Laurel Fork Creek

Laurel Fork Creek, a small tributary that leads into the Watauga River, is located by the Cottages of Boone and receives the wastewater spilled from the apartment complex’s wastewater treatment plant.

BOONE — A popular apartment complex for App State students is facing continued scrutiny from environmentalists after another spill of untreated wastewater. The latest incident comes just weeks after their last wastewater discharge.

The Cottages of Boone has self-reported a two hour event which spilled 300 gallons of untreated wastewater into Laurel Fork Creek. The report sent to the water division of the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality stated that the incident took place from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. on Oct. 1. It stated the spill was caused by a pump that had “gone bad” and caused mechanical errors leading to an overflow.

To correct the problem, the report said that a new pump was installed, and a pump truck was called to empty and clean the water tank on Oct. 2. Additionally, the electrical conduit on the wall of the damaged tank would be repaired as well. The report also stated that the maintenance crew treated water on the ground by pH adjustment as an additional remediation effort.

Watauga Riverkeeper Andy Hill said he does not think the report is accurate. Hill has been testing the water near the Cottages of Boone regularly and said he alerted the apartments to the issue early in the afternoon on Oct. 1 after detecting elevated levels of e. Coli in Laurel Fork Creek.

“There’s no way that it was just 300 gallons,” Hill said. “I reported it early Friday afternoon, so the report starts when they learn of the problem. Judging from the amount of water on the ground, it was more than that.”

Hill said that the NCDEQ said the 300 gallons seemed accurate based off of photos from the site of the spill.

According to Hill, his tests on Oct. 1 at Laurel Fork Creek reflected levels of e. Coli much higher than the legal limit set by the EPA.

“There’s a reason raw sewage is so heavily regulated,” Hill said.

Continued spills of untreated wastewater has large environmental and public health implications, Hill said, and he does not believe that the Cottages of Boone has sufficiently remedied the issues with their wastewater treatment facility.

The Oct. 1 spill of untreated wastewater comes mere weeks after a Sept. 14 spill of nearly 5,000 gallons of untreated wastewater that was reported to the NCDEQ. Records from the NCDEQ state that The Cottages of Boone has already paid upwards of $60,000 in fines in 2021 due to illegally spilling both treated and untreated wastewater from its treatment plant.

Representatives from the Cottages of Boone have not returned a request for comment as of publication.

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Marisa Mecke is a Report for America corps member for Mountain Times Publications covering environmental issues in western North Carolina. Report for America is a national nonprofit service program which places journalists in newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.

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