Tar Heel Tattler - July 2007

Plan for water park is all wet, critics say
By Frank Maley

Folks in Hickory are still smarting over Concord and Kannapolis winning state approval to draw 10 million gallons a day from the Catawba River (Tar Heel Tattler, November 2006). Now they believe the county that’s home to those cities is rubbing salt in the wound.

“Nothing that I have seen,” Hickory Mayor Rudy Wright says, “has fired up the people in this area as much as word that they not only want to take water out of the Catawba but they want to use it for a giant water park and resort.” Cabarrus commissioners were set to decide in June whether to authorize a five-year, $2.6 million incentives package for Madison, Wisc.-based Great Wolf Resorts Inc., which is considering building a $100 million indoor water park near Lowe’s Motor Speedway in Concord.

Wright says it validates his opposition. “I was called un-Christian for complaining about this interbasin transfer and was told God gave us this water and God can take this water away from us and these people need drinking water. I kept saying, ‘This is not about drinking water. This is about allocation of scarce resources.’”

Hickory pumps 14 million gallons a day and has treatment capacity for 32 million. Most days, 10 million gallons wouldn’t matter, but relocating businesses consider worst-case scenarios, Wright says. Lake levels along the Catawba are managed by Charlotte-based Duke Energy in cooperation with local governments. A big drawdown would have impacts all along the river, Wright says, and history suggests that other cities and counties will come begging. “Once you turn on the spigot, it never will stop.”

But Concord and Kannapolis haven’t turned on the spigot yet. Transfers might not be needed for years, so there’s no reason the county shouldn’t recruit the water park, says John Cox, chief executive of the Cabarrus Regional Chamber of Commerce and Cabarrus Economic Development. Besides, it would use less water — about 28,000 gallons a day — than a subdivision with three houses per acre. Tar Heels have to pull together if they want to compete effectively against other states, he says. “We should not be having these little squirt-gun fights between communities in North Carolina.”

Wright isn’t worried about appearing petty. He says Hickory needs every economic resource it has. “And as long as I’m alive and involved in politics here, we will be struggling and fighting to prevent any taking of water out of the Catawba.”

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