SEVEN DEVILS — Seven Devils Town Council reconvened for its monthly meeting on Tuesday, Dec. 8, in which the council voted to approve two annexation requests related to the potential development of a wastewater treatment plant and a mixed-use development.

Charles Clement, managing partner with Clevon Woods Associates LLC, first submitted the two applications for approval in October. The first application requests annexation for a .576 acre parcel off of Aldridge Road next to the Watauga River, where a wastewater treatment plant is planned for the property. The other request is for a 7.757-acre parcel where a mixed-use property consisting of a commercial hotel and condominiums is planned, which the plant will support.

During a town meeting on Nov. 10, the council approved two resolutions related to the certificates of sufficiency for the annexation requests. The council also set a public hearing ahead of its vote, giving citizens time to submit their comments related to the annexation requests.

Larry Ingles, of Sugar Grove, urged the council to protect the Watauga River. A resident by the Watauga River for more than 40 years, Ingles urged the council to delay any decisions related to the building of a wastewater treatment plant.

“In 2020, E. coli bacteria and algae blooms have polluted the Watauga River. Who will pay for remediation when effluent pollutes the river?” Ingles asked the council.

Ingles added that the river should be protected, and that a filmmaker will create a documentary about the story of the Watauga River.

Prior to the meeting, High Country Regional Director of the Watauga Riverkeepers Andy Hill had sent a memo to members of the community concerning the council’s upcoming vote and expressed concern over one of the 36 active and expired discharges on the river. Many of which, Hill stated, fail to meet standards.

“Just upstream from Seven Devils, The Ponds’ (a housing development) wastewater discharge plant has been in flagrant violation of North Carolina’s water quality regulations,” the memo stated. “When our Watauga Riverkeeper program began sampling there this summer, samples were 20 to 40 times over the EPA’s safety limit for E. coli pollution, and at times were so high that they maxxed out our water monitoring equipment. The Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ)’s follow-up visit to that plant discovered corroded leaking pipes, inactive overflow alarm systems and uncontrolled solids buildup — all indicating a serious threat to the river we love.”

As part of citizen comments, Hill said that more than 400 letters had been sent to the Town Council to vote “no” on the annexation. Hill said he also disputes any errors in the Watauga Riverkeeper memo.

Mayor Larry Fontaine asked Hill what agency oversees a wastewater treatment plant when it is polluting. Hill replied that the agency is the Department of Environmental Quality and added that the agency can shut down these plants, albeit through a long process. Fontaine stated that the proposed facility would be a public utility, to which Hill replied that both public and private plants are equal in excessive violations, but failing infrastructure is more common for private utilities.

During citizen comments, Clement — the applicant for annexation — stated that there was no issue before the town regarding the wastewater treatment plant, only the two requests for annexation. Clement added that many of the 36 existing wastewater treatment plants on the river are inactive. The Conditional Use Permit (CUP) for the plant is set to be decided on by the town’s board of adjustment at a later date.

Before the council voted on the annexation request, discussions continued as Fontaine, Town Manager Debbie Powers and Clement provided a brief history of previous permits for wastewater treatment plants. While these permits have been approved by the both the town’s and Watauga County’s BOAs, construction was never started. Fontaine added that the town will have more control over a potential plant than the county.

Council member Leigh Sass, who attended the meeting remotely, stated that she had concerns about odor, violations and the frequency of inspections for the plant, and wanted additional details from the State of North Carolina. Fontaine replied that the state had already issued a permit for the site before Clement added that he will be required to have a plant operator who is certified by the state and not affiliated with himself.

The council’s vote for the annexation of the property ultimately came down to a 3-2 decision, with Mayor Fontaine and council members Wayne Bonomo and Brad Lambert in the majority, while Sasse and council member Jeffrey Williams dissenting.

The annexation request for the 7.575-acre parcel was also approved, but by a 4-1 margin, as Williams cast the dissenting vote.

In other news, town property taxes are due by Jan. 5, and a Feeding Avery Families food drive last took place from Nov. 30 to Dec. 4, collected 220 pounds of food and a $1,000 donation.

Before adjourning, Mayor Fontaine read a letter to the council addressing recent concerns that were brought before the town.

“The town was unfairly accused of being a bad neighbor and made to look the villain while the easiest thing to do would be to not annex these properties, so they would end up looking like the property next to the Foscoe Fire Department,” Fontaine said. “Just five days ago the town generously organized a food drive resulting in a $1,000 donation to a food charity. That’s a good neighbor.”

Fontaine also stated in the letter that the town is currently in the process of developing a new Town Hall property that will offer Foscoe residents opportunities to hike, exercise, enjoy a music venue and a natural area that was until now unavailable for use. Fontaine also invited residents to enjoy the Hawksnest zip line park or to take a hike out to Otter Falls.

“Our job as stewards of the town is to make it a more enjoyable place to live, (and) at the same time protecting and ensuring our neighbors that planned development is the best course of action,” Fontaine said. “Yes, no one wants a WWTP plant next to them, but our demands for a safe environmental impact based on NC standards for this facility will minimize the negative result of these changes to the few adjacent properties in Foscoe. The town’s approval of a CUP that includes strong present and future environmental conditions such as odor abatement, flood plain considerations, state of the art monitoring and aesthetic appearance is a plus for both communities. Obviously, I will vote to annex the properties for the benefit of many while ensuring the most protection for adjacent property owners.”

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