Thursday, December 8, 2022

Case closed: H2GO pays Belville $100K in legal fees, brings years-long settlement to end

Brunswick Regional Water & Sewer H2GO has reimbursed the Town of Belville for legal fees associated with its illegal asset transfer settlement. (PCD/Alexandria Sands Williams).

BELVILLE — After years of litigation over an illegal assets transfer, the Brunswick Regional Water & Sewer H2GO has reimbursed the Town of Belville for legal fees and gained back possession of its reverse osmosis water plant in Brunswick County. 

Belville owed $239,484 in legal fees to the Town of Leland, which issued a restraining order against the town in 2017. H2GO agreed to reimburse Belville for half the fees, resulting in a payment of $119,749 issued on Aug. 19. 

READ MORE: Court sides with Belville, H2GO, lifts injunction allowing RO construction to continue

Though the bulk of litigation was resolved in 2020, the transfer of legal fees were not finalized until this year. 

The 2020 decision allowed construction to resume on H2GO’s reverse osmosis plant in Belville’s town limits. Reverse osmosis is a water filtration method to remove per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), or “forever chemicals” like GenX, from the area’s drinking water. 

“H2GO’s reimbursement of half of the legal fees and costs awarded to Leland acknowledges the efforts to save both the reverse osmosis plant and the utility itself,” Belville Mayor Mike Allen said in a press release. “By saving the RO [reverse osmosis] plant, our citizens and H2GO’s customers will drink clean, safe drinking water for generations to come, and at the most affordable rates in the region.”

Both Leland and Belville wanted the utility authority for themselves, which served unincorporated communities in northeastern Brunswick County before either municipality became an official town. The utility provider would provide a steady revenue stream and dedicated infrastructure for a growing population for the town that controlled the authority. The two municipalities also have a long history of thwarting the other’s attempts to incorporate, acquire land and possess various infrastructure.  

In November of that year, H2GO’s board, with an outgoing majority, voted to transfer the $60 million-worth of assets to Belville for only $10. Board members justified the move as “saving” the reverse osmosis facility, since the newly elected board members were against the plant. Those members questioned the need for and effectiveness of the plant in relation to its $35 million price tag. 

The move prompted Leland to file a restraining order against Belville, along with H2GO and three of its officials, citing the town for subverting the will of an election by voting on a matter that would not have passed under new leadership. 

In 2018, a judge essentially “froze” the assets until a decision on the transfer’s legality could be reached, so Belville maintained control of H2GO. In 2019, a different judge sided with Leland and ordered the transfer illegal, stripping Belville of its control and returning it to H2GO. 

Belville appealed the decision. 

After the three parties failed to reach an agreement, twice, Belville redacted its appeal following a settlement with H2GO that did not involve Leland.

In 2020, the injunction placed on moving H2GO’s assets was lifted, paving the way for H2GO to reobtain its assets, including the reverse osmosis plant. Following that decision, H2GO could continue construction on the site. 

In 2021, Leland and H2GO decided to consolidate their water and sewer plants into joint ownership of the utilities, but with H2GO managing operation of services. However, the authority still services people in Belville and other parts of northeastern Brunswick County, contributing to a 15,000-customer base. 

“We are glad this matter is behind us. H2GO considers both the Town of Belville and the Town of Leland our community partners,” H2GO executive director Bob Walker said in a press release. “H2GO’s board and staff are focused on the future as the only utility provider in the Lower Cape Fear River Basin who will supply PFAS-free, clean, safe drinking water, for residents in Belville and Leland.”


Reach journalist Brenna Flanagan at brenna@localdailymedia.com 

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