Divided New Hanover commissioners issue separate responses to GenX research bill veto

NEW HANOVER COUNTY, NC (WECT) - The New Hanover County Board of Commissioners released dueling statements Monday regarding Governor Roy Cooper's veto of legislation aimed at providing money to local agencies to study and monitor a toxic chemical known as Gen-X which has been discovered in the Cape Fear River.

The Republican commissioners — Woody White, Skip Watkins, and Patricia Kusek — issued the following response to Cooper's veto:

HB 56 included several of New Hanover County's top legislative priorities including funding for GenX research and testing, and the establishment of a program to protect the state's shoreline from coastal storms.

The Democratic commissioners — Jonathan Barfield and Rob Zapple — released the following statement:

The veto of HB 56 bill emphasizes the importance of environmental protection across the Cape Fear region and the entire state of North Carolina. 

HB 56 falls short of providing vital resources to the state agencies that protect our drinking water and does not direct enough money to all necessary agencies to combat the problem of GenX and other unregulated compounds in our drinking water. Another portion of the same bill also takes away important solid waste disposal options, causing operating challenges that will cost taxpayers additional money not only for New Hanover County’s landfill but for landfills and solid waste enterprises across the state. We acknowledge that HB 56 met a top priority of creating the framework of a state program that supports coastal storm damage reduction, and we support that policy without hesitation, but this bill, as it is written, covering multiple, unconnected issues, is not the right way to meet that objective.  

The N.C. General Assembly is encouraged to find a sustainable solution to tackle the long-term challenge of protecting our county’s drinking water, supporting coastal storm damage reduction funding, and ensuring business practices that protect the long term interests of taxpayers and make for viable local solid waste enterprises.

HB 56 contained $435,000 in extra funding for the Cape Fear Public Utility Authority and UNC Wilmington to study, clean up, and monitor the chemical.

Cooper criticized the wide-ranging environmental measure saying the money was nowhere near the $2.6 million that two state agencies requested so they could hire additional water quality monitors and scientists to handle the Gen-X threat.

"This legislation provides zero dollars to the two agencies that set the standards for clean water and enforce the law. So, what we need is for the general assembly to pass legislation for those agencies that do that and we need to work together," Cooper said in a statement issued last Thursday.

He went on to say that everyone needs to work on the issue together to find a solution.

"Scientists and engineers and monitors and people who write these permits they need help in making sure they can keep the water clean and we are going to provide them that help and we need the general assembly to do the same thing," Cooper said.

"The people in the Wilmington and across this state deserve clean drinking water and we need to make sure that happens," Cooper said.

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