Two impending decisions are threatening the economic and environmental wellbeing of the citizens of Polk County. One of those decisions will have an impact on neighboring counties as well.
Decision 1. Location of new Duke Energy transmission lines.
Duke Energy is planning a new series of transmission lines to carry up 230,000 volts from its Asheville power generating plant to a proposed substation in Campobello, SC as part of Duke’s “Western Carolinas Modernization Project.”
This area’s natural beauty is central to the well-being of the local economy. As the proposed lines and accompanying 140-foot-high towers would ruin much of that beauty, they represent a clear threat to our local economy.
Numerous residents would be affected directly as the right-of-way would pass through or next to their property, negatively impacting property values and causing serious health and environmental concerns. And although those property owners located in close proximity to the right-of-way would be most egregiously affected, all area residents would feel the pain.
There are positive aspects to Duke’s overall modernization plan. Part of the plan is to retire the Asheville coal plant, excavate its coal ash and close the coal ash basin, and construct a new natural gas plant that will, according to Duke, produce significantly more energy and reduce negative environmental impacts.
But residents should not have to permanently give away the beauty and environmental safety of big sections of our counties. That price is too high. Residents must be listened to in the search for the best alternatives.
Decision 2. 75-year contract that gives control of Polk County’s water reservoir to South Carolina.
The Polk County Board of Commissioners is considering entering into a 75-year agreement with the Inman-Campobello Water District (ICWD) whereby Polk County’s water reservoir, Lake Adger, would come under the control of this South Carolina entity in exchange for one-time repairs in the Lake Adger dam and a small amount of water line construction.
While Duke Energy has spent a great deal of time planning, examining options and seeking input from its customers in the development of its plans, the same cannot be said of the majority of Polk County commissioners who seem determined to sell the rights to our water for the next 75 years.
For residents of Polk County, the two issues are essentially the same. They both involve relinquishing precious assets in exchange for some sort of compensation. The two assets at issue here are the county’s natural beauty and its water supply.
We should never sell or rent an asset unless we can be certain we’re getting a fair price for it, especially when the decision affects an entire community. But establishing a fair market price is easier for some assets than for others, and some assets are so precious as to be deemed priceless. Both our natural beauty and our water supply fall into this category.
Although all of the Polk County commissioners appear to recognize the threat posed by Duke’s proposed transmission lines, most of them seem oblivious to the potential threat represented by the water deal. They have even gone so far as to reject widespread calls to bring in expert assistance to evaluate the value and details of the contract even as their county manager and county attorney have expressed how easy and inexpensive such assistance would be to obtain.
The majority of Polk Commissioners have indicated that they have a good understanding of the contract’s terms. While this may be true, it does not get at the central question that has been missing from the debate: How much is our water worth?
The answer is that our water, like our natural beauty, is priceless. Our inability to know the future makes it even more indispensable. One commissioner remarked that ICWD would not require water from Lake Adger for at least 50 years. Is that so? Can we have any clue as how the world will look in 2065, let alone 2090 when the contract would finally expire? The very notion is absurd.
It’s our water — but not just ours. It also belongs to our kids, and their kids. It belongs to the Polk County residents of 2065 and 2090. Therefore it is not ours to give away. While it will be expensive to maintain the Lake Adger dam, a plan had been in place to set aside money to do just that. We should not delude ourselves into thinking someone else will pay it for us. The cost on future generations is just too high.