As the utility remains in legal limbo, the fate of H2GO’s reverse osmosis plant remains in question.
BRUNSWICK COUNTY — H2GO Chairman Jeff Gerken is addressing allegations that the utility board is “wasting assets” as well as misunderstandings about what the board intended to do with the utility’s $35 million reverse-osmosis plant, work on which has already begun.
One issue includes whether or not the H2GO Board considered plugging the wells for the RO plant with concrete. Some of the wells were already nearing completion when the project was frozen by legal action between Leland and Belville, but the state’s environmental agency would not allow them to remain “in limbo.”
In an email from the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) Division of Water Quality, Hydrologist Geoff Kegley stated the wells would have to be either completed or capped.
According to H2GO Commissioner Rodney McCoy, the board met in closed session to discuss options. McCoy claims that the board, including Chairman Gerken, discussed a range of options, including completing and capping those wells near completion (so that they could be used in the future). Other options according to McCoy included putting concrete in the wells, effectively sealing them, and filling them with bentonite clay, which could be more easily removed.
McCoy also stated that his decision to make some of the substance of this closed session meeting public was the reason for the creation of the H2GO litigation committee, which notably did not include pro-RO-plant commissioners McCoy and Ron Jenkins.
Chairman Gerken: No ‘plugging wells with concrete,’ no ‘assets wasted’
Gerken denies that concrete was ever discussed, referring to the affidavit of H2GO Executive Director Bob Walker (attached in full, below); he also previously stated the litigation committee’s makeup was designed to ensure attorney-client privilege.
“One publication recently stated that I had ‘considered’ plugging, with concrete, wells that had been drilled as part of the reverse osmosis plant project. Mr. Walker’s affidavit clearly points out the reason for any discussion that might have taken place with respect to those wells, and the actions that were actually considered. Notably, pouring concrete into the wells was never one of those considered actions,” Gerken said.
In his affidavit, Walker addresses the issue directly:
“Upon receiving this information from NC-DEQ, I consulted with the project engineer as to what H2GO could do to address the State’s concerns. I and the project engineer determined that the safest course of action consistent with the injunction was to finish and cap the four wells close to completion and to abandon the other our wells, as to of those were mere pilot holes and the other two wells were in the early stages of being drilled. These four wells that were to be abandoned were to be grouted with bentonite clay, not concrete, so as to enable them to be re-drilled in the future if needed. I advised the Board of this preferred course of action. The Board authorized H2GO to proceed accordingly,” Walker affirms.
Walker adds that no other method that would “destroy” the wells was considered.
“To my knowledge no Board member has directed me, staff or the RO plant contractors to pour cement in the wells or otherwise destroy the wells. Likewise, to my knowledge, no Board member has directed my, staff, or the RO Plant contractors to take any action that would compromise the future construction of the RO plant,” Walker stated.
It’s worth noting that nothing has actually been done to the wells. For nearly a year and a half since the state ordered the wells covered, H2GO has been stuck in legal limbo, and Belville has not permitted the capping of the wells.
Gerken also addressed allegations that the H2GO Board was “wasting assets.”
“Mr. Walker also explains that equipment for the RO plant was purchased, and is presently being stored at a warehouse, and that the site for the proposed plant was completed, thereby increasing the value of the property,” Gerken said. “In other words, allegations that the current board is guilty of “wasting” assets are simply not true. To the contrary, the Board took active steps to prevent waste.”
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