Sunday, June 23, 2024

Brunswick County’s pricey path to RO could spread cost burden across its wholesale customers

Filtering out perfluorinated compounds is expensive. And so far, the cost has not been borne by the polluter.

Brunswick County's Northwest Water Treatment Plant could soon have a $100 million low-pressure reverse osmosis system built to treat water. (Port City Daily photo/Johanna Ferebee)
Brunswick County’s Northwest Water Treatment Plant could soon have a $100 million low-pressure reverse osmosis system built to treat water. (Port City Daily photo/Johanna Ferebee)

BRUNSWICK COUNTY — Brunswick County is about to take on $216 million dollars in debt.

Over $38 million is needed to fund its Northwest Water Treatment Plant’s capacity expansion project, $99.6 million to install new low-pressure reverse osmosis technology, $39 million to help fund a Lower Cape Fear Water and Sewer water main expansion project and another $39 million to cover its Northeast Brunswick Regional Wastewater Treatment Plant’s expansion.

RELATED: Brunswick’s $100-million treatment plant will concentrate contaminants, discharge them back into Cape Fear River

To support that debt, the county just approved spending $56,607 to conduct a water rate study.

The study will determine whether Brunswick County’s rates with 11 wholesale water customers should be adjusted. These customers include:

  • Bald Head Island
  • Holden Beach
  • Leland
  • Navassa
  • Oak Island
  • Ocean Isle Beach
  • Shallotte
  • Southport
  • H2GO Brunswick Regional Water and Sewer
  • Northwest
  • (An occasional, but infrequent customer) Little River Water Company

Should Brunswick County increase its rates with any of its wholesale customers — some of which will soon expire — municipalities would increase their cost burden in providing water to their customers.

If that burden proves too great, municipalities could be pressed to take a second look at their own water rates.

Before the county issues revenue bonds and an underwriter sells the debt in the market, independent analysis is needed. This analysis — to show the county’s ability to take on $216 million in debt — must be provided to the Local Government Commission prior to the issuance of any bonds.

Whose burden to bear?

Of the county’s costly capital projects, the $99.6 million reverse osmosis (RO) is the most expensive.

Planned expansions at the county’s water and sewer treatment plant are needed to meet capacity and growth demands. After all, the county has the fastest growing population in the state.

But its RO plant is planned around filtering out perfluorinated compounds generated by upstream contaminators, including Chemours.

Chemours recently settled with the Department of Environmental Quality and Cape Fear River Watch, but that settlement left out Cape Fear Public Utility Authority (CFPUA) and Brunswick County.

The chemical manufacturer admitted to no legal wrongdoing, and the settlement does not acknowledge contaminating surface waters — only groundwater wells.

Both CFPUA and Brunswick County still have their own pending litigation against Chemours.

CFPUA’s $50 million perfluorinated compound solution — a granular activated carbon expansion — will result in ratepayer increases beginning in 2020, reaching a nearly $5 increase each month by 2022, according to CFPUA’s finance officer.

According to a Brunswick County rate estimate compiled in March, water bills could increase by $6.21 for residential use by 2022.

In a press release about the county’s move Monday to begin its debt issuance process, the county cited its ongoing suit. Seeking damages against the polluter, Brunswick County hopes to recover costs from its nearly $100 million solution to “ensure that that cost falls upon those who dumped the unregulated chemicals in the water and not on ratepayers.”

Send tips and comments to Johanna Ferebee at

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