By Kendall McGee | May 3, 2021 at 7:04 PM EDT – Updated May 3 at 9:09 PM
BOLIVIA, N.C. (WECT) – Brunswick County residents are facing bigger water bills in the coming year to pay for a reverse osmosis water plant under construction in Leland.
Its been four years since leaders discovered PFAS in the region’s drinking water and local leaders are still trying to fix the issue.
“The number one goal — the number one goal is health and public safety,” said Brunswick County chairman Randy Thompson.
Solutions like Brunswick County’s reverse osmosis water treatment plant are well into their construction, but the time is here to pay down the bonds used to make the project possible.
The county is absorbing some of the cost of the new facility, but with a price tag of over $167 million, they need more funds.
Increasing system development fees to make up the difference isn’t an option. Grants and federal funding will not cover it, in part because PFAS is unregulated right now and there’s no legal limit of concentration in drinking water.
The county can’t use money from the government from COVID-19 on this project either because that money can only be used for specific pubic health purposes.
The county has an active lawsuit against the company ultimately responsible for dispersing the chemical into the water system, but that settlement will not come to fruition for years.
Leaders say the only option left is to increase the price of water until the settlement money from Chemours comes down.
“You know we have a violator, and that violator needs to be held accountable for our water and we’re doing everything we can to move the process forward just as quick as we can, but we have to move forward to provide the better quality water to our residents,” explained Thompson.
The county’s residential customers will see a $10 increase per month and the towns who buy water from the county wholesale will see $2.36 increase per 1,000 gallons.
The county says that translates to an $11 increase for people in towns like Shallotte or Ocean Isle Beach; however, leaders in those towns say the issue is a little bit more complicated.
The municipalities say that what’s happening is more than an 80 percent increase in their costs, and it will result in much higher water bills for their customers.
In Shallotte, each user will see their bill go up 40 percent and there’s little Brunswick County can do to avoid passing the cost on to their customers.
It’s a similar story in Ocean Isle Beach, where customers face increases of 26 to 45 percent, based on the household’s water usage. The rates will be even higher for businesses, ranging from 55 percent to 59 percent.
Each town is working to change the story for its customers, but the one thing that’s a constant now is that the town will have clean water soon.
“Construction is certainly underway and we’re moving forward and we certainly — at a time that is very near in the future — we hope to provide that quality level of water that our residents would expect us to provide them,” said Chairman Thompson.
The debate is still ongoing about how the rates will be implemented, and nothing is final until county leaders approve the budget in June. If the measure is approved, the changes are slated to go into effect in January of 2022.
The Town of Shallotte’s mayor issued the following statement Monday in response to the proposed rate hikes:
In January 2021, the County announced that it would increase the price it charges wholesale purchasers such as the Town of Shallotte by 81%. This increase will result in significantly higher water bills for all Brunswick County customers.
The Town of Shallotte has engaged in several conversations with County officials in an attempt to seek ways to mitigate the impact of this substantial increase. Unfortunately, those conversations were unsuccessful.
Shallotte’s water rates were set after reviewing detailed engineering studies. The rates that Shallotte presently charges and will charge the majority of its residential users is less than or equal to the County’s current and new rate.
Shallotte’s water rates are tiered to usage so that the greater the use of water the higher the rate. This structure is designed to foster conservation. Accordingly, for large commercial users the costs are higher per thousand gallons consumed than for residential users with significantly lower use. A detailed analysis of the impact of the County increase of water rates demonstrates that greater than 70% of the increase for large commercial users is due to the County increase.
For example, a commercial user in Shallotte will see its annual water bill increase by approximately $9600. If that user were located in the County their annual bill would increase $7500.
Suggestions that Shallotte not pass on the cost of this increase ignore the realities of municipal finance.
Shallotte is reviewing all its options and will continue to seek ways to help all its customers — residential and commercial.
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