The Wilkesboro Town Council took no action Monday night on a request for its support of a watershed reclassification tied to the Town of North Wilkesboro’s proposed new raw water intake on the Yadkin River.
North Wilkesboro Town Manager Wilson Hooper said statements of support of the watershed reclassification, which includes land use restrictions, are needed in an engineering report on the project due to the state by Dec. 2.
Hooper said these statements of support are needed from the North Wilkesboro, Wilkesboro and Wilkes County governing bodies to secure state funding that earlier was conditionally approved for the new intake.
“That report needs to have a status on the reclassification process…. We’re requesting an act of neighborliness from you all that will benefit the people of North Wilkesboro and also Wilkes County,” he said. The statement of support was in a resolution the Wilkesboro council was asked to approve.
Hooper said the Wilkesboro Town Council was being asked to extend restrictions already in the town’s zoning ordinance for the WS-IV watershed for Wilkesboro’s raw water intake on the Yadkin just upstream from the U.S. 421 bridge over the Yadkin and the mouth of Moravian Creek.
North Wilkesboro’s plans for building the intake a short distance upstream from the Yadkin River Greenway bridge over the Yadkin require designating thousands of acres as watershed (WS) IV. This is an area where storm water drains into the Yadkin or its tributaries upstream from the proposed intake site.
The WS-IV watershed for North Wilkesboro’s proposed new intake would include about 2,439 acres within Wilkesboro’s town limits and extra-territorial jurisdiction (ETJ) and about 502 acres within North Wilkesboro’s town limits and ETJ.
The remaining 10,303 acres with WS-IV land use restrictions would be under jurisdiction of Wilkes County government. Wilkes County Planning Director Eddie Barnes said county officials expect the request for support of the reclassification to come before the county commissioners at their Nov. 19 meeting.
All of the acreage that would be designated WS-IV is now Class C.
The WS-IV “critical area,” which has the greatest restrictions, extends a half a mile from the intake. The critical area for North Wilkesboro’s proposed intake on the Yadkin includes 33 acres within the Wilkesboro town limits and 45 acres in its ETJ. It includes 14.75 acres within the North Wilkesboro town limits and about 4 acres in its ETJ.
A Geographic Information Systems map of the new proposed watershed can be accessed at https://arcg.is/0Tfaue. Under the “Layers” tab at top left, select “Proposed New Water Supply Watershed Area” from the dropdown menu. The critical area is in purple, while the rest of the protected area is in blue.
In a WS-IV critical area, no more than 24% of a land parcel can be built upon and no more than two dwelling units per acre is allowed.
Wilkesboro Town Manager Ken Noland said during a council work session Monday morning that the portion of the proposed critical area in Wilkesboro includes 47.3 acres of Yadkin River bottomland used for growing corn and owned by Steve Mathis.
New sludge application sites and landfills are specifically prohibited in WS-IV critical areas.
Noland said the state’s “10/70 provision” allow relief from development restrictions in the portion of a WS-IV watershed outside the critical area.
Under the 10/70 provision, up to 70% of the land can be built upon without stormwater controls in up to 10 percent of the non-critical area in a WS-IV watershed. Local governing bodies decide where the 10/70 provision is allowed.
Noland said this means the Wilkesboro Town Council could apply the 10/70 provision to about 240 acres in the proposed new WS-IV watershed.
In the meeting Monday night, Noland said four concerns must be addressed before the council could support the watershed reclassification requested by North Wilkesboro.
First, he asked that North Wilkesboro’s engineering firm, Charlotte-based Kimley-Horn and Associates, review the map of the proposed new WS-IV watershed for accuracy regarding storm water drainage.
Second, Noland asked that the two towns’ water distribution systems be reviewed for “inadequacies or issues that may be in the way of serving each other in times of emergencies.” The two water systems were re-connected this summer, allowing them to assist each other as needed with water.
The third concern is land development restrictions that Wilkesboro would have to enforce in portions of the proposed new WS-IV watershed within its jurisdiction. “Our watershed system has been in place for 20 years or so, and it may not be the latest and greatest way of doing it. There may be better ways of doing such a program, and we’d like a review of that brought back to us.”
Finally, Noland said governments of the two towns and the county need the same or similar watershed protection ordinances so developers don’t have to contend with different sets of rules. Matt Shoesmith, Kimley-Horn project manager for the proposed new intake, said he would recommend a strategy for that.
Wilkesboro Mayor Mike Inscore told Hooper that the council would likely discuss the issue during a Nov. 20 work session. “I don’t expect the board to say yes or no tonight. I don’t think we’ve heard anything that will put this board in opposition (to the reclassification), but once those questions are resolved we’ll be ready to move forward. The last thing we’d want to do is to derail what your goal is.”
“You are restricting development (if the new watershed is created),” said Inscore, adding that this would be minimized by the 10/70 provision. “It’s a good thing to restrict usage above intakes for anybody, because we want good, clean water coming out of them.”
If the watershed reclassification requested by North Wilkesboro is approved, the three governing bodies will each have 270 days to adopt and implement ordinances to meet the state’s minimum requirements for WS-IV watersheds, according to a resolution North Wilkesboro officials want the Wilkesboro council to approve.
Hooper said North Wilkesboro officials hope to execute construction contracts for the intake project by August 2021 and complete work by August 2022.
In the work session Monday, Noland said he told Hooper, “There’s a lot of baggage hanging from a 10-year process that went sour,” referring to the ill-fated W. Kerr Scott Reservoir intake project. “So, this request may not go as quickly or as easily as you think. However, I don’t see any reason why we won’t get to a solution we can all be satisfied with.”
On Oct. 4, the North Wilkesboro commissioners approved a $30,100 contract with Kimley-Horn for engineering and designing the new raw water intake on the Yadkin.
In July, the town received a “letter of intent to fund” from the State Revolving Loan Section of the N.C. Division of Water Infrastructure saying North Wilkesboro was eligible for a $6.74 million state loan for building the raw water intake on the Yadkin and pipeline to the town’s water treatment plant on I Street.
The letter said up to 25% of the loan ($1.68 million) would be forgiven and the remainder repayable over 20 years with no interest. It said the town would have to pay a 2% loan fee ($134,706).
“If we don’t take action tonight, it will get us close to a (Dec. 2) deadline that I just don’t want to get close to,” said Hooper. “The state has us on a pretty short leash because of some of our history. We’ve got to meet their deadlines—they’re not going to give us any flexibility.”
“The state has sent us some pretty strong signals” that officials wouldn’t grant an extension (beyond Dec. 2) if requested” for Kimley-Horn’s engineering report.
Hooper said North Wilkesboro’s current water source, the Reddies River, “is turbid and very vulnerable to drought. It is not a sustainable water source for us, even now, and would most certainly be inadequate if we start to grow.”
He called the proposed new intake a generational project for the town. “It’ll be the most significant piece of public infrastructure that North Wilkesboro has constructed in recent memory, and it’ll set us up with additional capacity in our water system that’ll last for years to come.”