BRUNSWICK COUNTY, N.C. (WECT) - After two years of contentious politics, arguments and a complicated lawsuit, Brunswick County voters came out in masses to vote for the two open seats on the H2GO Water and Sewer Authority Board of Commissioners.
Steve Hosmer and Barry Laub, who ran together in support of building a stand-alone reverse osmosis (RO) plant, won the election with 29 and 27 percent of the vote, respectively.
The two ousted incumbent Jeff Gerken, who has long been opposed to a stand-alone plant, instead advocating for a regional solution with Brunswick County.
The issue is tightly intertwined in a complicated legal battle between H2GO, the Town of Leland and the Town of Belville.
Commissioner-elect Steve Hosmer said his main focus is on getting the RO plant built as quickly as possible.
“The first step is just to get that plant built, and what differentiates Brunswick County and H2GO is Brunswick County will continue to use river water and H2GO will be using aquifer water, and that has a different level of cleanliness," Hosmer said. "We’re excited to get that done, and it will also control prices for H2GO customers. So, it’s a double win for them.”
The community wont see changes until attorneys from all three parties can settle the lawsuit with a judge.
In April, a judge ordered H2GO’s assets to be delivered back to the board. Belville attorneys appealed that decision, buying them enough time to get through another election in which the majority opinion on the board shifted in their favor.
Belville Mayor Michael Allen said the town will instruct its attorneys to ask a judge to drop the current appeal in the lawsuit and have the assets transferred back to the newly-elected board as soon as possible.
“Yesterday the voters spoke, and they spoke very loud," Mayor Allen said. “I think they have given us our mandate. My town had no intentions of trying to be water and sewer operators but we had to protect those resources the best we could for the people.”
Once the lawsuit is resolved, Hosmer said they will get straight to work on the RO plant project.
“After that, it will take 15 months to get it completed," Hosmer said. “So, we could be looking at 2021 to deliver clean aquifer water to our customers.”
Commissioner Jeff Gerken released the following statement Wednesday regarding his loss:
“I am, of course, disappointed that Mr. Bradley and I were not able to convince a majority of the voters of the importance of having a regional solution to the provision of water and sewer services in northern Brunswick County. I am concerned that the 70% of H2GO customers who live in Leland may not be well-represented by the new majority. I hope that they will rise above the sentiments they have expressed regarding Leland over the last two years. I am very proud that John and I ran a clean, truthful campaign. Every word in our communications to the voters was vetted for accuracy and supported by documentation. I want to thank all of the people who helped us in our campaign. I particularly want to thank John, who put together our web page, and my wife, June, who researched thousands of pages of meeting minutes, court documents, and press releases and helped us prepare the mailings, emails, and web documents used in our campaign. And, I want to thank all of the voters who did support us.”
WECT also reached out to Commissioner Bill Beer, who will soon be the only H2GO commissioner not in favor of building the stand alone RO plant. Instead, Beer supported a RO plant built in conjunction with Brunswick County. Beer did not return our request for comment.
After her landslide victory Tuesday, Leland Mayor Brenda Bozeman said she was always in favor of a combined solution between H2GO and Brunswick County but said she would support a stand-alone plant to restore unity to a divided community.
"If it brings my community back together by going ahead and building another RO plant just for this area, I’ll do what’s necessary to make that happen,” Bozeman said.
Both Hosmer and Allen said they look forward to mending fences between the communities.
WECT also reached out to Leland Town Manager David Hollis. He declined our request for interview but said he hopes there is still an opportunity to compromise with the other boards.