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Asheville wins court reversal in water fight
Monday, 02 January 2017 12:45

From Staff Reports

The state Supreme Court issued a 5-2 ruling on Dec. 21 that allows Asheville to maintain control of Western North Carolina’s biggest water system.

 The court overturned a Court of Appeals ruling favoring the state General Assembly and its 2013 law to strip Asheville of the water system. 

After learning of the decision, Asheville Mayor Esther Manheimer was delighted, saying it allows the city to maintain “robust” water services.

“This ruling ensures that Asheville can continue to own this great water system and continue to provide safe drinking water for years into the future,” Manheimer said.

The local top-notch water quality has been praised by industries, particularly breweries, in deciding to locate in the Asheville area.

Meanwhile, state Rep. Chuck McGrady, R-Hendersonville, said the court decision may not be the final word and that there may be other ways to restrict — at least somewhat — the city’s control.

“As I’ve said in the past, there are more than one way to skin a cat,” McGrady said.

The city originally had sued to block a bill passed by state lawmakers that would have forced the transfer of the water system from the city to a regional water authority.

Former GOP state Rep. Tim Moffitt, R-Arden, backed HB 488 in 2012, which proposed the transfer of the water system, which had been operated and maintained by Asheville for more than a century.

Moffitt had argued that the regional authority would better serve the system’s 125,000 customers. However, the bill offered Asheville no compensation and no money — and many voters reportedly were not supportive of it.

In overturning the legislature’s action, judicial arguments revolved around technical details of whether the 2013 legislation was a local law relating to “health and sanitation,” something prohibited by the state constitution.

The court decision cut across political lines, favoring Asheville, governed by Democrats, over the GOP-dominated legislature. The current court (while officially nonpartisan) has four Republican members and three Democrats. 

The water system litigation showcased the general friction between the liberal City of Asheville and the mostly conservative General Assembly, caused by a series of state laws aimed at reducing the power of Asheville and other cities.



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