County planners review river access fee

By Thomas Wilson

   Summer fun could get more costly in Carter County for commercial users of the county's traveled waterways.
   The Carter County Planning Commission heard an update on a proposal to require that rafting companies and fishing tour operators pay a permit fee to use the Watauga and Doe rivers for recreational purposes. County Mayor Dale Fair said the permit fee would not apply to individuals fishing or recreating in the rivers but only to tour operators.
   "If there is a guy charging for the business, that is the key," Fair told the commission.
   Fair had obtained a copy of a private act passed in the General Assembly allowing Unicoi County government to exact a $100 annual permit fee for each operator.
   The act also levies a $1 privilege tax charged for each consumer transported or served by the operator. Initially passed by the Legislature in 1982, the Unicoi County act designated the fee in response to growing numbers of whitewater rafters and canoeists traveling the Nolichucky River. The act also required an operator who obtains a permit to hold an insurance policy covering the county government and its officials.
   The county's scenic rivers draw scores of rafters as well as growing numbers of fishing enthusiasts each year. Rafting groups come down the Watauga River from Avery County, N.C. when tour buses filled with rafters convoy down U.S. Highway 19E during the summer months.
   At issue is whether the privilege tax would be paid to the county or go to state coffers. At the request of the commission, Fair said he would contact a neighboring state to determine the privilege tax issue. Commissioners elected to table the motion until next month when they have more information about the permitting process.
   County planners also received an update of the Watauga Regional Water Authority from WRWA director Michael Hughes. He said the authority's Board of Directors has selected a firm engaged in preparation for the economic and logistics model of what will become a new water intake and treatment plant to serve Carter County and the surrounding region.
   "Water will be the new oil one day," said Hughes, referring to the premium of supply for the nation. "The water shortage that's been going on out West is moving east."
   In other business, Planning Director Chris Schuettler advised the commission the position of the county's full-time code enforcement officer occupied by Craig Malone had ended.
   Malone's position was effectively eliminated last month when county commissioners refused to appropriate line item dollars in the planning commission budget to fund his position. Schuettler said his department was reviewing applicants for a new part-time code officer.