State spending on Jackson County water line questioned

All of the $300,000 allocated by the North Carolina General Assembly in 2006 to be spent on providing clean drinking water for emergency cases across the state has been assigned to four houses in Jackson County, according to a Jan. 17 report in The News & Observer of Raleigh. The total project — which uses the emergency funding controlled by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources and also taps the funds of the N.C. Rural Center — will cost approximately $740,000, with the county chipping in $120,000. The News & Observer report indicates that, at roughly $185,000 per home, the project will be the state’s most expensive per-house drinking-water remedy to date.

The residents of the four houses — Bonita Fox and her family, who live along the Great Smoky Mountains Expressway — discovered cancer-causing benzene contamination in their wells last year in quantities as high as 24 parts per billion, or “nearly five times what the federal government considers safe for drinking,” according to the news report, making the water undrinkable and restricting its use for showering to five minutes. Fox’s grandchildren, ages 1 and 3, cannot even bathe in it.

Original proponents of the emergency fund, created as the Bernard Allen fund in 2006, expressed concern that, although the Fox family needed assistance, using an entire year’s allocation for one project might not be a wise decision. Rep. Pricey Harrison of Greensboro was quoted as saying: “I think we could have helped more by providing notification and testing for hundreds of citizens with that money.”

Jackson County Manager Ken Westmoreland, however, blamed the terrain for the unusual expense of the line, and Fox noted that the contamination could eventually effect another dozen homes in the valley.

— Nelda Holder, associate editor






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