Brunswick Commissioners ask local utilities to consider regionalization

Brunswick County stated publicly it was open to completing and operating H2GO's partially-constructed reverse osmosis plant if studies show the project is still financially viable. This comes as the county works out $218 million in combined infrastructure expansions and upgrades and a northern sewer line extension moratorium lingers.

Brunswick County Manager Ann Hardy speaks to Commissioners at a specially-called utility meeting Tuesday. (Port City Daily photo/Johanna Ferebee)
Brunswick County Manager Ann Hardy speaks to Commissioners at a specially-called utility meeting Tuesday. (Port City Daily photo/Johanna Ferebee)

BRUNSWICK COUNTY — Brunswick County Commissioners are asking water utilities to take steps toward regionalization as a northern sewer line extension moratorium at the Northeast Wastewater Treatment Plant is still in place.

Commissioners briefly discussed their public position statement on the future of utility service in the county at a specially called meeting Tuesday.

Related: In Brunswick County, closed-door meetings and private proposals are shaping the future of water and sewer utilities


After four minutes, the board approved a resolution which outlines the county’s stance on water and wastewater projects (read the resolution and presentation below) as approximately $218 million in partially-funded utility projects are in the works. In the resolution, the county asks local water utility operators to seek consolidation grants to lower costs and increase system-wide regionalization efforts.

The county also formally acknowledged there may be “strategic benefits” to H2GO’s partially-constructed reverse osmosis plant which would source raw water from the Lower Peedee and Black Creek aquifers. After updated independent studies are completed, Brunswick County would consider taking over the project.

This stance comes after over a year of steering clear of the H2GO conversation, given the ongoing multi-million dollar lawsuit between Leland and Belville.

RO plant project

Brunswick Regional Water and Sewer H2GO’s $60 million assets are currently titled to the Town of Belville because of a December 2017 transfer. About 24% of all annual treated water in Brunswick County is sold to H2GO, according to a county presentation shared Tuesday. Only about 6% of annual treated water sold in the northern region of the county is sold directly to customers, without H2GO.

In April, Superior Court Judge Charles Henry ruled the transfer was illegal, null, and void, but a week later, Belville announced plans to appeal the decision.

H2GO’s long-planned reverse osmosis (RO) plant, now in legal limbo, was a source of regional concern before the lawsuit began; Both Brunswick County and Leland asked H2GO to stall construction plans until after the November 2017 election.

In May, Leland proposed to construct and finance the RO plant as part of its “Regional Compromise Plan.” But in July, after coordinating a private regional utility meeting, Leland asked Brunswick County to consider building the plant in a new “Proposal for a Regional Solution.” Neither Brunswick County nor Belville are in favor of Leland’s proposed plan (read more about the proposal).

At the June 19 private meeting, Ann Hardy, Brunswick County’s manager shared the county’s position statement on the future of water services. On Tuesday, the county’s position statement had new additions, which clarify and strengthen its stance that it could take on the RO project.

Regionalization, consolidation

Wastewater (i.e. sewage) management was also an issue, especially since the Department of Environmental Quality issued a sewer line extension moratorium at the Northeast Wastewater Treatment Plant in June. In essence, the county’s expansion plans were not far along enough to account for its flows, which averaged 92% of the plant’s capacity in 2018.

The county revealed its position on wastewater service, through a resolution stating it is staffed and experienced to be the regional provider of sewer treatment. Brunswick County was in the process of providing Southport with capacity in a timely manner, according to Hardy. Now that Southport has opted to pursue its own wastewater treatment plant, Hardy said it’s important the city do so in accordance with its contract.

“The timely removal of flow by the city is necessary for the County to avoid fines, penalties and a moratorium,” the county’s presentation states.

In its presentation, Brunswick County is recommending western wastewater participants begin the process of determining the timing and size of expanding the West Regional System to support growth.

Though the resolution addresses H2GO, it also formalizes long-held stances the county has shared in the past. This includes encouraging regionalization and consolidation of existing utility systems and encouraging local providers to seek grants to assist in transfer costs.

“The public may not recognize it, but we’ve been discussing this quite a bit,” Commissioner Marty Cooke said at the meeting. “This is a long time coming. We’ve been working on this thing for about a year.”

Frank Williams, the county’s Chairman, said the resolution was well-thought-out, forward-looking, and professionally done. “I think this puts the needs of the whole county and its citizens ahead of above anybody’s political agenda or anybody’s personal interest,” Williams said at the meeting. 

County’s new position statements:

  • RO-treated water sourced by the Cape Fear River is “of the same high standards” as RO-treated water sourced by an aquifer.
  • “There may be some strategic benefits to the proposed H2GO treatment plant”
  • “County is staffed and experienced to be the regional provider of sewer treatment”
  • “The County proposes that the County provide all potable water for the entire county and is amenable to acquiring water and wastewater systems for those wholesale customers desiring to turn their system over to another entity”

Proposed steps:

  • “County provide all treated water in the county, including in the northern region”
  • “County encourages regionalization and consolidation of systems”
  • “Consolidation grants may assist in regionalization costs and improve the system”
  • “County is amendable to acquiring water systems for those wholesale customers desiring to turn their system over to another entity”
Project Est. construction start  Est. completion Est. cost
2.5 MGD expansion of Northeast Wastewater Treatment Plant December 2019 December 2021 $39.1 million
12 MGD expansion of Northwest Water Treatment Plant April 2020 September 2022 $47.5 million
Low-pressure reverse osmosis at Northwest Water Treatment Plant April 2020 December 2021 $89.5 million
54-inch parallel raw water supply main December 2019 April 2022 $42.4 million
Funding Est. issue date Term period Total cost: $218.5 million
Revenue bond, issued by Baird (not yet approved) January 2020 30-year payback period $120.8 million revenue bond
Federal WIFIA bond (partially approved) January 2020 30-year payback period $74 million
State revolving funds (denied, reapplying) N/A N/A $27.7 million

Dates and costs are updated as of information available on July 24 and are subject to change, as they are still estimates.

Special Called Meeting Utility (1) by Johanna Ferebee on Scribd

2019-07-23 Resolution Stating Brunswick County s Position for the Provision of Utility Services by Johanna Ferebee on Scribd


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