountiful and healthy water supply” is important for the economy and the quality of life, said Maas, adding, “I think of myself as very much a regional person.”

Hazel Fobes, chairwoman of Citizens for Safe Drinking Water and Air, told the commissioners during the public-comment part of their meeting that she and her watchdog group support Maas because he’s an expert.

“You mustn’t just put in a nice person,” urged Fobes.

After the meeting, Fobes expressed disappointment, declaring, “I think they overlooked a very important person.”

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