John Cline and the lake

The Star recently published a well written editorial “Cline’s goal, sadly, comes up dry.” A strong point was made that unfortunately, Cleveland County should walk away from the plan of a reservoir in the northern part of the county.

John was a visionary. He understood better than most (and before any) that Cleveland County could not grow and flourish without jobs; that jobs came from industry; and that industry would not come to Cleveland County without the assurance of an abundant supply of cheap water. John knew that a reservoir would not simply create a supply of water for the county; it would create a supply of jobs.

John was also a conservative. He didn’t spend money- without understanding the risks and the return. His vision of a prosperous Cleveland County is one that we all share- and recognize- we must provide the appropriate infrastructure if we are going to attract industry, thus jobs, to the area. For John, it began with water.

On the face of it, it is difficult to disagree with the editorial of October 16. If the cost is $100 million, it is difficult to justify a reservoir, when a pump on the Broad can furnish water for far less money (though the cost to move the water would be greater). Aside from this argument is the point that the Army Corps of Engineers has said to the water board, “No lake.” However, there is more to the story.

The figure tossed about of $100 million is at least somewhat overstated. At least one option has a projected cost of $59 million for 550 acre reservoir. Compare this to the estimated cost of purchasing water from Forest City of over $31 million. Additionally, the purchase plan suggested by the Army Corps assumes approval for an intake on the Broad, and that this intake can provide enough water in a severe drought. Neither of these assumptions are a given. Further, there is some question over the quality of water taken from the suggested intake locations. The cost estimate to purchase from Shelby is nearly as high at $27 million. Given these estimates, it appears a lake presents a better long-term option for the county.

Equally important to this debate is that a large portion of the cost of a lake may be available in stimulus dollars through the US Rural Development. I fully understand that “stimulus” money is still tax money (and borrowed, at that), but I also recognize that if the of dollars are available to pay for the land and construction through a combination of grants and a low interest rate loan, the cost will not impact the water rates as significantly as a bond for the full cost would. It is clear that Rural Development can make a significant difference in the future of this project, and that the board should take full advantage of the resources that department offers.

While it appears the Corps of Engineers has rejected the idea of a reservoir, the NC Department of Environmental and Natural Resources has not. In fact, DENR is currently waiting on four studies that will yield a more complete picture of our water resource- supply and need- for future growth. It remains to be seen what these studies will indicate, but the Corps may not be the final word.

Meantime, the courts are currently deliberating just how much water Mecklenburg and other counties, can pull from rivers that flow into South Carolina. The ruling may impact the viability of the Broad to Cleveland County at some point in the future, particularly in drought conditions.

Like John Cline, I am a conservative- in fact I learned much about what it means to be a conservative from John. Consequently, I don’t want to throw away tax dollars. However, it seems that backing away from the reservoir after spending $1 million to reach this point is somewhat akin to leaving a race because you don’t want to burn gas on the last lap. The time may come when we should walk away, but that time is not now.

John was a visionary. He argued for this lake 20 years before the drought came and we needed water. He knew that we didn’t need the lake in 1980, but he knew that we would need the lake in 2050- and without it, we would loose opportunities to bring jobs to the county.

The reservoir is about our economy and the opportunities that our children and grand-children will have in Cleveland County. I believe now is not the time to lose John’s vision. Not because the vision of a reservoir was his, but because the vision of economic growth is ours. We should work closely with Senator Clary and Representatives Moore and Floyd to press DENR and the ACOE to move forward on a reservoir.

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