Tuesday, April 23, 2024

Brunswick residents sign clean water petition, cite potential civil rights implications

Brunswick County residents submitted a petition to commissioners requesting funding for access to clean water. (Port City Daily/File)

BRUNSWICK COUNTY — Hundreds of Black residents submitted a petition Monday to the Brunswick County commissioners asking them to obtain more funding for clean water and sewer initiatives in their communities.

Many of the petition’s 376 signers live in unincorporated parts of the county and access their drinking water from private wells. The residents — living in or near Supply, Winnabow, Navassa, and others — report a foul-smelling odor and rust in their water causing them to purchase bottled water, carry laundry to a laundromat, and even avoid washing their hair at home.

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Organized by the Brunswick County NAACP and nonprofit human rights and environmental organization EarthRights, the petition points out the lack of clean water presents civil rights concerns. 

“I can look at the dogs and the cats of different things in the community of the middle class, the dogs and cats in the zoos all day with all the different animals drinking cleaner water than the ones [with] lower income,” Brunswick County NAACP President Carl Parker said. 

Parker indicated deficiencies in effective infrastructure have been persistent for at least 20 years. He said residents have raised concerns to county commissioners before, yet their requests have been “put on a list” rather than advanced. 

Port City Daily reached out to Brunswick County commissioners for comment but no one responded by press.

The influx of new builds in Brunswick County — in the top 10 of the fastest-growing counties in the nation — has highlighted the problem even more, according to Parker. 

“All your money is going to the new people coming in and the deeper-pocket folks,” Parker said. “Lower-income [people] are still left on the sideline — the little bit of money that comes into areas where the lower income is not enough money to play a scrimmage game.” 

According to the petition, a 2014 study found that “every 10% increase in the African American population proportion within a census block increases the odds of exclusion  from municipal water service by 3.8%.”

The petition states Brunswick County, as a recipient of federal funding, “has a legal obligation under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to ensure that federal funds are distributed and spent in a way that does not have an adverse disparate impact on racial minorities.” 

Despite that federal protection, several predominantly Black communities across the nation — Flint, Michigan, Jackson, Mississippi, and Campti, Louisiana — lack clean water and government commitment to make needed infrastructure repairs. 

“Access to clean water, which is a basic human right, is unfortunately not something that everyone benefits from in the United States,” EarthRights climate justice attorney Maryum Jordan said. 

For these residents, the cost to obtain county water and sewer starts at $784 without tap installation, $3,084 with a tap — and that’s for a one-bedroom. A four-bedroom costs $2,320 and $4,620, respectively.

Sewer plans start at $1,333 for one-bedrooms and go up to $6,665 for a five-bedroom, according to Brunswick County Utilities. Both water and sewer connections have a payment plan for residents, who are now requesting the county cover those costs by applying for state money. 

The Community Development Block Grant funds are distributed to states from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Typically targeted to people with low and moderate incomes, the funds are available to local municipal or county governments for projects “to enhance the vitality of communities by providing decent housing and suitable living environments and expanding economic opportunities.”

Last year, the state awarded 27 municipalities — including to the Town of Leland — more than $40 million for housing and public improvements. 

With that money, residents are asking for the extension of water and sewer lines to the homes of disadvantaged residents, with simultaneous installation of new fire hydrants in the neighborhoods, along with the hook-up of water and sewer lines to the homes. 

Additionally, they are asking for private well retrofitting with up-to-date water filtration systems and piping for the homes of disadvantaged residents. 

“We’re not asking them to spend their own money,” Jordan said. “Other counties and cities are doing it, and Brunswick County needs to step up and do it as well.”

At their Monday meeting, the commissioners received a presentation from Parker representing the petitioners. They directed staff to review the petition and reach out to the county’s consultants at Ward and Smith P.A. to see if there are federal opportunities to support water and sewer infrastructure needs related to the petition.

Reach journalist Brenna Flanagan at brenna@localdailymedia.com.

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