Two candidates running for the board — Bill Holbrook and Bob Cathey — live on opposite sides of the Pigeon River in Bethel. They are also on opposite sides of the water and sewer debate. Holbrook is against water and sewer in Bethel and Cathey is for it. Both say they want to see the tranquil and agricultural character of their community preserved, but have different ideas about the impact of water and sewer lines.
Holbrook believes water and sewer lines would hasten unwanted growth and fuel commercialization. Cathey believes water and sewer lines would actually help control growth if a local water and sewer board set restrictions on who could and couldn’t tap on.
The county commissioners have twice broached the idea of running water and sewer to Bethel over the past six years. Both times ballots were mailed to property owners in the community asking them to weigh in. Both times the majority of responses were against water and sewer, prompting commissioners to back off the idea. But the issue has never died.
The Soil and Water Conservation District board members have no say in whether water and sewer lines are eventually run to Bethel. Both Holbrook and Cathey were quick to point out their view on water and sewer in Bethel has nothing to do with running of the soil and water board, but at some level the issue draws a line between the candidates. Holbrook was a leader in the fight against water and sewer lines, while Cathey was a big promoter for the lines.
Cathey argued that growth is already occurring regardless of water and sewer.
“They say with water and sewer the growth would go wild. Tell me what’s happening up here now?” Cathey asked.
Cathey said water and sewer lines could be accompanied by restrictions to manage and control growth. A local water and sewer board would have the final say on who got to hook on to the line, providing a check for growth, which the community doesn’t have now, he said.
“That’s the closest thing we can come to preserving this valley,” Cathey said.
Holbrook disagreed. He watched sprawl spoil his family farm in the Arden area of Buncombe County over the years. If it weren’t for water and sewer lines, that sprawl — including a Home Depot next door to the farm — wouldn’t have been possible.
“The greatest threat to a farmer is development. If the land is ever taken out of farming for development, that’s it. It will never be farmed again,” Holbrook said.
Cathey questioned why the commissioners left the issue up to a community poll. Bethel is the only place where commissioners have relied on a poll to decide whether to extend water and sewer lines.
“In my opinion it never should have been put to a vote,” Cathey said. “Commissioners should have made that decision the way they do it everywhere else, for the betterment of the community.”
Holbrook, who lobbied for the poll, disagreed.
“I am pleased the commissioners let that survey happen,” Holbrook said. “Anyone opposed to that is opposed to commissioners listening to the community on issues affecting that community. I believe in going along with what the individuals in a community decide.”
Cathey also raised the issue of sewage seeping into the ground and the water supply due to faulty septic systems.
“These underground aquifers are going to fill up. Mother Earth can only absorb so much,” Cathey said.
Holbrook said increased development spurred by water and sewer lines would be worse for water quality, contributing to erosion, sediment and increased runoff from streets and roads and parking lots.
“If you put water and sewer up here it would be detrimental to water quality,” Holbrook said.
Ellene Francis, an incumbent who is also running for one of the two available seats, did not want to be interviewed for an election story.