Ongoing disputes with installing water backflow preventers and a proposed community garden were discussed during Monday’s Old Fort Board of Aldermen meeting.

Under old business, the board discussed the latest updates and disagreements regarding business owners installing water backflow preventers on their property.

“We’ve had some (businesses) that have been giving us dates on when they’ll be done, and then we’ve actually had one that said they’ll not be doing it, that they’ll spend their money on an attorney before they put in a backflow,” said Mayor Rick Hensley.

“As long as they have dates and are working with us, we can’t really say a lot,” replied Alderman Andrew Carlton.

The mayor stressed that installing backflow preventers was a “public safety issue,” citing the ongoing water quality situation in Flint, Michigan as a cautionary factor.

“I don’t know why any business, whether it’s Old Fort or Marion or Black Mountain or Asheville would jeopardize any public whatsoever for a profit. I do not like it whatsoever,” said Hensley. “And for it being a business, it’s a tax deduction. They can write it off their taxes as a business expense.”

During the meeting, the board members discussed options as to whether enforce a daily or monthly fine should businesses not be in compliance by the suggested deadline. Alderman Melvin Lytle Jr. rejected an idea to pull or lock the non-compliant business’ meters, saying, “I’d rather see a fine. I don’t want to see anybody go out of business.”

The board agreed to set a Dec. 31 deadline – almost two years after the original ordinance was passed in Jan. 2017 – for businesses to comply with installing backflow preventers, with an enforceable fine to be discussed at next month’s meeting.

In public comments, Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Kim Effler addressed the board with a proposal by the Old Fort Community Forum to plant a new community garden at a to-be-determined location, with a community garden sub-committee put in place to oversee factors such as sunlight, water, parking and composting.

“What we want from you all is just a blessing so we can get it off the ground without having to wait for the next town meeting for another vote,” said Effler.

In Effler’s pitch, Salem Park was suggested as an initial location for the garden, however other sites would also be considered.

“I think it’s a very good offer to reuse Salem Park,” said Hensley. “It’s nice that someone wants to do something with it.”

The board agreed that the Old Fort Community Forum could proceed with the garden.

In other business:

• In public comments, Hensley, on behalf of the Town of Old Fort, offered condolences to the family of retired police officer Neal Holloway, who passed away Sunday morning at Mission Hospital. Holloway served 13 years with the United States Navy and 10 years with the department from May 1996 to July 2006, according to Hensley. Service will be held on Thursday, Sept. 13 at 3 p.m. in the Chapel of Beam Funeral Service with Rev. Dennis Burleson officiating.

• In new business, the aldermen announced that the Old Fort Police Department has purchased a new police vehicle, an unmarked GMC truck, which will be operated by Chief Lytle. The vehicle is currently two to three weeks away from being in service, with the chief’s current vehicle to be donated to the town’s school resource officer.

• Oktoberfest and Railroad Day will be held simultaneously in one event on Saturday, Oct. 6 at the Mountain Gateway Museum. According to the board, a dedication ceremony will be held that day for the Old Fort caboose, which will allow visitors to look inside and see the latest restoration efforts.

• The following week, the Gospel Festival will be held at the Mountain Gateway Museum on Oct. 13, to begin between 9 and 10 a.m.

• The next Old Fort Community Forum is scheduled for Oct. 20 at 5:15 p.m. at Old Fort Baptist Church.

The next Board of Aldermen meeting is scheduled for Oct. 8 at 5:30 p.m.

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