LELAND, NC (WWAY) — It was a long and bitter battle, and it might not be over yet. But if the results of the election for H2Go Board of Directors hold, millions of dollars could be down the drain in northern Brunswick County.
With all precincts in, incumbent Ron Jenkins, who supports building a multi-million-dollar reverse osmosis plant near Magnolia Greens in Leland appears to have won reelection to the board with more than 18 percent of the vote. Another pro-RO candidate, Rodney McCoy, is in second place with 1,792 votes. That’s one vote ahead of anti-RO candidate Bill Beer.
If Beer does finish in the top three, he would join Trudy Trombley and Jeff Gerkin on the board opposing the RO plant. Trombley and Gerkin won election two years ago promising to do all they could to stop the plant, but have been in the minority on the five-member board.
But it’s still unclear if Beer or even McCoy will win election. Incumbent Carl Antos, who supports RO, is just 23 votes behind Beer. Anti-RO candidates Don Yousey and Brayton Willis are within 69 votes of Antos.
All of this means the election and the future of reverse osmosis in northern Brunswick County could come down to the election canvass later this month, where the Brunswick County Board of Elections will review absentee and provisional ballots, and the possibility of a recount.
H2Go’s plans for the reverse osmosis plant have been the center of debate for years despite it getting state regulatory approval. Leland leaders have pushed to stop the project and even appealed its state permit, and Brunswick County Commissioners, who run Brunswick County Utilities, which provides water from the Cape Fear River to H2Go for distribution to its customers, convinced H2Go to hold off on final approval of the project until after this election because the board’s majority could change.
While final spending approval was on hold, the project has moved forward. Crews have been working since June on five well sites near US 17 to prepare for the plant. H2Go Executive Director Bob Walker told WWAY that the utility has allocated $8 million for the project and spent about $4-5 million of that so far.
Many H2Go customers became more interested in the idea of the RO plant, which would pull water from deep aquifers instead of from the Cape Fear River, because of the discovery of GenX and many other potentially harmful compounds in the river’s water.
Proponents had already argued that the plant would pay for itself without rate hikes by cutting the nearly $2 million annual cost of H2Go buying water from the county.
Opponents, though, argued the plant would certainly mean rate increases, and that if an RO plant were built, it should be done on the county level to spread the cost around a larger base.