The watershed, located northeast of town off Skyland Drive, formerly was used as the town’s water supply. The watershed was decommissioned in 1992 when the town, along with other municipalities and county government, jointly formed the Tuckasegee Water and Sewer Authority.
TWSA built a new water intake, treatment and transmission facility in Cullowhee to serve the town and central Jackson County, thereby negating then need for the already overtaxed Fisher Creek watershed. And the town signed a resolution that forbade the 1,088-acre property from being sold and prohibited the extraction of natural resources, thereby discouraging financial gain via any method other than placing the land in a conservation easement.
The town applied for a conservation easement from the Clean Water Management Trust Fund to permanently preserve the watershed earlier this year. The town was awarded the easement in August; however, the town has yet to actually sign the contract and receive the funds.
There’s been no word from the Trust Fund as to when the money will arrive. The Clean Water Management Trust Fund’s Western Field Representative Tom Massie, who is also a Jackson County commissioner, said that several easement recipients are attempting to close deals before the end of the year and have taken precedence over those with a little time to wait.
The town has been busy with other things and so far has held only one work session in regards to what to actually do with the $3.5 million. When a CWMTF grant is awarded, 40 percent of those funds must be spent on water-related issues, such as preventing sedimentation or stormwater management. That 40 percent need not be spent all at once. Initial discussions have included town projects — such as building bioretention ponds and addressing runoff issues — as well as projects in conjunction with TWSA, said Town Manager Jay Denton.
The rest of the money can be used as the town likes. Mayor Brenda Oliver has expressed interest in investing.
“I would like to see us be able to use nothing more than the interest from the money and leave it for the future,” Oliver said at the time of the easement award’s announcement.
Although the town will spend the first part of the new year addressing its zoning ordinance, it has already set in motion the land surveying process the easement requires. Surveyor Randall Davenport, who surveyed the land in 1998, is remarking lines and the town has solicited bids to conduct an environmental assessment of the area and the old water system’s impact. The details of easement management and what to do with the award will be worked out later.
“We’ll start to focus our attention probably mid-year,” Denton said.
In return for the $3.5 million grant award, which represents 45 percent of the total easement project cost, the town will donate half the market value of the land along with all of its significant standing timber value, which comes to approximately $4.1 million.