WILMINGTON, NC (WECT) - Cape Fear Public Utility Authority customers will see a rise in their water and sewer rates in 2019.
The CFPUA board approved the 2019 budget at its meeting Wednesday. That budget includes a 2.16 percent increase in residential customers' yearly combined water and sewer bills, totaling about $16.44. The budget also includes $650,000 to deal with GenX and other compounds in the water.
According to CFPUA Board Chairman Mike Brown, money for GenX did factor into the water and sewer rate hike. The $650,000 will go toward legal fees in litigation with Chemours, and testing and sampling costs for GenX. CFPUA has spent almost $2 million on GenX in the past year.
"Originally, CFPUA took a lot of the brunt of the emotions surrounding the issue, which I think was unfortunate because really, this was a regulatory issue and Chemours was the ones who had put this stuff in the river," Brown said. "We were just on the receiving end and everybody on this board, including myself, drinks the water."
The rise in rates will also go toward projects to help upkeep systems and services.
Wilmington resident Beth Markesino came to CFPUA's board meeting. She said she is OK with the rates rising if it helps eliminate GenX.
"This is the only way that Chemours speaks is in dollar bills, so if we can get them in that way, by filing a class action lawsuit, then file away," said Markesino, who started the North Carolina Stop GenX in Our Water Facebook group. "We have to stand up and fight for the rights of our communities.
"I don't want to pay $16.44 extra a month, but I feel that CFPUA has no other way to pay to provide us with clean water."
Operating costs for CFPUA increased by $1.3 million over the past year. According to CFPUA's Chief Financial Officer John McLean, half of this increase is due to GenX fees.
Brown and CFPUA Executive Director Jim Flechtner said CFPUA hopes to earn at least some of that money back in litigation with Chemours.
"We believe that the expense to keep the water clean and to provide the water to our customers that doesn't have GenX shouldn't be something that our customers should have to pay for," Flechtner said. "We think it should be something Chemours pays for and we're going to continue fighting for that."
When WECT asked Brown and Flechtner for their thoughts on Chemours' public meeting Tuesday night in Robeson County, both said they'd like to see the company have meetings with the public in Wilmington.
"It was long, long overdue," Brown said. "I think there's a lot of work to be done and transparency is important, so maybe this is the first step in improving their transparency. I'll at least acknowledge that they've come out and said something to the public. The public certainly deserves that."
Brown said CFPUA has approved plans for a granular activated carbon filtration system to filter out GenX. The project design will be done by September, and then it will have to be approved again this fall.
The project costs more than $40 million, according to Brown. Customers will see this cost factor into their rates in the next 18 months if it's approved.