By Jonathan Pleasant
A large crowd of concerned customers was in attendance at Monday nights quarterly board meeting of the Carderview Utility District in Butler. Having unexpectedly postponed the meeting from last week, the water departments commissioners were greeted with a wide variety of issues after opening the floor to public comments. Chairman Raymond Hill did his best to keep order as various department officials tried to provide a solid answer to many of the questions asked.
The meeting took place in Carderviews newly built office, which had expanded greatly from the small facility that the department formerly occupied. With a price tag of nearly $100,000, including the purchase of a $15,000 lot, many of the questions involved the districts finances. Department manager Sharon Church assured the crowd that funding for the building had been secured through grants and had been relatively inexpensive to the department itself.
There was also discussion concerning the replacement of one of the systems main water tanks that has been in place since the 1980s and is now in need of replacement. The cost for a new 150,000-gallon tank could exceed $200,000, which would likely have to be borrowed. Other costs discussed included installation of new pumps to improve service to the Horseshoe Cove Subdivision on Watauga Lake, and the consequential repairs and repaving associated with replacing lines in this area. Questions were asked specifically about rate increases, but Chairman Hill explained that the department was currently working within its expected budget and that the only increases would be those required and set by the state.
Members of the Butler Volunteer Fire Department were also on hand, with a very heated debate concerning the use of the systems fire hydrants. While there is currently no charge to fill up at the hydrants, System Superintendent Walt Church did express his concern about the fire department potentially breaking lines or damaging pumps from misuse. Countering this argument, the firemen expressed their discontent with having to pay for water coming from the meter at the fire station, when the adjacent Mountain City System offers water at no charge.
Church explained that Carderview has to charge for water coming from the meter because of state law, and went on to reiterate that, although free, water from the hydrants was actually a privilege and not a mandate. A suggestion was made to train the firemen to use the hydrants appropriately, but this only led to further argument that eventually had to be called to order by Chairman Hill.
Other complaints came from former Carderview Commissioner Earl Burchett, who questioned whether the district was required to post notice of their meetings in the local media. Sharon Church confirmed that the department is meeting the states requirements by putting the notice on the back of their customers water bills, but also explained that the notices are only being submitted to one of the local papers in Carter County.
Burchett went on to raise questions about the departments future, noting in particular that his current water bills are significantly higher than they would be if he were on Mountain Citys system. With that in mind, Burchett made the bold statement that he felt that customers of Carderview would be better off if the district was simply dissolved and absorbed by Mountain City. This little system is too small to survive, Burchett said.
Several members of the board, including Commissioner David Markland, commented that they were very proud of Carderviews accomplishments, and although every small system has its problems, felt that the district was serving the people of Butler well. Further, the board explained that even if there was a desire to shut down, Mountain City had shown no interest in taking over.
However, Chairman Hill did explain that the board had sought out a partnership with Mountain City, where they could connect their lines on Copley Branch Road, so that the city could provide Butler with emergency water if necessary. More importantly, the costs that Carderview would pay for the water could actually be cheaper than the cost of providing their own service to distant parts of the system like Horseshoe Cove.
Currently, paying for the electricity to power the many individual pumps to get water to such a high elevation subdivision actually exceeds what the department receives in water bills. By paying Mountain City for their water, Carderview could actually provide better service because of the increase in pressure that comes on the citys lines. Hill confirmed that the arrangement had already been approved, but that the district was facing delays because of lack of funding to put in the necessary line to make the connection.
Some of the concerns raised became more personal, with one customer questioning the roles of the departments employees, noting particularly the close family association. Superintendent Walt Church stated that he had dedicated much of his time to the department, including significant volunteer hours, and that he would have already left his position but has been unable to find anyone capable and willing to do the job. The board did announce that a new employee had been hired, but also pointed out that it would be at least a year before he would have the appropriate training to receive certification.
A part of the problem is that because of the nature of the districts water lines, Church is one of the few individuals that can actually identify exactly where a problem might be located. The board admitted that the system is poorly mapped, with many lines being listed inaccurately. Even worse, there are locations were multiple utilities, such as power and water, were installed in the same location.
Although this was an issue created by the initial contractors who placed the line, it does pose a problem for the district when trying to dig and conduct repairs in difficult locations. Discussion was held on what options there were to fix this mapping problem, with Commissioner Markland suggesting that Superintendent Church sit down with the systems engineers to try and improve the existing maps reliability.
Other fears included questions about contamination and water quality, especially during the treatment process. The board clearly identified that the only chemicals used in water treatment are chlorine and a required corrosion inhibitor. System operator Mike Jackson explained in detail Carderviews testing process, noting that although there have been problems in the past, contamination can come from a number of sources, especially in the collection of a sterile sample. The only real issue identified by the state was in the dispersal of chemicals, which would only need a slight alteration in the systems treatment plant to correct.
Other comments covered issues ranging from the departments job posting procedure to the bidding process for construction projects. Obviously there has been a growing discontent among the water systems customers, who have stated their belief that they have been shut out of the decision making process for the district. While only representing a portion of the more than 500 customers that make up Carderview, the utilitys board of commissioners were still open to the concerns presented and did make an effort to explain the positions, despite a lack of any real action.
Established in the late 1940s at the same time people were moving out of Old Butler, Carderview has been a consistent part of the new Butler community. While the utility has grown and made many accomplishments over the years, its future ultimately lies in the people it serves. Meetings like these are a prime way for the community to make its voice heard, giving the board clear insight on the people they represent.
By Jonathan Pleasant