EMERALD ISLE — Commissioners voted 5-0 Tuesday night to authorize Emerald Isle Town Manager Matt Zapp to negotiate a lease of property in McLean-Spell Park to Bogue Banks Water Corp. for a new well.
The vote came after a public hearing, conducted on GoToWebinar and in person from the board’s meeting room beside the police department off Highway 58.
Although many residents voiced opposition when the lease was first proposed by BBWC in a meeting in February 2020, comments during the public hearing Tuesday were more muted.
Joy Brownlow, an environmentalist and nearby Sound Drive resident, strongly opposed the concept in February and cited a state study that indicated any development on the site would seriously harm the last intact maritime forest in the town.
Tuesday, she seemed more concerned about making sure the water company makes good on its promise to put in two trees for each one it removes when the site is cleared. She also urged the company to take additional steps to limit irrigation, one reason the company says a well and a new reverse osmosis water plant are necessary.
The town board, Ms. Brownlow said, should “develop a plan” for water conservation, work to educate residents and property owners about water overuse and limit building, particularly of larger houses to replace small ones.
Resident Roger Miller also urged the town to make every effort possible to preserve trees and habitat.
Alex Hardee, who last year wrote town officials a letter citing the state study and urging them not to develop any of the park land, said people are “loving (Emerald Isle) to death,” and called the well “a temporary fix” to water problems.
“It’s time to get serious” about overdevelopment of the town, he said, and use zoning to “limit the size” of houses.
BBWC board member Paxon Holz said the private, nonprofit utility searched hard for another site for the well, but couldn’t find one. Limitations included property availability and the need for separation of wells from each other. BBWC has 10 wells in Emerald Isle.
Ms. Holz called the well and the planned reverse osmosis water plant it would serve “desperately needed” and the company “is depending on the town to help us.”
Emerald Isle has promised to retain at least 20 acres of the land – crisscrossed by trails – in its natural state and officials have talked about a dog park and possibly ballfields on the other 10 acres.
The adopted motion authorizes Mr. Zapp to negotiate with the utility and the U.S. Department of Defense, which provided half of the money for the town’s $3 million 2017 purchase of the park land behind the recreation center on Leisure Lane.
BBWC Executive Director Seola Hill has said the company believes the well and treatment plant are necessary, in part because of saltwater intrusion into the Castle Hayne Aquifer, especially in the Coast Guard Road corridor.
Reverse osmosis removes salt and other undesirable substances, such as Trihalomethanes, from water. Trihalomethanes are chemical compounds used as solvents or refrigerants and testing for them last spring revealed levels exceeded federal standards at one of two sample sites near Timber Trail on the sound side of the eastern end of town. The compounds are environmental pollutants, and some are considered carcinogenic. They are byproducts of using chlorine as a disinfectant, according to the company.
Tuesday night, Mr. Hill said that although there’s “no threat of running out of water,” water use in town is continuing to grow to problematic levels despite the company’s efforts to get customers to conserve.
“We need two new wells; hopefully, this will be one of them,” he said.
Mr. Hill said the well will be silent and odorless, with no generator on site, and will be 60 feet off the nearest walking trail in the park.
Replacing each removed tree with two native trees will “increase valuable habitat,” he added.
Commissioner Jim Normile, who made the motion to authorize negotiations for the lease, said the town will work with the company to make sure the right trees are put in, and Commissioner Mark Taylor urged the utility to “chip” the trees it removes for path mulch.
Mr. Hill called it an “excellent idea. We like to re-use,” he said.
After Mr. Normile’s motion passed, Mr. Zapp said once negotiations are successful, he’ll bring a proposed lease agreement back to the board for final approval.
Contact Brad Rich at 252-864-1532; email Brad@thenewstimes.com; or follow on Twitter @brichccnt.