Monday, July 4, 2022

Jeff Gerken running for second term on H2GO’s board [Free read]

H2GO Chairman Jeff Gerken is seeking a second term on the utility's Board of Commissioners. (Port City Daily photo/Courtesy Jeff Gerken)
H2GO Chairman Jeff Gerken is seeking a second term on the utility’s Board of Commissioners. (Port City Daily photo/Courtesy Jeff Gerken)

BRUNSWICK COUNTY — Brunswick Regional Water and Sewer H2GO Chairman Jeff Gerken is seeking a second term on the utility’s Board of Commissioners.

Gerken was first elected to the board in 2015.

Author’s note: Port City Daily’s candidate interviews are largely unedited. Edits have only been made to correct spelling or grammatical errors. Candidates were not given word or character limits to answer each question. Questions were delivered to candidates prior to the moratorium being lifted on September 27.

What is your campaign platform?

“Leadership you can trust”, exemplified by competence, character, and common

What makes you qualified to serve as commissioner of a water and sewer utility?

  • I have been a commissioner of H2GO for nearly four years.
  • I have a degree in chemistry and a master’s degree in industrial engineering.
  • I have 35 years of experience in engineering and scientific leadership positions working for a major electric utility company.
  • I managed a $10 million dollar per year research budget.
  • I have experience in managing multi-disciplinary teams of from five to more than 30 individuals.
  • I chaired the meetings of the team that resulted in the proposed regional agreement.

The Northeast Wastewater Treatment Plant is under moratorium for exceeding capacity in 2018. H2GO’s Chappell Loop Road plant has neared capacity for years (but can’t upgrade due to a 2010 court order resulting from Brunswick County’s lawsuit). Which parties, in your opinion, should be held accountable for
this scenario? 

I’m not sure what you mean by a “scenario”. A scenario is a possible course of action or events. The Northeast Wastewater Treatment Plant moratorium is a temporary situation that is being handled by Brunswick County. The entities that have capacity in the plant, including H2GO, have provided plans for reducing infiltration and inflow (I&I), a major contributor to the situation. Problems at H2GO’s Chappell Loop Road plant were another contributing factor, and so was Hurricane Florence.

The 2010 court order is not the reason for H2GO’s inability to increase capacity at the Chappell Loop Road plant. The contract signed by H2GO commissioners when the company purchased capacity in the Northeast Wastewater Treatment Plant is the reason. The court order simply enforces that contract.

What lessons should regional leaders learn from this scenario, and what solutions can you bring to the table?

Again, it’s a situation or fact, not a “scenario”. The solutions to situations like this are communication, cooperation, and, at times, compromise. I have long been an advocate of “regional solutions for regional problems”.

What would you (or do you) say to customers in the region who are frustrated with their utility providers given the moratorium, lawsuit, and years of political battles over public utilities?

First, the moratorium is a temporary situation. I’m not aware of any person who has been unable to connect to a sewage system because of the moratorium.
Second, with respect to lawsuits and political battles, I would urge customers to vote for public officials who follow the law and do not engage in or encourage unlawful acts, such as the transfer of $60+ million dollars in assets to a small town or the disenfranchisement of 91% of a company’s customers.

It’s been a nasty couple of years. Campaign material from both tickets show this race won’t be pretty while both sides defend their position statements and past
actions. Can you try to compliment each of your opponents on one topic or issue?

At the August 2019 H2GO board meeting, the scripts Mr. Hosmer and Mr. Laub prepared for their surrogates to read voiced their limited support for the regional compromise plan that came out of the regional working group that I chaired, and I appreciate their support.

What’s one thing about you that some people misunderstand? What would you like voters to understand more clearly about you?

As a result of numerous accusations that have been thrown at me by our opponents over the past two years, there are a few people who believe that I am in the pocket of “Big Dog Leland”, as was stated in one of their recent communications. Nothing could be further from the truth.

I have also been accused of being opposed to providing clean safe water to our customers. That assertion is simply absurd!

As noted above, I chaired the series of meetings which culminated in the proposed regional solution that is being formulated by lawyers representing all of the participating entities. Rather than turning H2GO over to the Town of Leland, that agreement will result in Leland turning its utility assets over to H2GO. I believe that most people already understand that I have always been in favor of ensuring a reliable supply of reasonably priced water and wastewater services.

Do you agree with how 2017 Belville Commissioners and outgoing H2GO commissioners orchestrated the transfer outside of public review or knowledge? Why or why not?

I have fought for nearly two years to “undo” that unlawful transfer. The outgoing board majority planned the transfer in secret with Belville officials beginning immediately after the 2017 election. They kept Commissioner Trombley, me, and even the board’s attorney in the dark about the action they were about to take. I protested the actions of the lame duck board during the meeting of November 28, 2017 and read an email from the Local Government Commission warning them not to take that action. They nevertheless persisted in bringing it to the floor, and passed the resolution 3-2, with Commissioner Trombley and me in opposition.

Our opponents in this election, on the other hand, cheered that action, and have actively worked with Belville, and against the Town of Leland, ever since. The court decision in April of this year vindicated my position when the judge ruled that the transfer was “unlawful, void, and of no effect.” In fact, he stated that the actions of the previous board and of the Town of Belville “…were so clearly unreasonable as to amount to an oppressive and manifest abuse of their discretion.”

Do you see any drawbacks to the current settlement proposal, which includes the option to absorb all of Leland’s utilities? Do you see benefits?

The staff of H2GO is currently performing “due diligence” in cooperation with the staff of the Town of Leland to ensure that we are aware of the existence and magnitude of any problems. I see benefits to all parties to the proposed agreement in 1) finally settling the lawsuit; 2) substantially increasing the assets of H2GO; and 3) increasing the customer base of the company, thereby greatly improving the financial attractiveness of building the reverse osmosis plant.

Do you have any remaining reservations about working with the Town of Leland, given the town’s past actions to attempt to dissolve the utility and stop the
proposed plant?

None whatsoever. In 2015, the commissioners of H2GO made no secret of their hatred of both Leland and Brunswick County Public Utilities. Since that time, I have worked to improve the relationship with both the Town and the County. The proposed agreement removes the state of competition between the Town and the utility and ensures close cooperation between them.

Do you have any remaining reservations about working with the Town of Belville, given the town’s past actions to attempt to absorb the utility to “save” the proposed plant?

The attorneys for the Town of Belville, the Town of Leland, and H2GO are working on language that will protect all of the parties.

Anything else you’d like to share with voters?

I hope that voters will remember when they go to the polls that without my leadership following the actions of the previous board in November of 2017, H2GO would no longer exist, and customers would instead be paying their water and sewer bills to the “Belville Public Works Commission” – and that the 91% of our customers who live outside of Belville would not even have the right to vote in this election.

More information on Jeff Gerken and his platform can be found on his campaign website.

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