Saturday, May 21, 2022

Leland, Belville, go tit-for-tat on future of reverse osmosis plant, H2GO board reaches rare consensus

Since Leland announced it wanted H2GO's reverse osmosis plant (RO), Leland, Belville, and H2GO have issued a combined nine press releases in seven days. Catch up on the recent happenings in the ongoing $60 million lawsuit, with the latest tug-of-war focusing on H2GO's $35 million RO plant.

Reverse osmosis technology purchased by Brunswick Regional Water and Sewer H2GO sits in a warehouse, unused, while three local governments engage in a multi-million dollar lawsuit. (Port City Daily photo/Courtesy Rodney McCoy)
Reverse osmosis technology purchased by Brunswick Regional Water and Sewer H2GO sits in a warehouse, unused, while three local governments engage in a multi-million dollar lawsuit. (Port City Daily photo/Courtesy Rodney McCoy)

BRUNSWICK COUNTY — Leland Mayor Brenda Bozeman penned an open letter Monday, attempting to extend an olive branch to Belvile. In turn, Belville issued a “history lesson,” reminding the public of Leland’s past antics, in a water war that’s been boiling for years. These were the first of nearly ten press releases over the course of a week.

Among them, an announcement on Tuesday from Brunswick Regional Water and Sewer H2GO — basically the utility monkey in the middle here — stating that H2GO’s board had reached a rare consensus. H2GO asked its attorney to attempt to resolve the ongoing, multi-million dollar lawsuit. Wednesday, Leland commended H2GO’s attempted cease-fire.

Related: Brunswick County, H2GO Chairman, Belville respond to Leland’s attempt to take over RO plant

After a court hearing last Friday, Leland is still publicly asking to own and operate H2GO’s partially-constructed reverse osmosis plant — a facility that’s been caught in limbo since late 2017.

Belville’s not having it.

Catching up

Though Belville used tactics Judge Charles Henry recently ruled illegal to “save” the plant in 2017 from an incoming anti-RO-plant majority board, it’s fighting to prevent Leland from attempting to accomplish a similar outcome — albeit, legally.

Belville continues to point out how Leland worked for years to stop the plant it describes as “unnecessary and expensive” in its recent lawsuit against Belville. At one point, Leland even issued a legal appeal of the state’s discharge permit in June 2017, alleging the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) violated the state Air Resources Act and the federal Clean Water Act. The case was dismissed in October 2017.

Between December 2017 and April 2019, Belville technically maintained all of Brunswick Regional Water and Sewer H2GO’s assets — including the plant — after it accepted them in a transfer Judge Henry recently ruled illegal, null and void. On April 22, Judge Henry ordered all of H2GO’s assets would remain with H2GO.

He also ruled H2GO’s outgoing Commissioners and Belville Commissioners who worked to orchestrate the contested transfer violated state ethics law.

For Leland, the order was a win. The next week, Belville announced it voted 3-2 in closed session to appeal Judge Henry’s decision. Belville hasn’t disclosed which town commissioners voted for or against it, although the town stated Mayor Mike Allen broke a split vote in favor of the appeal.

Judge could weigh in

Leland announced its proposed Regional Compromise Plan last week, the day before Friday’s hearing.

According to a Leland press release after the Friday hearing (included at the bottom of this article), Belville appealed Judge Henry’s April 22 order and filed a motion to stay (meaning, pause litigation). According to Leland, this move seeks to block a permanent mandatory injunction that would require Belville to return all of H2GO’s assets back to H2GO.

“We certainly appreciate the court allowing us to explain our position that Belville is attempting to use inappropriate procedural delays to avoid returning what belongs to the Sanitary District,” Leland’s attorney, Joe Dowdy, said in a press release. “Maybe we can all avoid spending time and resources on a premature and unnecessary appeal, when the parties could be collaborating instead to achieve a result that serves everyone’s best interests.”

Brian Edes, H2GO’s litigation counsel and separately, Leland’s town attorney, said H2GO offered to include a provision in an injunction that would ensure H2GO maintained its assets while Belville’s appeal moves ahead. “Despite our offer, Belville insists that title to the assets remain in Belville’s name while Belville prosecutes its ill-advised appeal,” Edes said in a Friday statement, on behalf of H2GO’s litigation committee. (H2GO’s litigation committee is comprised of only anti-RO-plant Commissioners).

Agitated with Leland’s characterization of its attempt to own and build H2GO’s plant, Belville spokesperson stayed firm on the town’s resistance to its rival’s plan. “The idea that the plant magically becomes a regional solution because H2GO isn’t building it but Leland is, is absurd,” McGill said. “It doesn’t pass the smell test.”

Back-and-forth

On Monday, Leland shared its mayor’s open letter about the plan. The letter addresses disenfranchisement, questions about setting rates and aims to “heal divisiveness” in the community (read the town’s letter at the bottom of this article).

Mayor Bozeman, in the letter, said the town would set a fair and modest water rate to fund the plant in cooperation with H2GO. Any cost differences would be settled with a referee, Bozeman said. She said the claim that voters would be disenfranchised under Leland’s proposal are categorically untrue.

“They do not offer any proof of this because they cannot,” she wrote; with the Regional Compromise Plan, “everyone’s vote would count,” Bozeman said.

In a response letter entitled “Leland is Asking Everyone to Forget about Its Destructive Past,” McGill, Belville’s spokesperson, reinforced disenfranchisement claims.

“Given Leland’s long series of efforts to destroy the RO plant, they are the last people who should be entrusted with its future,” he wrote. “Especially since Leland is now asking to disenfranchise more than 50% of H2GO’s voters.”

All of Belville’s approximately 2,000 residents are among an approximate 20,000 people served by H2GO, and all Belville’s residents get a vote in H2GO elections. However, Belville has argued that if Leland owns the plant, its residents won’t have a vote on how it is run.

Response to Leland’s offer, from some parties outside of the town, has been critical and skeptical. Steve Hosmer, an organizer of the Clean Water Team — advocates of building the RO plant — described Leland as hypocritical at H2GO’s Monday meeting. He said the town’s proposal creates a “clear and present danger” to H2GO customers (read the Clean Water Team’s response to Leland’s proposal below).

On Wednesday, after H2GO’s anti-RO-plant and pro-RO-plant Commissioners reached consensus, Leland announced its gratefulness for the apparent step forward.

“The proposed plan would not change water service to Belville or Sanitary District citizens, and the vote of every single voter in the Sanitary District would again count,” Leland’s Wednesday release states. “It would also allow the District and Leland to immediately begin work on the planned RO Plant.”

Read Leland’s open letter below:

An Open Letter Regarding the Regional Compromise Plan by Johanna Ferebee on Scribd

Read Belville’s response to Leland’s open letter below:

Belville Response to Leland’s Open Letter: ” Leland is Asking Everyone to Forget They’ve Tried to Kill the… by Johanna Ferebee on Scribd

Read the Clean Water Team’s release on Leland’s Regional Compromise Plan:

Clean Water Team comments o… by on Scribd


Send tips and comments to Johanna Ferebee at johanna@localvoicemedia.com

Related Articles