LELAND — Leland has organized a petition for Brunswick Forest residents to be annexed into Brunswick Regional Water and Sewer H2GO’s sanitary district.
The town is inviting residents to sign the annexation petition at Town Hall and will have representatives appear in Brunswick Forest Master’s Homeowners Association offices for nine hours Friday.
Water and sewer in Brunswick Forest are currently provided by Leland, however, a tentative settlement agreement includes the provision that Leland transfer all of its utilities — valued $50 million (plus $16 million in cash making up the Utilities Enterprise Fund) — to H2GO.
At the time the tentative settlement agreement was announced mid-August, no information regarding securing elected representation was made available. In a letter Leland asked the Brunswick Forest Master Association to share with its residents, Leland asks that all petition signatures be turned in to town officials before Sept. 30.
If more than 15 percent of residents in the annexation area Leland mapped sign the petition, a 15-day public notification period ahead of a public hearing is required. Leland is seeking 51 percent majority signatures, which would not require a public hearing.
Information made public about the tentative agreement has been limited. Leland Manager David Hollis offered an explanation of why the town was looking to transfer $66 million in assets to H2GO (with no financial compensation) last month.
Still, the framework for the agreement between H2GO, Leland, and Belville remains basic. Belville still technically maintains all of H2GO’s assets as its appeal is still pending; under the agreement, Belville would drop its appeal of Judge Henry’s April order, which ruled its acceptance of all of H2GO’s assets in November 2017 from H2GO’s outgoing majority board was illegal. Concepts in the potential agreement released include, verbatim:
- Belville would return all Sanitary District assets.
- Leland would convey its water and sewer lines to the Sanitary District [H2GO]
- The Sanitary District would operate and maintain all water and sewer assets as a singular system.
- The Sanitary District would construct an aquifer-based reverse osmosis water treatment plant.
Three board’s (H2GO, Belville, and Leland) and one judge must approve the tentative agreement before it is legitimized. That can take time — with 46 days left before the election, it’s a tight fit. New board members elected to each governing body may take a different stance on the proposed agreement, thus delaying talks further.
Belville’s attorneys stated they were unaware of the petition effort. The town did not provide further comment.
Petition and election
A Leland spokesperson did not immediately respond to questions about the petition, including whether the town sees any risks in arranging a petition ahead of the proposed utility transfer agreement being locked in place.
In the letter sent to Brunswick Forest property owners Sept. 16, Leland described the status of the proposed transfer as being “in discussion.”
The town wrote it is moving forward with the plan to settle disputes with Belville and H2GO to improve utility efficiency in the area. “Leland will also gain an interest in the assets of the sanitary district,” the letter states. A town spokesperson did not immediately clarify what this statement means.
Two seats are up for election on H2GO’s board. Four candidates are running on two teams; incumbent Jeff Gerken and newcomer John Bradley are running jointly; newcomers Steve Hosmer and Barry Laub are also running a joint campaign.
Gerken and Bradley are campaigning on “responsible, reasonable, and informed” platform. Hosmer and Laub are promoting “cheaper, cleaner, faster,” strongly in favor of building H2GO’s stalled reverse osmosis plant.
It is not clear if Leland’s petition is intended to be timed to allow Brunswick Forest residents to vote in November. One-stop early voting begins Oct. 15.
“In other words, without an adequate number of signatures on this petition from residents of Brunswick Forest, you will have water and sewer service provided by H2GO but no ability to vote for the board members of H2GO who will own and manage the assets and set rate structures,” Leland’s letter states.
View the full letter below: