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Lawsuit Highlights Issue of State vs. City Ownership in North Carolina

Photo: The outcome of Asheville's case against the state over ownership of its watershed could have statewide implications. Photo credit: bhallu7/morguefile.com
Photo: The outcome of Asheville's case against the state over ownership of its watershed could have statewide implications. Photo credit: bhallu7/morguefile.com
June 11, 2015

ASHEVILLE, N.C. – Western North Carolina – specifically Asheville – is embroiled in a fight with the state over control of the city's water system.

At issue is ownership of a 17,000-acre watershed purchased by Asheville almost 90 years ago and the entire distribution system of the water throughout the city.

The state passed a law in 2013 that transferred the city's ownership of the watershed to regional control. A lower court ruled in favor of the city, but this week the state's appeal is being heard at the North Carolina Court of Appeals.

Asheville Mayor Esther Manheimer says it's important that the entire state pay attention to the outcome of the case.

"This lawsuit that is happening right now between the city and the state is about a bigger question, and that is the question about cities in North Carolina in general and whether or not they in fact own their own assets," she states.

Opponents of state control argue that if the ruling is overturned and the state prevails, water systems, parking decks and other proprietary functions could be deemed assets of the state.

Supporters of state control say since the city is part of the state, the water system doesn't belong to Asheville and its residents.

The League of Municipalities has filed an amicus brief on behalf of Asheville.

Manheimer says Asheville established and maintained the watershed at great expense to the city's resources. If the state is able to take control, she says municipalities may lose incentive to make capital improvements to their communities.

"Communities need to be rewarded for making those types of smart, long-term investments,” she stresses. “To have the state turn around and take it years and years later is sending the wrong message. That will have a chilling effect, I think, on local governments that are trying to plan, which takes spending. "

Asheville is one of the largest municipalities in the U.S. to own its own watershed, which is located near Black Mountain. The city also sells some water at wholesale cost to surrounding communities.


Stephanie Carson, Public News Service - NC