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Under the proposed contract, ICWD would run Polk’s system for the next 75 years, but some key disputes about the contract remain unresolved.

UPDATE: After this story was published on Sept. 16, Polk County readers contacted Carolina Public Press with additional information. They noted that the firm discussed below, Black & Veatch, was previously contracted by Polk County to evaluate the county’s potential purchase of Lake Adger, a sale that went through in 2009.

INMAN, S.C.—The Inman-Campobello Water District in upstate South Carolina, which could manage Polk County’s water system for decades if a controversial proposal goes through, has hired outside experts to evaluate the latest version of the contract.

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Click to view all stories about the ownership of Western North Carolina water systems, including more on the proposed Polk County water deal.

About three weeks ago, Polk’s Board of Commissioners sent a newly amended version of the contract to ICWD officials, who subsequently hired a consulting firm to evaluate the proposed deal.

The new draft of the contract, along with notes by Polk County’s attorney about recent changes, can be read below.

At present, the contract would cede management of the water system to ICWD, which already manages the system under a previous short-term agreement, for 75 years.

In return, ICWD would be responsible for maintaining much of the system’s infrastructure.

The lengthly timeframe of a contract concerning the county’s water has been heavily debated. Concerns have also been raised about the county commissioners’ resistance to seeking more outside counsel on the matter before moving forward.

Jeff Walker, ICWD’s general manager, said in an interview with Carolina Public Press this week that, after a year of back and forth with Polk officials about the potential water deal, and in light of multiple changes to the proposed contract, ICWD decided to seek outside advice of its own.

“Is 75 years the right period of time?” Walker said. “Who knows? I don’t know. There’s nothing magical about that [timeframe], but that’s what we put in this agreement to start with.”

Come what may, ICWD will need to make sure it won’t spend its public funds maintaining a water system with the risk of losing the water source, Walker said.

One of the contract’s current provisions would commit ICWD to maintain the dam at Polk County’s Lake Adger, a likely future water resource, for the duration of the agreement. That might be more than ICWD can take on, he said.

Because of those and other concerns, ICWD recently hired Black & Veatch, a multinational engineering firm, to provide an independent analysis of the proposed deal.

“I asked some people who have some experience in this area, who haven’t been involved in this [Polk water situation] at all, to give their objective opinion,” Walker said.

“I said, ‘Maybe I’m crazy, maybe Inman-Campobello is thinking about this incorrectly, and let’s just see what comes back.’ It seemed like the fair thing to do.”

Black & Veatch is scheduled to provide its conclusions to ICWD in the next week or two, Walker said.

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“Maybe that will give us a better direction of where to go, because, quite frankly, I don’t know where to go with it right now,” he said.

 Polk County/ICWD water management contract, Sept. 2015 draft (PDF)
Polk County/ICWD water management contract, Sept. 2015 draft (Text)

Jon Elliston

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

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  1. Wow – this little saga between the current Polk County commissioners and ICWD just keeps going. First the citizens (not the Polk commissioners) had to point out the fact that the original contract was flawed and would burden Polk County taxpayers (proven true when the NC Local Government Commission rejected the contract for that very reason), then the same Polk commissioners said THEY needed no advice or review from experts, now ICWD (who essentially wrote the contract) needs to have it reviewed.

    Why the rush? To build the water pipeline infrastructure to “grow” Polk County I assume. The problem? Most locals like Polk the way it IS (without hotels and shopping malls)!

    Keep up the good work reporting on this Jon!