BRUNSWICK COUNTY — Brunswick County resident Steve Hosmer is seeking to be elected for a first term on Brunswick Regional Water and Sewer H2GO.
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.
Steve Hosmer provided a second page of responses to supplement his questionnaire. Those additional responses appear at the end of this article.
What is your campaign platform?
- Absolutely complete the reverse osmosis plant in the shortest time possible.
- Provide the customers with the cheapest, cleanest, safest water (aquifer water) in the shortest time possible.
- Maintain, grow and defend the integrity and the viability of H2GO as a stand-alone sanitary district.
- Resist inappropriate attempts by other political entities to interfere with or compromise the operations or the growth of H2GO.
What makes you qualified to serve as commissioner of a water and sewer utility?
- I have spent 2 years studying H2GO, attending every Board meeting but one
- I have researched and written over 150 Public Comments.
- Those public comments explained to the current Board everything they should be acting on including reviews of the river contamination and what the best interests of the customers are (the aquifer water -reverse osmosis solution – cheapest, cleanest healthiest).
- Those public comments examined issues and recommended solutions such as expanding the wastewater treatment plant during the time that H2GO had a legal window of opportunity to do so while the county was under moratorium. The Board failed to even consider the idea and now that window of opportunity has closed.
- In December of 2018, I conceived and wrote a proposed settlement agreement which the Board refused to consider. However, this same proposed agreement turned out to be the model for Belville’s proposed settlement agreement the following spring and the core of the currently in-play inter-local agreement proposed by Leland.
- In researching and writing over 150 Public Comments, I already have learned more than some H2GO commissioners about
- sanitary districts
- some of the laws that apply to sanitary districts
- the government entities that interact with sanitary districts
- infrastructure issues
- regional aquifer configurations
- local and national health effects of Cape Fear River contaminants
- local politics
- I already have good working relationships with two of the pro-RO commissioners of H2GO.
- I am a mechanical engineer by training and experience, but, am also experienced on the business side.
- And finally, my heart is with the customers of H2GO, not some other political entity that has only its own best interests in mind.
- I have no training or experience in politics. From what I have seen around here lately, that may be a good thing.
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?
- Brunswick County has always wanted to be the sole regional supplier of water and sewer services. So, they fought any growth of competitive sources for those same services. Because they blocked competitive expansion efforts and insisted on going solo, and because they failed to gather the necessary commitments from wholesale customers to expand the plant early enough to avoid a moratorium, the county must then accept sole responsibility for this moratorium which has just recently been lifted. (See more under ‘More info #1’)
What lessons should regional leaders learn from this scenario…
- The primary lesson is, do a better job of planning for the future.
- Regional Managers live in the present. Regional Leaders plan for the future.
We need to convert our regional managers into regional leaders.
- Previous H2GO leaders planned for the future. They found a new, cheaper, cleaner, safer source of water and figured out how to get that water for their customers. The current Commissioners tried to destroy that. (See more under ‘More info #2’)
…and what solutions can you bring to the table?
- First: manage the present correctly. Get the aquifer-supplied reverse osmosis system completed and deliver cheaper, cleaner, safer water to H2GO customers in the very shortest time possible.
- Second: work intentionally to develop, where possible, beneficial cooperation among the county and the communities in and around the H2GO area.
- Third: look to the future and, following the lead of previous H2GO commissioners, start planning now.
- And finally, honor the hard work and the value that the dedicated employees of H2GO bring to our well managed, award-winning utility. We are very fortunate to have them.
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?
- To H2GO Customer/Owners – By their actions, the Chairman and current board majority have shown themselves to be aligned with the best interests of current Leland leadership and no one else.
- They have ignored the best interests of customers except where that helps Leland’s cause.
- They have abandoned their previous respect for the needs of the county.
Vote for candidates that respect the customers first: Steve Hosmer and Barry Laub.
- To Leland Residents – I hear from many Leland residents that they feel abused by their current Town leadership. The Town of Leland has also been abusive in its treatment of H2GO, renewing and increasing their takeover efforts with the current “Inter-Local Agreement” process that Leland leaders have co-opted. If Leland voters are frustrated, perhaps, Leland voters should consider new blood. Several challenger candidates are available. Shirley Lawler is running for mayor and knows more about the Town infrastructure than anyone else I have run across. Two council seats are being sought by
newcomers Louis Harmati, Rick Paxton and Veronica Carter.
- To Brunswick County Residents – County leadership was arguably late to the table in starting to deal with both the river contaminant issue and the wastewater treatment issue. However, the county has jumped on both problems and is going full tilt to get them solved. Encourage your county commissioners to do a better job in the future, of looking into the future, and encourage and support them in their current efforts to get the water and wastewater problems solved quickly.
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?
- Jeff Gerken has wisely retained the key members of the staff that have made H2GO the award-winning utility that it has been.
- John Bradley makes serious efforts investing his time trying to understand technical issues relating to water sources and H2GO
What’s one thing about you that people misunderstand? What would you like voters to understand more clearly about you?
- I am, at heart, a systems person. That may not be immediately obvious. This helps in understanding both the business and the technical aspects of H2GO. It also applies to understanding the regional political systems that impact operations of H2GO.
- I am skilled at discerning people’s motivations. When you look past people’s actions to their motivations, you can better negotiate for everyone’s best interest.
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?
- Yes, I agree with the results; however, the method by which it was accomplished correctly raises questions about legality.
- Unfortunately, there is no simplistic answer to this very complex question. I apologize in advance for the length of my answer which you can read [at the end of this article, under ‘More #3].
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?
Yes, I see a few benefits but many overriding problems with the current settlement.
On the plus side:
The proposal includes
- Return of the assets from Belville
- The corresponding completion of the aquifer sourced reverse osmosis plant at H2GO
- A “so-called” gift of the Leland water and sewer infrastructure and cash reserves (but with conditions).
On the minus side:
The current proposal has been in flux for months. As fast as the inter-local partners to Leland get a hold of it, significant changes are made and a new version is distributed.
In my opinion, it would be irresponsible of any commissioner of H2GO to vote in favor of any version of this proposed agreement since both Leland, the Current H2GO Chairman and the County advised stopping work on the reverse osmosis plant 4 months before the last election claiming the new board representing the new will of people should be able to make the decision to go forward or not. So, following the previous logic of Leland, the H2GO Chairman and Brunswick County, work on this agreement should be suspended until after this next election for H2GO Board seats in November.
[Read ‘More #4 at the end of this article] for some of the problems with previous versions that Leland actually thought would be accepted by H2GO, Belville, and Navassa, but, only if you care to explore unbelievable proposed points of agreement that may no longer exist.
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?
- Leland has proven itself a worthy adversary of H2GO for the last four years.
- Leland has also proven itself an aggressive and predatory enemy of H2GO for the last four years.
- I am hopeful that the Town of Leland voters, for their own welfare as well as the welfare of H2GO, will rise to the challenge and elect new blood to their mayor and town council positions.
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?
None. Belville leadership consistently have shown themselves willing to return the assets as soon as they receive adequate, legally binding assurances that those assets will be converted into a functioning, aquifer supplied reverse osmosis plant delivering cheaper, cleaner, safer water to H2GO customers. Based on that promise, I look forward to working with the Town of Belville.
Anything else you’d like to share with the voters?
The current chairman’s past actions tell a story of commitment to Leland and disdain for the best interests of the customers of H2GO. His dramatic, anti-RO previous comments include “There will never be an RO plant built in Brunswick County while I am alive.” His sudden complete reversals to support completion of the RO plant at H2GO follow exactly Leland’s reversals, in one case, to the very day Leland decided that Leland should build the RO plant.
Barry Laub and I, on the other hand, have offered one consistent message for two years running, Day in, day out, week after week, month after month, we have said, “Complete the RO plant.” “Cheaper, Cleaner, Safer water for the customers of H2GO and quickly.
Elect the two candidates that have fought tirelessly for your families ever since they got involved in the H2GO problems.
ADDITIONAL INFORMATION FOR QUESTIONS ABOVE:
- Both environmental damage and expensive infrastructure damage can occur when a wastewater treatment systems run at or above capacity as the county system did for 90 days during 2018. In a perfect world, where the county had the best interests of the citizens as its first priority, the county would have gone its partners for help to try to solve the problem quickly.to H2GO and found that H2GO could have expanded to provide 400,000 gallons per day of additional capacity in much less time than the county could resolve its own wastewater issues.
- It is the county that forced the original agreement to limit H2GO capacity back in 2001 and it is the county that then sued in 2010 to enforce that agreement, once again preventing H2GO Wastewater treatment expansion. Had the county allowed that expansion, there would not have been a moratorium.
- The county chose to control, manage and limit wastewater treatment capacity in Brunswick County and used the courts to accomplish that. So, it is the county alone which is responsible for the moratorium that was finally just lifted by the DEQ.
Note that a provision of the last court decision was that if the county wastewater treatment system were ever to be under moratorium, H2GO had the right to petition the court to expand its wastewater treatment facility and thereby reduce customer costs. The current board majority chose to ignore our suggestion to do that. Now that the moratorium has been lifted, that opportunity no longer exists. This board, once again, lost an opportunity to reduce costs for its customers.
- When the planned for future suddenly arrived in the form of
- sudden awareness of the seriousness of the contamination in the Cape Fear River water
- the county rushing to respond with new treatment plans and higher prices
- The current H2GO Board Majority managers wouldn’t even see the present, much less the future. H2GO customers would be drinking that aquifer water today but for the continued objections and interference of the current H2GO Board Chairman, two Commissioners and the Town of Leland.
- The DEQ enforced moratorium on the county indicates that the county failed to plan early enough and failed to get the support it needed from wholesale customers early enough to insure the safety of its customers and the environment and to avoid a DEQ moratorium.
- Procedurally, Judge Henry found that no illegalities occurred in the steps of the process.
- When Judge Henry said the transfer violated the spirit of the law, he was speaking in strictly legal terms, considering the legal effects of the last two elections. But let’s consider what may be mitigating information.
- The 2015 elections that put anti-RO candidates Jeff Gerken and Trudy Trombley into office occurred while customers were still ignorant of the Cape Fear River contamination. Campaign lies that were told at that time included promises of a $2500 assessment per family, high chemical risks surrounding the RO plant, noisy operations throughout the night and bright lights aimed directly at nearby residents’ backyards throughout the night. So, that election was based, in large part, on ignorance of the real river water issues and lies.
- By the 2017 election:
- The contamination story had broken and dominated the local news for months.
- Better informed voters voted 51% in favor of pro-RO candidates.
- Two out of three candidates actually elected were in favor of the aquifer sourced reverse osmosis plant.
- The election of just one anti-RO candidate was won by only 18 votes. Hardly a landslide.
- Right after the 2017 election, Brunswick County announced plans to add a reverse osmosis plant to deal with the contamination in the Cape Fear River. The CFPUA in New Hanover County announced plans to deal with the same issue. This confirmed the wisdom of previous H2GO commissioners who began the planning and development of the aquifer sourced reverse osmosis system.
- Then, dramatic price increases announced shortly after by the county, also confirmed the financial wisdom of completing the reverse osmosis plant.
- What is clear is that:
- In 2017, the understanding about river contamination had had a complete upheaval since the election in 2015.
- Based on the total majority vote in 2017, the electorate wanted the RO plant
- Based on election of two out of three candidates in favor of the RO plant in 2017, the electorate wants the RO plant.
- So let’s ask the question again. What really was the then current will of the people at the last election?
Clearly, it was in favor of the completion of the RO plant.
- And finally, and just before the upcoming election this November, both Leland and the H2GO board majority have come out supposedly in favor of completing the RO plant. Had Belville not obtained and held the assets of H2GO in trust for the customers, there would be no discussion possible at this point about completing the RO plant.
- Finally, my opinion: The best interests of the customers and the will of the customers were, in fact, served by the Town of Belville acquiring and protecting the H2GO assets on behalf of the H2GO customers since 2017.
- It is important to note that while there is an appeal pending, the courts have not had their final say on this issue.
- Major Problems with Previous Drafts of the proposed Inter-Local Agreement:
- No firm promise to complete the plant, nor is there a time schedule to complete the plant. There is only a conditional promise to complete the reverse osmosis plant and this promise is couched in legalese maybes. H2GO could walk away from completing the plant without legal consequences.
- A “gift” of a problematic water and sewer infrastructure to H2GO with no representation as to the number or scope of the problems or the expected repair costs or possible DEQ penalty costs for inadequacies of the system.
- Leland wants H2GO to pay any system-related DEQ penalties or lawsuit costs.
- Leland wants H2GO to pay certain Leland court costs both current and going forward
- Leland wants to retain some kind of ownership in that infrastructure.
- Leland wants to force developers to annex to Leland in order to receive water and sewer services from H2GO.
- Leland wants to be able to take back the infrastructure
- Leland wants to include a process to annex Belville over a 20 year period.