Monday, March 20, 2023

Commissioner Woody White calls for New Hanover to join CFPUA in opposing Chemours settlement

The $13 million dollar settlement specifically addresses the water needs of residents in Bladen County, but not for the quarter-million residents who live downstream of the Chemours plant.

Chemours recently reached a $13 million settlement with the NCDEQ and Cape Fear River Watch. CFPUA has criticized the deal as ignoring issues in New Hanover County. (Port City Daily photo / FILE)
Chemours recently reached a $13 million settlement with the NCDEQ and Cape Fear River Watch. CFPUA has criticized the deal as ignoring issues in New Hanover County. (Port City Daily photo / FILE)

NEW HANOVER COUNTY — As a $13-million-dollar consent agreement is being considered by the state’s Superior Court, New Hanover County Commissioner Woody White joins a growing number of voices protesting the settlement.

The settlement, which would see Chemours pay $12 million in fines, plus an additional $1 million to reimburse cost resulting from investigative efforts by the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ). The order also requires new testing and filtering efforts from Chemours, as well as requiring the company to provide clean water to Bladen County residents utilizing groundwater affected by Chemours’ pollution.

While the settlement negotiations included the DEQ and Cape Fear River Watch, the Cape Fear Public Utility Authority, which has filed its own lawsuit against Chemours, was left out of the process; CFPUA Executive Director Jim Flechtner said the DEQ has still not responded to certain key questions as well.

Several days after the settlement was announced, CFPUA issued a statement, raising concerns over the agreement’s failure to address contamination in the Cape Fear River sediment, aquifers in New Hanover County, or drinking water in the area.

Flechtner himself noted that the agreement did not address $50 million CFPUA plans to spend on new treatment equipment, nor does it address reverse osmosis plans across the river, namely Brunswick County’s $100 million plant and H2GO’s $30 million plant.

Today, White emailed his fellow commissioners and county staff, asking “the county manager to bring forward a resolution in opposition to the Chemours consent agreement.”

White noted that the effort may be “too little too late,” but nevertheless said, “New Hanover County should join forces with CFPUA in opposing the agreement.”

Points of opposition

White enumerated several reasons for opposing the agreement:

-Chemours admits no liability or regulatory violation, which White said may have an adverse impact on CFPUA’s suit against the company

-“Compliance oversight” is granted to River Watch, which White said could suffer a “conflict of interest” if its uses this role for fundraising

-As CFPUA has pointed out, the agreement does not appear to offer any protections for hundreds of thousands of residents downstream from Bladen County; White added that the agreement was a “formal codification” of DEQ treating different parts of the state differently, despite contamination occurring in both areas

-Settlement negotiations not only excluded CFPUA, but also New Hanover County and Wilmington; White noted that DEQ Secretary Michael Regan did not invite CFPUA or county representatives to discuss the settlement when he visited Wilmington last week to discuss, and defend, the agreement

-It allows Chemours to avoid “future punishment for past actions,” White said, “despite PFAS continued presence in the Cape Fear River”

-Lastly, “and most notably,” White said agreement “does not address, in any way, the admission [Chemours] made to us on June 15, 2017, of the 37 years-worth of discharges into the Cape Fear River. There is no mention of this fact, no relation of the known predecessor [of GenX], C8, what if any C8 was discharged, etc.”

Cape Fear River Watch comments on consent order

The Cape Fear River Watch has published a “Q and A” on the consent order, addressing some of the issued raised by CFPUA and White, including why CFPUA was left out of the negotiations, why the fine won’t cover water-treatment technology in the Cape Fear area, and what the consent order does for those in the Wilmington area.

You can find the Cape Fear River Watch “consent order Q and A” here.

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