Water is essential to life. Recent developments in the northern part of Buncombe County are bringing troubled waters to the forefront. This week, the Town of Weaverville voted to delay any action indefinitely on a $13.1 million expansion of their water plant and explore a regional system. This followed the Weaverville Town Council’s realization that more than a third of the water customers are not residents.
Woodfin Water Woes
An anonymous source contacted the Tribune with concerns about how the Woodfin Water District is being run. The district is a separate entity from the Town of Woodfin, as the water district was created in the 1920s but the town wasn’t incorporated until 1971. For the past 25 years, Dr. Joseph (Joe) Martin, executive director of the district, has been at the helm.
In December of last year, Martin retired but agreed to stay on in a temporary basis for up to a year to help the board hire and transition to a new director.
Low Water Reserve
An anonymous source first claimed that a water tank at the top of Reynolds Mountain, which supplies water to residents on the mountain as well as those below, came within six feet of being empty.
When asked about it, Martin told the Tribune, “Not to my knowledge, and I check tank levels remotely several times a day. We got a little lower than normal last night (Monday, Jan. 18) – 33 percent full, where we usually have 35 percent as our low level – but nowhere near running out of water. In any case, we have a connection with the City of Asheville that we turn on if needed that serves all of the system.”
Low Fuel Reserve for Pumps
The source had a similar allegation that the fuel for the generators used for the pumps, in case of a power outage, also came close to running out.
“We have a company that keeps our fuel tanks filled automatically (Blossman Gas) for our only pump station, and the pump station only runs when the Baird Cove tank needs to be filled, about four to six days out of 10, and only for half a day,” explained Martin.
Fire Hydrant Problems
Next, the source alleged that several fire hydrants on the system were not functioning.
When asked how many hydrants on the system were nonfunctioning, Martin said, “No way to know instantaneously at any one time. We only use fire hydrants for occasionally flushing water lines when necessary; otherwise, they are provided for the use and convenience of the various fire departments, who run checks on pressure and flow on them on occasion.” He noted that when departments find a hydrant that isn’t working, “they have repair tickets that they can fill out and send to us, and we will either repair the hydrant or if it’s really old schedule it for replacement. We maintain several spare new hydrants here on site so that we can replace them if necessary.”
West Buncombe, Woodin, Weaverville, City of Asheville and Reems Creek Fire Departments all have Woodfin Water hydrants in their districts. The Tribune contacted all the departments to see what, if any, problems they might be having with Woodfin’s hydrants.
“Even though the main water comes from Reems Creek, we do not have any hydrants of the Woodfin System,” said Chief Jeff Justice of the Reems Creek Fire Department.
“To our knowledge, there are not any Woodfin hydrants currently out of service,” Weaverville Fire Chief Ted Williams told the Tribune. “In the past, it was a little bit of a guess as to whether any priority for repair would be given to hydrant repairs on the Woodfin system, but more recently, things seem to have improved with a more timely response to out-of-service hydrants.”
Woodfin Fire Chief Jeff Angel said there were two malfunctioning hydrants he currently knew about, one of which was recently damaged when a vehicle hit the hydrant.
“West Buncombe has three hydrants on the Woodfin system that are out of service and have been for many years. When we investigated the time frame, we found that when we changed reporting systems, the dates of reporting did not carry over,” West Buncombe Chief Dennis A. Fagnant, Jr. told the Tribune. “Besides these hydrants, we have other hydrants which we have reported missing caps or do not conform to current standards, which have never been addressed. Missing caps allows debris into the hydrant, which we also have to remember is drinking water. The threads can be damaged, which would not allow us to connect our hoses to, and as I eluded to first, folks seem to think it’s a good place to put stuff.”
He went on to say, “The current standards that I speak of is in regards to the size of the outlets. Woodfin has quite a few 2.5” only outlets versus one 4.5” outlet and two 2.5” outlets. Current practice is to connect to the 4.5” outlet to take advantage of water volume. We also don’t carry a large amount of 2.5” hose versus the 4” hose, so it could be possible not to have enough hose to reach the emergency.”
The Tribune did not receive a response from Asheville as of press time.
The source also told the Tribune that a former employee had threatened to kill all the employees and the police were not asked to be at the office when the employee came to the office to turn in his equipment.
Asked about the allegation, Martin said, “I don’t generally comment on personnel issues, but it did not involve threats towards everyone at the district, but specifically one employee towards another employee. It was reported to law enforcement and Woodfin Police Department and Buncombe County handled the issue from there and we appreciated the help.”
Woodfin Police Chief Michael Dyke told the Tribune that they were contacted, “Yes, the Woodfin Police Department was contacted by the Woodfin Water Department about receiving a threat on December 19, 2021. A warrant was issued for Jason Orlando Cordova-Sandoval, 29, of Hendersonville for “communicating threats,” a misdemeanor. Cordova-Sandoval was arrested by the Hendersonville Police Department on December 19 at his residence. The Woodfin Police Department performed extra checks at the request of employees of the Woodfin Water Department following the incident.
In other matters
At a Woodfin Water Board meeting on Tuesday (Jan. 19), Woodfin Water customer Burt Ingle had a bone to pick with the board. During public comment, he took the board to task over the district policy of charging a minimum water fee once a permit has been issued, even though he has not even laid the foundation of his building yet.
“How many of you would pay for something you haven’t received,” Ingle asked the board. He said Martin was rude to him when he called to discuss the matter. “Whenever I get the CO (certificate of occupancy), then he [Martin] ought to start charging me.”
The board, along with Martin, told Ingle that the district’s policy is that when the water is provided, not at the time of use, the customer gets charged a minimum usage fee. “The district has approved them for what they’ve asked for. We’ve given them the ability to use that water,” explained Martin to Ingle and the board.
Ingle, who has been an area tow truck owner/operator for more than 35 years, said what the district was doing was criminal and threatened to go to the district attorney’s office.
Board member Ivo Ballentine told him to go ahead. Board Chairwoman Sarah Gassaway asked Martin to provide the board and Ingle with a copy of the policy by the end of the week. Martin said he would. Gassaway moved to table the matter until the board had the information and looked at it during February’s next meeting.
Editor’s note: The reporter also asked Martin to provide a copy of the policy, but, as of press time, he did not send it.