BRUNSWICK COUNTY, N.C. (WECT) - The Town of Leland has declined a proposed settlement to end an ongoing lawsuit between the town, H2GO, and the town of Belville regarding H2GO water and sewer assets.
A letter, signed by Leland Mayor Brenda Bozeman, was delivered on Friday, Feb. 21, to Ron Jenkins, Chairman of the H2GO Board of Commissioners, as well as H2GO’s Executive Director Bob Walker and Belville Mayor Mike Allen.
Bozeman wrote that the town supports the immediate construction of a reverse osmosis plant if it is the product of regional cooperation based on terms proposed by the town in Oct. 2019.
"This would be achieved by the previously proposed regional compromise plan that representatives of Belville, the Sanitary District and Leland discussed and tentatively agreed to last year,” said Bozeman. “We hope to reengage in a dialogue with Belville and H2GO officials to finalize the regional compromise plan, so this matter can be resolved quickly with a solution that addresses everyone’s interests.”
H2GO proposed settling a 2-year-long lawsuit last month based on the following premises:
- The Town of Belville will transfer back to H2GO all the assets transferred by H2GO to the Town of Belville in 2017;
- H2GO will agree to pay the Town of Leland $800,000 toward the costs and attorney’s fees incurred by the Town of Leland in filing and pursuing the litigation;
- The Towns of Leland and Belville and H2GO will have the appeals that have been filed with the Court of Appeals withdrawn by counsel within ten days of the execution of a written settlement agreement;
- The Towns of Leland and Belville and H2GO will jointly move the Court in the pending litigation to modify the preliminary injunction that was entered on December 28, 2017 to remove and delete decretal paragraph 8, which prohibits H2GO and the Town of Belville from constructing or making arrangements to construct the RO Plant permitted by NPDES Permit NC0089613;
- The Town of Leland will withdraw, with prejudice, the claim in the pending litigation asserting that H2GO violated the North Carolina Open Meetings Law as well as the request that the Town of Leland has made for costs and attorney's fees;
- The Town of Leland will agree to facilitate and not to oppose, obstruct or impair, the construction and operation by H2GO of the RO Plant permitted by NPDES Permit NC 0089613.
In the letter, Bozeman wrote that the ongoing lawsuit goes beyond the reverse osmosis plant and is about local governments acting lawfully and ethically. You can read the full letter here.
H2GO Public Information officer Tyler Wittkofsky responded late Friday saying they were disappointed the Town of Leland denied their proposal.
“We’re really disappointed that they declined such a fair and equitable proposal. We gave them everything they had asked for previously with the judges order, we followed it to a T and they came back and declined it," he said. “They were more worried about the annexation that was in there and getting control of our assets and having a stake in our assets.”
Wittkofsky says the board is not interested in revisiting the previous proposal until after the lawsuit is settled.
In 2017, the outgoing H2GO Board of Commissioners voted to transfer $56 million of H2GO assets to Belville in a last ditch effort to save the controversial reverse-osmosis plant. Voters, some of whom thought the reverse-osmosis plant was unnecessary and expensive, had voted in a new board of commissioners opposed to the plant. The vote to transfer assets for just $10 to Belville came before the new H2GO board had been sworn in. For the last two years, H2GO has been in a legal battle with Belville to regain control of the assets.
Belville Mayor Mike Allen also commented on the letter.
As far as the Town of Belville is concerned, the reasons we took the actions we took to start with was about clean, safe drinking water for the town’s people. Leland’s goal is to do forced annexation and use H2GO to do it. The letter that they sent us today, H2GO made them a settlement offer and they basically have refused. They want us to go back in the past and have more discussion with them."
Allen said Belville leaders would sit down with Leland to discuss the issue but will not consider past deals.