The Walnut Cove Board of Commissioners were presented with a petition from the Walnut Tree community Tuesday night seeking annexation into the town and citing the cost and quality of water supplied to the area by the town.
Walnut Tree resident David Hairston presented the petition telling the commissioners that a recent independent water test had shown bacteria in the water supplied to Walnut Tree and saying it was time the town bring the community within its borders.
“We have come and fought before you for annexation three different times and been denied,” he said. “It is unbelievable that in 2016 residents of North Carolina have to fight for decent drinking water. Today we the people of Walnut Tree and Walnut Cove respectfully ask that you annex the people of Walnut Tree.”
Tracey Edwards, saying she was speaking on behalf of friends and family in the Walnut Tree community, said no one should have to deal with contaminants in their water system.
“The residents are being exposed to water that is clearly dirty,” she said. “You can see that it is discolored. If you wear white cloths they will be stained. It is staining their tubs and their toilets.”
Alfred Warren agreed, saying that he was concerned about the impact on children in the community.
“Those children deserve clean drinking water,” he said. “Walnut Cove is better than this. This is not about black and white, or rich and poor, or Democrat or Republican. I say to Walnut Cove, pass this. We can do better, lets do better.”
Rev. Gregory Hairston said annexing the Walnut Tree community would be a win-win situation for everyone involved.
“It is a win for the town because it would increase their tax revenue,” he said. “It is a win for Walnut Tree because they would have water that is drinkable. They feel they have been rejected because they are 90 percent black. Let us show them that is not true. It is time for us to make a difference here in Walnut Cove.”
Town addresses water concerns
Town Manager Bobby Miller said the water supplied to Walnut Tree came from the same water system which supplied all of Walnut Cove, but noted that because that system was based on a variety of wells he had already taken measures to try to isolate what may be causing problems in Walnut Tree.
He said the town had been getting reports of murky water coming out of the taps in various areas, mostly on the southern part of town, since November.
“We contacted Rural Water and they thought it could have something to do with sludge in the lines or in the tanks,” said Miller, saying the town flushed the lines which seemed to solve the problem for a number of days. “Then we had another instance and I told the guys to start flushing on a regular basis.”
He said that practice seemed to clear the water for a couple of days after each flushing but the problem was persisting.
“Last week we had a report of this issue almost every day,” he said, saying that the town was expediting plans to clean its water tanks and was flushing hydrants on a regular basis.
He added that the town tests for bacteria on a monthly basis, noting that as soon as he heard the Walnut Tree community had gotten a positive result in an independent test performed by Madison, he took immediate action.
“I shut that well down and tripled the number of tests we normally do,” he said. “We had tests conducted today and I should have those back by the end of the week. We take this very seriously.”
He stressed that the cloudy water problem was not unique to the Walnut Tree community.
“I have had reports of it from Cove Grill, Olympic and Ingles,” he said, adding that the problem may be caused by filters which may have reached the end of their life-cycle at the well near Walnut Tree. “These filters deal with iron and manganese which contribute to the cloudiness of the water. To my knowledge the filters have never been changed. To the best of my knowledge they have been active for 14 years.”
He said taking that well offline could help the town identify the problem.
“When you are dealing with eight municipal wells you just have problems and we are trying to stay on top of them,” he said. “This is the first thing I look at every morning and the last thing I look at in the afternoon. We are doing the prudent thing to try and narrow down the problem and if we find it and can fix it that day we will.”
Board takes first step for annexation
Town commissioners unanimously agreed to pass a resolution directing the town clerk to acknowledge receipt of the petition seeking annexation and begin the process of determining its sufficiency.
Town attorney Anne Rowe said that is the first step the town must take after receiving such a petition.
“There are certain things which are required to be included in the petition,” she said. “The town clerk must make sure it complies with all of those requirements. She would then make a report to the board in the form of a certification that the petition is sufficient. You cannot do anything else until that is done.”
She said one requirement was that the petition must be signed by 100 percent of the property owners in the area asking to be annexed.
After the petition is certified, then the town would have to set a public hearing to hear from Walnut Cove and Walnut Tree residents before deciding to annex the community. Rowe noted that the entire process was spelled out in North Carolina Statute 160A-31.
Nicholas Elmes may be reached at 336-591-8191 or on Twitter @NicholasElmes.