In two separate ceremonies more than a dozen miles apart, the town of Boone cut the ribbon on what officials called the largest public works project in town history, as the Greg Young Water Intake and Ricky L. Miller Water Treatment Plant were dedicated on Friday, Sept. 6.
“I couldn’t be more proud of the staff that I get to work with and the elected officials that moved this project forward, (with) some difficulties, but celebration at the end,” Boone Town Manager John Ward said. “I think in the end, there will be more appreciative people as we move forward with this very important project.”
More than $42 million was used to construct the Young Water Intake facility alongside the South Fork New River near Cranberry Springs Road and Todd Railroad Grade Road in the Brownwood area and to make improvements to the water treatment plant off Deck Hill Road.
“I see a lot of rural communities of your size aren’t taking a look at what they’ll look like five, 10 and 15 years down the road,” said Robert Hosford, state director for the North Carolina branch of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. “Y’all are taking a step in that direction.”
Speaking after the ceremony, the now-retired former Boone Town Manager Greg Young thanked the town’s employees and elected officials for their support over the years, saying this project will set up Boone for the future.
The naming of the center after Young was a no-brainer, according to former Boone mayor and current Council Member Loretta Clawson.
“I will say that Greg is absolutely the ultimate professional,” Clawson said.
Young served as Boone town manager from 1991 to 2014, when he retired. A native of Gastonia and 1974 graduate of Appalachian State University, Young served as assistant city manager of Belmont, then as town manager in Mount Holly and in Georgia before coming to Boone.
Clawson spoke of the challenges Young faced during his time, saying he demonstrated “a calm demeanor and a steady hand.” In 2012, Young was inducted into the Order of the Long Leaf Pine Society, North Carolina’s highest civilian honor.
“One of Greg’s lasting and most important accomplishments is the development of the town’s new water intake,” Clawson said. “This project was complex from the beginning.”
Current Boone Public Works Director Rick Miller has been active in the water intake process since it started in 2004 and while noting it was frustrating, Miller is pleased with the end result.
“I’m humbled and honored,” Miller said. “Now that it’s done, it’s very satisfying; I know I’ve done my part to make sure the citizens have drinking water.”
A Watauga County native of the Meat Camp community, Miller started as a part-time employee with the town of Boone in 1985, then full time in 1987. Miller worked his way up in the town utility department to director of public utilities in 2003 and then director of the newly consolidated Public Works Department in 2015.
“Rick has weathered many storms, both professionally and personally, staying the course all along,” Clawson said. “If Rick’s tenure with the town of Boone can be summed up in one word, it would be with perseverance.”
The water treatment plant can now handle up to 4.5 million gallons per day, up from the 3 million gallons per day previously possible.
The new water intake facility can withdraw up to 4 million gallons of water a day. The town will continue to use its current water intake sites at Winklers Creek and the South Fork New River in Boone, but the new site will account for the majority of the town’s water supply going forward, Ward said. Previously, Boone’s two raw-water intakes were permitted for a combined capacity of 3 million gallons per day.
The water withdrawn from the South Fork New River at the intake will travel along 12 miles of a 24-inch pipe to existing infrastructure in the town.
In his speech, Ward focused on the growth of the town and Appalachian State University in recent decades necessitating planning for future water needs, as well as the incoming work population. ASU has its own water intake, but has an agreement with the town to use its water intake in the case of an emergency, Ward said.
“The U.S. Census Bureau estimates that we have a daytime spike in population of 10,200 additional people who commute into Boone for work,” Ward said.
The need for additional water supply was initially identified in 2004, Ward said.
“Twenty-seven different source locations were evaluated all the way from the Watauga Lake to the Yadkin Valley, with this site being selected as the most suitable and able to meet Boone’s 50-year projected raw water supply needs,” Ward said.
The intake’s infiltration gallery was designed to minimize any negative impacts to the river and is the first of its kind in the region and state, Ward said. If the water intake is operating at full pumping capacity, Ward said the water levels of the South Fork New River would remain the same within less than a quarter of an inch due to the flow.
The project, specifically the water intake site, has been the subject of criticism and challenges from neighbors, officials in neighboring Ashe County and former N.C. Rep. Jonathan Jordan, who sought to block construction.
At the intake, two American flag art pieces don each side of the building, made from reused materials from a onsite collapsed barn materials by locals Richard Prisco and Cheryl Prisco.
The treatment plant, which was originally completed in 1983, saw upgrades in order to handle the increase from 3 to 4.5 million gallons per day of water by increasing filter rates and making necessary operation and deferred maintenance upgrades.
“Improvements at the plant included updating to the existing flocculators to help settle particles out of the water, rapid mixers, settling basins, filters, chemical feed equipment and the addition of bulk chlorine disinfectant storage to replace chlorine gas as well as a second clear well,” Ward said. “These improvements expanded the capacity of the plant while keeping it in continual operation on a very constrained site here on the mountaintop.”
The additions also include upgraded and modernized technology so staff can operate the system remotely all the way to the new intake site, more than 12 miles away.
“We do not know what the future holds but today … we can celebrate that we are one step closer to being prepared for it,” Ward said.
The funding for the projects was made possible by two grants, one totaling $1.8 million from the U.S. Department of Agriculture grant and the other of $450,000 from the N.C. Rural Center, Ward said. Additional funding came from a 40-year, $20.5 million general obligation bond loan from the USDA and a $12 million revenue bond loan from the USDA.
Construction started in February 2017 and was completed in February 2019 by Harper Corporation, who did the installation work at both sites. Garney Construction Company installed the water transmission line, finishing its work in fall 2018.
Between the two sites, Ward said that a little more than half of the more than $42 million was used at the water intake side, with the rest allocated to the water treatment plant.