Polk commissioner Ray Gasperson spoke again against the proposed water deal.
Polk commissioner Ray Gasperson spoke again against the proposed water deal. Jon Elliston/Carolina Public Press

TRYON—Over barbecue and side dishes, about 150 opponents of Polk County’s proposed transfer of the county’s public water system gathered at a public park on Sept. 5 to rally and plot their next steps.

A nascent organization of activists, Protect Polk Water, has sprung up to oppose the plan, which would place management of the system under the control of the Inman-Campobello Water District in upstate South Carolina for 75 years.

The group argues that the transfer is happening too fast and without sufficient advice from experts.

The majority of Polk’s Board of Commissioners is backing the plan.

Tom Pack, the board’s chairman, has been steadfast in supporting it, and recently defended it before a gathering of Polk County Republicans, saying it was the best fiscal option for the county and that Polk can run its water system in the future if it wants to.

“There’s nothing in this contract that keeps Polk County from putting in their own water system, and drawing out as much as they want,” he said.

At the rally against the plan, Lee Mink, a Polk County farmer, spoke first.

“We do not have a future without water,” he said. “The future will be determined by those who have water. We may seem like we have an abundance of water today, but our water is going to South Carolina, and they can send it anywhere they want to.”

Ray Gasperson, the board of commissioners’ only Democrat and sole opponent of the water transfer, spoke next.

“I haven’t spoken to anyone in the public who thinks this is a good idea,” he said. “Every day we can postpone any action on this contract is vital.”

Gasperson said that his four fellow commissioners are dug in on the deal.

“You’re not going to sway them,” he said. “Our greatest hope is the five-member board of the Inman-Campobello Water District. I think they are listening.”

Gasperson met with ICWD’s board recently, and found them “reasonable and down to earth,” he said, while noting their keen interest in securing long-term access to Polk’s water sources.

“I’m convinced that they know they’re heading into an extremely adversarial situation if this should pass,” he said.

Organizers of the event said they are raising funds to hire consultants to evaluate the proposed water deal and possibly legal action to try to stop it.

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Jon Elliston is the lead contributing open government reporter at Carolina Public Press. Contact him at jelliston@carolinapublicpress.org.

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