BRUNSWICK COUNTY — Those opposed to building a $35 million reverse osmosis (RO) plant to service H2GO Brunswick Regional Water and Sewer customers may have gained the seat they needed to stop the plant from being built, but the 2017 election results may not be seen as a referendum on the project.
If the numbers hold (results are not official until certified) RO opponent Bill Beer has won a seat on the H2GO board with 1,808 votes. But, only 18 votes separate Beer from fourth place finisher and pro-RO candidate and incumbent Carl Antos, who received 1,790.
The top two spots in the election were won by incumbent Ronnie Jenkins, who garnered 1,984 votes, and Rodney McCoy, who earned 1,812, just four more votes than Beer. Both Jenkins and McCoy were in favor of building the plant.
The bottom two candidates were Donald Yousey (1,739) and Brayton Willis (1,716).
While voters did not “vote the ticket,” per se, Beer’s position on the board could be the vote opponents needed to prevent the plant from being built.
While each seat on the board is elected separately, this year’s election evolved into a heated, team versus team race months ago. On one side, the pro-reverse osmosis plant candidates. On the other side, opponents to the plant.
Trouble for those in favor of reverse osmosis started earlier this year when cost – which had risen to $35 million – began to raise eyebrows. Leland officials asked the H2GO board to hold off on moving forward with the plant until after the November election. When that request failed, opponents turned to the General Assembly.
In April, a bipartisan bill was filed in the House by Deb Butler (D) and Frank Iler (R), both representing Brunswick County. The bill was meant to force additional government approval for large capital projects undertaken by “sanitary districts,” the local government agencies charged with providing water and sewer services.
Those in favor of reverse osmosis said the wording of the bill was so narrow that it could only have been filed to target the Brunswick County project. The race progressed into two sides from there.
Opponents claimed the plant would cause an increase in water rates. They argued that such a plant should be built by the county, not a utility with only 10,000 or so customers.
Proponents said the financial numbers used by the other side were misconstrued and based on bad research. They pointed to the need for clean water and the recent Gen X revelations, which also became public as the election began to heat up.
In the end, it seemed that not even widespread public alarm over GenX contamination could sway voters in completely favor of the reverse osmosis plant, which was touted as being able to provide a safe alternative water source to the Cape Fear River. At the same time, threats about massive rate hikes failed to give the race to anti-RO candidates.
Editors Note: This story has been updated to reflect proper spelling of a candidate’s name