NC Supreme Court sides with Oak Island in sewer system dispute

NC Supreme Court sides with Oak Island in sewer system dispute
Oak Island water tower (Source: WECT)

OAK ISLAND, N.C. (WECT) - North Carolina’s highest court has sided with the town of Oak Island, reversing a lower court’s decision on whether the town has the right to levy sewer fees on undeveloped properties.

The case, which was heard on Feb. 4 with an opinion filed Feb. 28, began when Bobby Boles filed a lawsuit against the town in 2015.

In that suit, Boles argued the town did not have the right to collect the fees established to help offset the cost of the town’s new sewer system — fees made possible by a 2004 action by the North Carolina General Assembly — from the owners of undeveloped properties.

From 2010 to 2017, the fee program resulted in developed property owners paying a total of $4,478.57 in fees, while undeveloped property owners would have paid $3,978.08. The appellate court whose decision the supreme court overturned had pointed out in its ruling that from 2015 to 2017, the owners of undeveloped properties were actually paying more per year than those who owned developed lots.

Property owners argued that because their lots were undeveloped and not connected to the sewer system, the sewer service was not truly “available” to them, and therefore they should not be required to pay the fees.

The Court of Appeals ruled in a split judgment on May 2, 2018, in favor of the property owners, but that result has now been reversed.

The reversal was just one page, and says: “We reverse the decision of the Court of Appeals for the reasons stated in the dissenting opinion.”

Judge Allegra Collins disagreed with her two fellow judicial colleagues, arguing the opposite with regard to the “availability” language.

Collins argued that just because property owners would have to go through the development process in order to connect to the sewer system, doesn’t mean that it isn’t “available” to them.

WECT has reached out to the town to find out what happens to the attorneys’ fees and other court costs that have been expended during this process, as well as for a comment regarding the ruling, but so far has not received a response.

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