BELVILLE, NC (WWAY) — Belville leaders are offering up their own proposal for the future of water and sewer service in northern Brunswick County days after Leland suggested what should be done with H2GO.
In a statement from the mayor and town commissioners, Belville proposed returning the assets to H2GO so that agency can build and operate a reverse osmosis (RO) plant, as has been proposed for years.
Last week Leland proposed an interlocal agreement that would see Leland and H2GO build and run the RO plant. But Belville says that’s not a true regional solution.
“Looking at Leland’s years of efforts to kill the plant using legal and legislative processes, it’s clear Leland’s plan is simply a money and power grab,” Belville’s statement reads. “It does not have any water experts on its staff and has a long track record of failing to construct and operate major infrastructure or programs, including its Town Hall and its wastewater system. Its finances are not in order; the town is requiring another tax increase to address past mistakes.”
Belville leaders pointed to Leland’s announcement, sent out shortly after 2 a.m. on May 16, not including Belville, Navassa or Brunswick County as part of the plan.
In its counterproposal Belville proposes:
- The Town of Belville shall return all assets transferred in 2017 from H2GO to the Town of Belville, back to H2GO.
- H2GO agrees to retain all assets of H2GO and may not transfer any or all of those assets to any other entity.
- H2GO shall contractually agree to restart and execute on the completion of the RO project as quickly as possible.
- H2GO shall withdraw from the lawsuit as its wish to have assets returned to H2GO will have been satisfied.
- The Town of Leland shall withdraw from the lawsuit as its wish to have assets returned to H2GO will have been satisfied.
- The Town of Leland agrees not to initiate any further lawsuits nor any form of legal action whatsoever against any of H2GO, the RO project or the Town of Belville for a period of 36 months.
- The Town of Belville agrees not to initiate any lawsuits or legal action against The Town of Leland or against H2GO for a period of 36 months.
- H2GO agrees not to initiate any lawsuits or legal action against The Town of Leland or The Town of Belville for a period of 36 months.
The statement says the proposal, much of which it says was presented by H2GO Commissioner Rodney McCoy and Compass Pointe residents late last year, is primarily designed to produce the following:
|H2GO||Town of Leland||Town of Belville|
|What each party gets||Gets assets back
Gets control back
Gets net revenue back
Gets a regional solution
Ends litigation legal fees
|Assets returned to H2GO
All H2GO customers vote for H2GO commissioners
Ends litigation legal fees
|Guaranteed completion of the RO project without responsibility for that completion
Ends litigation legal fees
Leland’s proposal followed a Brunswick County Superior Court decision on April 22. In that ruling, Judge Charles Henry said the transfer of the Brunswick Regional Water and Sewer (H2GO) Sanitary District, which included millions in cash and assets, to the Town of Belville in 2017 was illegal.
A week ago a judge decided that within the next week Belville and Leland must come up with an order that gives details of their plan for the property.
On Friday afternoon the Town of Leland responded:
On Friday, May 24, Belville claimed to be issuing a proposal that, in actuality, would reward Belville for misconduct.
The Belville proposal forecasts Belville’s unwillingness to work with other local governments in the region to help heal the problems that have divided us for years. The proposal is nothing new; Belville simply proposes that H2GO build the RO Plant, that no action be taken on the compromises that Leland offered as concessions in return for its willingness to build the plant, and that Belville face no consequences after a finding that it is a court-adjudicated wrongdoer.
“Belville’s proposal is not in the spirit of compromise,” said Leland Mayor Brenda Boseman. “Our plan offers to collaborate and do things for the community as a whole, whereas the Belville plan is for Belville to leverage the assets it wrongfully took in order to force its will on the entire region. I wish Belville’s leadership would get serious about working together rather than using its unlawful takeover of H2GO to create a standoff with a hostage-taker.”
Belville’s proposal does not give the District’s water customers anything that they would not also receive under the Leland plan, but it cuts a very one-sided deal in favor of Belville. The only thing Belville promises to do is return the assets to H2GO, something a Court has ruled it should have to do anyway. Belville would then profit by not having to pay attorneys’ fees that the law requires it to pay.
North Carolina G.S. § 6-21.7 states that if a judge finds “that the city’s or county’s action was an abuse of its discretion, the court shall award attorneys’ fees and costs.” The judge found that “the commissioners of both governing boards of H2GO [the prior board] and Belville, acting in concert, failed to act in good faith, and their actions were so clearly unreasonable as to amount to an oppressive and manifest abuse of their discretion.” Accordingly, attorneys’ fees are required.
“We’ve proposed working with Belville to get the RO Plant built regionally and to reduce the fees Belville owes us, but Belville officials don’t seem to be able to take ‘yes’ for an answer,” added Mayor Boseman. “They are insisting on getting everything they want, or they won’t come to the table. I hope they will eventually show an interest in a real compromise resolution instead of media stunts.”
Belville’s proposed plan also fails to account for the needs of other interested stakeholders. By contrast, the Regional Compromise Solution affords the same economic development protections to Navassa and Belville that it does to Leland.
Belville’s proposed solution is contradicted by statements made by Belville Mayor Mike Allen when he attended the Sanitary District’s meeting on May 21. While the Sanitary District Board was in closed session, Allen addressed the crowd still waiting in the main meeting chamber.
Allen indicated that he would use Belville’s unlawful possession and its current appeal to try to force his will on the Sanitary District, returning the assets only if Belville likes the way the voters vote in November:
“[I]f you keep the current injunction in, this appeal will go beyond, way beyond, a November election. …And the real fight is about putting it back into your hands. If everything should goes back to the way it should be right now, I can promise you this: if you put the right people on that board, I will turn the assets back over the day they’re sworn in. Give it all back. We will step back from it, move back and let H2GO do their business.”
“If the [preliminary] injunction stays intact during the appeal, everything stays as is, will not change no matter what vote they [presumably the Sanitary District’s Board members] take.”
“The appeal is going no matter what. The judge can introduce what they call a permanent injunction. He has the ability to do that. Which he can tell us to turn all the assets over. But what happens during that, we can also appeal that. And what’s going to be is they’ll be safeguarded to then protect our rights until the appeal is finalized. What basically, what it’s boiling down to people is it’s in your hands. Votes in November will be the key. The people can stand up and speak and if you speak loud enough it will pretty much take care of the issue.”
These comments – combined with the fact that Belville fought tooth-and-nail in court last Friday to maintain its stranglehold on H2GO’s assets – demonstrates that Belville is not serious about settling on terms that benefit the collective interests of H2GO customers and the citizens of Leland, Navassa, Belville and unincorporated Brunswick County.
“No attorney with an IQ of room temperature would ever recommend the ‘Belville-wins-even-though-it-lost’ deal to his client, given all that has happened, which I suspect Belville knows” said Joe Dowdy, attorney for Leland in this matter. “It would reward Belville’s historically bad conduct in subverting the democratic process and its aggression towards Leland and would not adequately protect Leland from the kind of inter-regional hostility that Belville’s committed.”
Belville’s press release also misrepresents the facts. Leland officials hold more advanced water treatment certifications than anyone on staff at H2GO. And both staffs have distribution certifications equal to the respective water distribution systems they operate.
Additionally, Leland is not raising taxes this year. Leland has a beautiful town hall that it appropriately held the contractor accountable for completing correctly years ago. Leland’s finances are in excellent shape as reported annually in its audits. It is unclear why Belville would feel the need to make misrepresentations in its proposal if it really believes that it is a good proposal.
The Regional Compromise Plan offered by Leland is a compromise to address the following interests and many others:
- Belville wants the Plant built;
- The majority of the incoming H2GO board does not want H2GO to build the Plant itself;
- Some customers of H2GO want the plant built; and
- Belville does not have the financial wherewithal to build the plant itself (without unlawfully taking H2GO’s assets) and is a court-adjudicated wrongdoer regarding its actions with respect to H2GO.
Now that the court has spoken, we need a regional solution that has something for everyone. The Regional Compromise Plan offered by Leland does that. We urge Belville to reconsider.