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HIGH AND DRY — Is Waynesville obligated to spend $300,000 replacing this water tank well outside the town limits, or can it walk away from the Chestnut Walk subdivision?

The Waynesville town board isn’t thrilled about forking over $300,000 to replace a water tank serving just three dozen homes well outside the town limits, but there appears to be little choice.

That was the conclusion reached this week after a last-ditch effort to find a way around the expense.

“The town is really between a rock and a hard place,” said Alderman Chuck Dickson. “It’s fair to say there were legal problems with discontinuing service to that area.”

Dickson had initially objected to replacing the water tank, given the large expense for so few houses that aren’t even in the town limits. But the town could be faced with legal repercussions if it tried to untangle itself from the water tank at this point.

The pickle over the water tank was inherited from the town leaders in place 40 years ago, who saddled the town with a private water tank in the Chestnut Walk subdivision off Lickstone Road above Allens Creek.

When a plan to replace the tank was presented to the town board for approval last month, Dickson asked to delay the vote until someone could explain the justification for doing so. Dickson is new to the town board and hadn’t been privy to prior discussions.

Given the potential legal ramifications of bailing on the water tank, the briefing was scheduled for a closed session on the grounds of attorney-client privilege at later meeting, where Town Attorney Bill Cannon went back over the town’s options and potential consequences to abandoning the tank.

“The issue isn’t just state law and regulatory law, but you also have to consider the way courts have treated it,” Town Manager Rob Hites said.

Dickson said he wasn’t advocating to leave the three dozen homes high and dry without water.

“We certainly didn’t want to cut people off. I was just hoping we could find some way to recoup some of our costs,” Dickson said.

The town will explore options for charging a special fee to those served by the water tank and asking for a contribution from the developer of Chestnut Walk, William Hatcher, who has the most to gain by being able to sell off his remaining lots once the tank is replaced.

The town has spent the past two years grappling with what to do about the tank, including an engineering study assessing whether to bring in or site-build a tank given the constraints of steep land and narrow road access.

The aging tank has been on its last leg for years, but is so far gone patching leaks have become almost impossible. It is now a race against the clock to get the new tank built, a project that is expected to take six months.

“We have a tank that could fail anytime, and the longer it sits there, the more likely it is to fail and we have no way of providing water up there,” Hites said.

The cost of the tank will be paid for out of the water fund, which is collected through water bills.

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