CoastLine Candidate Interviews: H2GO Board of Commissioners

Sep 8, 2017

Brunswick Regional Water and Sewer H2GO, popularly known as H2GO, is a water and sewer utility in Brunswick County that serves the northeast portion of the County including Leland, Belville, parts of Navassa, and some customers located outside of these municipal boundaries.  H2GO serves over 10,000 water customers and nearly 6,000 sewer customers.

The historic growth rate for the service area, according to H2GO, is about 2.5% each year.  But last year, the customer base rose by more than 3.5% and the utility says it expects a similar growth rate going forward – and they say, they expect their customer base to double within the next 25 years.

H2GO currently buys finished water from Brunswick County Public Utilities. 

Since 2011, the utility has worked towards building its own Reverse Osmosis plant.  Constructing a $30-plus million plant is controversial with opponents concerned the project is not necessary and would saddle consumers with higher utility rates.

On this first edition of the 2017 CoastLine Candidate Interviews, we meet two current members of the H2GO Board of Commissioners who support moving forward with the RO plant. 

And we’ll meet one challenger candidate who strongly opposes the project.

The order of the candidates was randomly chosen just before air time.

Candidates in order of appearance:

Carl Antos, current Secretary, H2GO Board of Commissioners  [Segment 1]

Rachel Lewis Hilburn: Carl Antos, welcome to CoastLine.

Carl Antos: Thanks for having me and having the rest of the candidates.

RLH: Explain for us, first of all, why reverse osmosis is such an important option from your perspective? Why do you support the plan?

CA: Well, as it turned out, we started out in the very beginning looking at the economics of the whole thing. And with the growth factor that was facing Brunswick County Utilities, we began to search for our own water treatment plant. We finally realized that the reverse osmosis was probably the best and the least expensive way to go. Things have changed dramatically over the last couple of years, we've been finding out that there's more and more contaminants in the water, maybe as many as 3,000 or 4,000, most of them are unregulated. Most of them are unknown, as you saw in Friday's newspaper. Three more culprits have shown up, and I haven't had a chance to research who they are, or what they are, whether they are harmful or not.

RLH: And you're talking specifically about the discharge of GenX by Chemours and the two other byproducts?

CA: There's more to it than GenX. When I first got on the board, I realized that even though I had headed up an environmental group on Long Island -- and my main thrust was water on Long Island -- I had to polish up on a completely different system here. So I began attending just about every conference, convention and what have you, and very often I met some of these wonderful people that are overseeing the rivers and lakes across the United States. They would mention: stay away from surface water.

RLH: Are you talking about the river keepers organization like Cape Fear River Watch?

CA: Talk about wonderful people there, they're mostly young folks. They have important positions in DEQ, places like that, and even they had...I guess the first true alert I had was a young lady. I'd seen her make presentations locally and statewide. And she was always upbeat and what have you, and this was about two or three years ago, she came out, and she started talking about something that was called 1,4 dioxane. At that time we were on what's called the unregulated contaminant monitoring rule system. There was 30 contaminants that we had to monitor and follow, and one of them was 1,4 dioxane. When she spoke of this, instead of finishing in an upbeat fashion, she seemed a little depressed at the findings, because it hadn't been regulated, and consequently was not studied to the degree that say arsenic or something like that would've been studied.

RLH: And this is something, of course, we're seeing this a lot. Now we were learning about all these emerging compounds that are -- so far -- unregulated by federal entities or state entities. But knowing that this is still a huge cost in Brunswick County, of course, has talked about expanding their own coverage area and their service. Why not just -- and Brunswick County is also of course seeking a solution to these emerging compounds -- why not just join forces with the County Utility?

CA: Well, the only people that I'm responsible for unfortunately is the 10,000 water customers that we do have. We have a cure for the problem. We're the only one in this area that can cure that problem for perhaps 25,000 people. 

RLH: And you're saying the reverse osmosis is the best solution that we have for that technologically?

CA: Only solution.

RLH: So what about the 900 residents or so, who have signed a petition asking you to wait until after the elections to move forward on this? People are concerned about the funding of this, and what it could mean for them in the future. Are you waiting?

CA: Well, I think that the people out there and the public are unaware of the fact that this year, this fiscal year we will spend $1,800,000 on what's called finished water. Turns out that the water is really not finished. That's not the county's fault. It's who knows. It's a tremendous enterprise to begin to look into this. We've been at this RO plant since 2012. For many years we could have held meetings in a closed closet. No one showed up. Suddenly, we've had this push back on us, and we've studied this.

RLH: Doesn't the pushback largely come from people's concerns about funding? How would this reverse osmosis plan be funded? I mean, $30 million dollars is not nothing for our customer base of 10,000.

CA: Everything that I'm going to tell you is backed up by independent entities, be it the state or people that we had asked to take a look at this. We engaged an outfit called Raftelis who's made this, or they've made similar studies 54 different times. So they are sort of in the groove for taking a look at these problems. This year, like I said, we're going to spend $1,8000,000 for the spent, finished water. That is over and above what it's going to cost to build the plant and pay for it. We're in a growth factor -- I don't know how long -- the growth factor is going to go up and down, that's just the way it is. But it's got to be on the rise until we've reached our total customer capacity.

RLH: So how will you pay for that $30 million dollar plant?

CA: Okay. We won't be paying the county $1.8 million, and we won't be paying them at the end somewhere around three or four million dollars for what will probably be, in the neighborhood, on peak days eight hundred million gallons of water.

RLH: It's a lot of numbers. So we're then shaving off $5 or $6 million dollars. So where does the $25 million come from then to fund that plant?

CA: Every year we'll have to make a payment, that payment will be constant. It will be approximately 1:5 to the 1:6. As we go down the road, if we stay with the county, those rates will be rising. Our rates will remain absolutely the same.

RLH: How can you say that? How do you know that your rates will remain stable?

CA: Rastelis has told us.

RLH: And this is the consultant that you've engaged? 

CA: Absolutely.

RLH: Jane writes: H2GO began looking at an alternate water source six years ago, proved to be a sharp decision with the recent discovery of GenX and other contaminants in the Cape Fear River. Why do you think there's continued opposition to the project? I asked you about these nine hundred or so people who signed the petition saying please wait till after the election.

CA: It's an emotional response, not an educated response, unfortunately.

RLH: So you're saying to these people, one percent of the customer base or 10 percent, I'm not doing the math right. You're saying to them you're just not educated?

CA: They are being told by certain people things that have been maneuvered. We have not seen their facts and figures, and we have two members on our board that are from the opposition. As I said, we're being attacked by the water that we drink. Dr. Larry Cahoon, an oceanographer, a professor at UNCW, he refers to it as a toxic cocktail. And as I said in the very beginning, I had people telling me there's something wrong, but they couldn't expand on it, because these are unregulated, and no one knows exactly what harm or good they're doing us.

RLH: What are the potential negative environmental impacts from this reverse osmosis plant?

CA: Somewhere along the line we're going to find out that something's piling up within our bodies from drinking this water. I don't drink it anymore, that will cause the liver or kidney damage -- that seems to be where most of them attack.

RLH: I'm talking about the environmental impacts of the actual plant. I mean, will there be? There's going to be a wastewater discharge that goes into the Brunswick River. Can you tell us about that?

CA: OK. We have what is called the National Pollution Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit. It's been held up by the opposition. They petitioned the state, and we're slowly chipping away at that, because the water that we're going to be discharging is brine. There's brine in the river, and it is exactly the same amount that our discharge will be -- the same amount, percentage of brine that is in the Brunswick river at this time. In other words, it's like you're making spaghetti and you got a bottle of Ragu that you're cooking and you realize there's not enough and you pour more Ragu in there, doesn't change anything except the capacity.

RLH: And, of course, the Town of Leland is one of the opponents challenging the permit, partly on the grounds that not enough analysis was done on less environmentally impactful alternatives to this plant.

CA: They've just lost that argument, just last week. Anyway, I was asked by...I was chairman of the planning board for five years -- three out of the five years that I was on the board -- and the town manager at that time and the mayor hounded me and hounded me and hounded me, tried to get on that board to shut them down. I went over, took a look at H2GO. There were some problems with the board members, and their process and procedures, or actually a lack of policy, in other words, there was a lack of written policy. And they were operating under the same rules back when they first started back in the 80s. There were things that had to be changed, and as a board member I pressured, and we did change the board. Now the board is operating just as they're ordered to do by the federal government, period.

RLH: Recently, your board, the H2GO board, proposed putting RO systems in for Brunswick County Public Schools. Where is that proposal now, and who would pay for that?

RLH: Carl Antos, thank you so much for being with us today.

CA: It's over already?

RLH: Yes, it's very fast.

Don Yousey, U.S. Air Force veteran, Health Director for Brunswick County for 14 years [Segment 2]

Rachel Lewis Hilburn: Don Yousey, welcome to CoastLine.

Don Yousey: Glad to be here.

RLH: Don, I want to start with a question from Kirby who sent us an e-mail. He says with each passing day we learn of more contaminants present in the Cape Fear River. Brunswick County has no current solution, and is going to spend $60 billion plus or minus for expansion which does not address GenX. As a retired county health director, how can you oppose a clean water solution such as the reverse osmosis plan?

DY: That's a pretty complex question. The people who should be held accountable for putting the pollution in the water are the ones that should be made to pay for it. And so we should make sure they stop putting them in, and it will be a short period of time when it will be out of the water, if they've stopped putting up any other chemicals in the water. The problem I have with the RO, it isn't so much the contamination. They started with $29 million. Now, we're talking $35 million spread over a 10,000 customer base, and that's a lot like health insurance. If you buy health insurance, and you only insuring 100 or 200 people or even a 1,000 people it's very expensive, but if you can get a hundred thousand, two hundred thousand in a pool, the insurance gets cheaper. I think if you are going to RO, it ought to be done regionally, not by such a small group of people.

RLH: And so who would you like to see carry that torch forward?

DY: I think we should work with our regional partners: the county, the city, the state and find ways that this is the way to go to do it. Part of the problem with saying that this is going to correct the problem, is you have to look at the full plan. The backup for this plan, if something goes wrong, they're going to start using the county water again. That's their backup plan. So how does this fix that?

RLH: What we hear from a lot of people who are confused with all the news about GenX and then, you know, the two new recent byproducts that we've learned are are coming out of the Chemours' plant about 100 miles upstream from Wilmington. We're hearing people say well, the regulators are saying the water safe to drink, but these are chemical compounds that could be associated, and are likely associated, with forms of cancer in humans. So what do you say to people who are saying we need a solution right now? We can't wait for Brunswick County to figure it out.

DY: I just don't think there is a solution right now. If you study it over the long haul and this is the way you want to go and you want to do it larger, share it with more people that's the way to go. The problem you have is, if you look at the cancer studies comparing the Cape Fear region with the rest of the state, there is no increased cancer risk.

RLH: So if you win a seat on this board, and if you find yourself in a majority on the board, a majority that is mostly opposed to this RO plant, what happens to the work that's been done so far? Can this plant be stopped? Is that what you're trying to do?

DY: Part of our fear is, is we had an election two years ago people running against this. They won on the basis of three to one votes. Those people were against us. They've not been allowed to do anything. They've been frozen in place while they continue to move forward with this plan, even though they know the people object to it. In my neighborhood, they're still strongly against it. They don't want the plant, but they're moving forward. I hope they don't obligate these funds until after the election, and we can do something about it. But they certainly aren't listening to us.

RLH: Have you gotten any sense of a shift in public opinion since the news about GenX started to come out?

DY: I have heard that a few people are concerned about it, and some have gone and purchased ROs under their sinks. And I think that's a wise thing to do, if you have concerns. But that's the individual deciding to spend $200 to $300 to make water for his drinking and for cooking. But if you put in an RO plant, and you're going to take the most expensive water available, now you're going to wash your clothes in it, you're going to wash your cars with it, you're going to water your lawns with it, and I don't think that's a good use of people's funds.

RLH: Are you currently drinking the water that comes out your tap?

DY: I absolutely do. I make my lemonade right out of the sink.

RLH: When you talk to people who say hey, I need to know my drinking water is clean. Reverse osmosis is established by scientists, it's the best technology that we have at this point. The most certain option, what do you say to those people?

DY: Again, if you want to buy a thing for under your sink, and you're concerned, I don't think it's dangerous. I've looked at cancer studies, that's what I do for a living, did for a living till six years ago, and I don't feel threatened by it. But I don't think that you should take a personal decision and mandate it, and shove it down everybody's throat without them having a say. This started two and a half years ago when they told the customers that we're paying the bills. They didn't care what they said, they were going to do it anyway, and they couldn't stop them.

RLH: What about the mandate on a public utility to provide safe drinking water? I mean, you could make an argument that right now, H2GO is not able to provide safe drinking water.

DY: The water we are drinking meets every federal and state regulation that's required of it. It is safe to drink. No one has proven anything different than that. Are there risks involved? Probably. But what you have to look at that, and handle them one-by-one, and don't panic over one thing.

RLH: As we've heard, there is chemical cocktail right now that is coming down the Cape Fear River, it's not just GenX, it's not just one thing. There are a number of emerging compounds that are yes, unregulated, but I'm not sure that means at this point safe to drink. Is that the same thing?

DY: Well, I think that we ought to look at those, and we ought to regulate them, and we ought to get a lot of our water. But remember, I talked about this plant, as this plant's being built, they have a contract to buy water from the county for the next 20 years. When they start up these plants, they start in a period where they can't produce enough water. They have to go to a backup system, and the backup plan right now is use the same water you're talking about.

RLH: Maryanne from Leland asks: Can you name the scientists, public experts, accounting firms that support your findings?

DY: I can't tell you all the names. I didn't memorize all the names from the studies. What I can tell you is that the state studies cancer periodically, and they released their results: there have been no -- in the state studies -- no increase cancer in this region.

RLH: I have to add to that, they've said it's still early in terms of understanding.

DY: Most carcinogens are 20, 30 years, before you see any results.

RLH: How long -- Don Yousey -- do you think it'll take for Brunswick County to find a solution to GenX and these other chemical compounds?

DY: The problem is, it isn't just Brunswick County, it's the whole region and the state. Many surface waters, they're finding problems with them, but that's what the country drinks, and we've got to find a way to stop putting the stuff in. And if we've got to get it that way, I just don't think that this is the answer, and I certainly don't think you should tell 10,000 customers they have to take the risk of a $35 million dollar plant. And if something goes wrong, they've got to bear the cost.

RLH: Taking the financial risk. So this really boils down to the economic issue.

DY: It's very much a balance of the two things, to health -- which I haven't seen any increased risk yet, and the cost, when they were told that they don't have a say about it.

RLH: So let's say you're elected to this board. You shut down this project, that the RO plant is not moving forward. What happens to H2GO? Where do you think it should go? What's the future?

DY: I'm not sure that you have to shut down doing RO. I just don't think you should go with 10,000 customers. I think we could work with the county, the town, the state. And there may be other people who are interested in doing this. We can share the cost and share the risk. But to tell 10,000 people you have to bear this risk, it seems unfair to me.

RLH: So you're talking then about moving forward with the same plans just expanding the users?

DY: If I were to do it, that's how I would do it.

RLH: OK. So explain how that would work. How would you bring in Brunswick County and some of these others?

DY: You know, I served with then for 14 years. I know all the commissioners. I know my first name basis, they're all friends. And I think if we sat down with them, and we agreed as a group that this was a direction we wanted to take, they would be interested. They provide all the other water, why not help us go along with this plan and help us spearhead it, and get it for everybody?

RLH: In your bio, on your campaign website, you say part of the reason that you're running is to bring honesty and ethics to the board. Why did that come up? Do you think there's a problem now?

DY: At the first meeting, I think I said it already, I would I hate to repeat myself, at the first meeting when he introduced us and people questioned why we were doing it, they were told because we can and you can't stop us. And that angered my neighbors. I didn't want to run; I'm happily retired. They came to me and asked me to run because they were so angry. They didn't have a say about what was being done. And so now, and then I hear from my neighbors again that the people that are serving now when they e-mail them, when they call them, they don't get any responses. And the people who are paying the bills, the people who are putting all the money to H2GO have some say about how it's spent, and how it's collected.

RLH: Do you think this would be a different kind of public dialogue, perhaps less controversial if some of the sitting commissioners were more responsive to the people who are opposed?

DY: I think that's the main issue. I think that's what caused it all. Their director told the people who were paying the bills, he didn't care what they said, he was going to do it anyway. In two and half years, no one has muted that argument at all.

RLH: Do you want to see H2GO eventually become part of Brunswick County Public Utilities? Is that the end goal here?

DY: I don't know enough about it to say that there will ever be an answer. I think that as I get to know more about H2GO and how it operates, that I would a form an idea of how we could do it better. Certainly, I won about every award you can win in public health when I was the health director. And I can tell you that every year that I was health director we returned money to the county. When I left the county, I left them with millions of dollars in the bank. So I'm not against raising money, I'm not against charging fees for things you have to charge for. But the people who are paying it, have to be able to have some say about it.

RLH: It was 2011 that you retired as county health director?

DY: That's correct.

RLH: What do you think is the biggest problem facing Brunswick County right now, when it comes to dealing with its public health? Is it possibly this water supply?

DY: Well, it certainly is a big button item right now. Other things will come along, we'll have some disease to be reported. When I was there, we had, you know, we had the avian flu come up and a lot of fear about that. We've had some different viruses come from Africa. So those things change from time to time. But this is the one that people are concerned about now.

RLH: You were in the Air Force for a number of years. How did you become county health director? Give us a little bit of your background in public health.

DY: I'm a registered nurse by trade. I went to night school and got a degree in psychology. The year I made major in the Air Force, they wanted to make me a public health officer for the military. That's what I did, and they sent me to get the MPH. And so it was really all happenstance. When I retired I had three kids to put through college, and my wife said we can live on your retirement but we can't do both. And so I went to get a job, and an opening occurred in Bladen County, and I applied for the job. I was lucky enough to get it, my wife said they'll never hire a fast talking Yankee like you, which is probably right, but I got lucky, and I was there for years. We got a National Award for reducing minority infant immortality, and I was invited to come to and serve Brunswick County, and they were wonderful to me all the while I was there.

RLH: How did you reduce infant mortality in Bladen County?

DY: We worked with minority churches to identify the young people who didn't have health care. The young minority women who were having babies but not getting health care. And they help us identify them, to get them into our clinic, and get them treated, so that we could take care of those and have them have healthy babies.

RLH: And were you able to bring any of those practices into Brunswick County?

DY: You know, when they hired me, they asked me if I could do that. And my answer was, Bladen County was 50 percent African-American. Brunswick County was 12 percent when I got here. If we can do it with 50 percent, we're going to be able to do it with 12. And we did it in four years.

RLH: You lowered the infant mortality rate in Brunswick County. By how much?

DY: About half.

RLH: What are some of the other public health problems that you think are currently facing the county, that we're getting distracted by?

DY: I've been out of it for a long time, it wouldn't be fair to tell them what to do. Six years is a long time to be out of the operations.

RLH: What's the one thing you think people really need to understand about you, and why they should vote for you?

DY: I will be available to them. Let me let me back up a minute. I'm paying for my own campaign. I'm not taking any money, any money that I earned from the campaign I'm going to give to Catholic charities. I don't want to be doing anything like this. I'm serving because my neighbors asked me to serve. And as soon as this is over, I want out. And so I'm not looking to build a career. I've had two careers. I'm ready to move on in my life, but my neighbors asked me to do this. And I feel strongly about it. I said yes.

RLH: What do you mean, as soon as this is over -- you want to serve one four-year term?

DY: I pledge to serve no more than one term.

RLH: You're serving one four-year term? Your primary goal in that term is?

DY: To work out this issue where people feel like they don't have a say, and then make sure they do have a say when we make these decisions.

RLH: Don Yousey, thanks so much for being with us today.

Ron Jenkins, current Vice Chair, H2GO Board of Commissioners [Segment 3]

Rachel Lewis Hilburn: Ron Jenkins, welcome to CoastLine.

Ron Jenkins: Well, thank you very much.

RLH: Ron Jenkins, about 900 residents have signed a petition asking the board to wait until after this November's elections to move forward with this reverse osmosis plant. Are you honoring that request in any way?

RJ: We have been working on this project for six years. The longer we wait the costs will continue to rise. So I think now is a time for us to just go ahead and proceed with getting this plant done. It's just been in the making, so we will need to go ahead and get it done.

RLH: When you talk about working on it for six years, how much has the cost risen since you first tackled this idea versus now?

RJ: When I first came on board, I think the price that was thrown out there by many people was something like $40 million, that price have gone down tremendously. Right now we're looking at close to $30, $31 million dollars.

RLH: $30 or $31 million? And how would you fund that?

RJ: We will fund it through...right now we're paying the county $1.8 million dollars. We would divert that fund once we get the plant built, the water itself will start producing revenue. That $1.8 million that we're given that county will go directly towards paying off the debt service, also for them to take care of that money that is needed in those particular areas.

RLH: What kind of debt service?

RJ: Well, naturally, you have to borrow money, and when you borrow money, you've got to pay it back. And that's your debt service right there.

RLH: What kind of a bond are you pursuing?

RJ: Well, we're pursuing it from the bank. We're going to the bank to get a revenue bond.

RLH: I understand you've been working on this for six years. We had an opponent -- just a few minutes ago -- talking about the fact that opponents feel like they're just not heard by the board. They feel like they're ignored -- emails, calls aren't answered. What do you say to those 900 residents? I mean, that's not a smattering. That's a pretty good number of people. It's a lot of people who say hey, just wait.

RJ: I have not had one person to call me and tell me that. I don't know where this is coming from. I'm hearing it, but I have not heard anyone come directly to me and say listen, you're not listening to me. You're not answering my e-mails. I'm not getting the e-mails, and my e-mail is out there so that everybody can use it at any time. Until they do that, then I cannot address that particular area.

RLH: So, Ron Jenkins, you're saying that you're open to hearing from people?

RJ: Oh, yes, I'm not close-minded with this project. I've been very much open as far as this project is concerned.

RLH: Another argument that opponents of this plan have is, you're talking about 10,000 people bearing the cost of this $30, $35 million dollar plant, whatever the final cost is now. 10,000 people is a pretty small pool in some folks' eyes, and they're concerned about what that's going to mean for the future of their utility rates.

RJ: Well, $1.8 million right now is being spent by 10,000 people. $1.8 million being spent. OK. And now you're looking at $1.8 million continued to be spent to pay for the plant. So we have not asked anyone for an increase in the bills or whatever, but we are looking at that $1.8 million that's going directly to the county. That money can be spent directly to pay off the water that we're using or that we're getting or the plant itself.

RLH: Why do you -- Ron Jenkins -- believe that there's a need for this reverse osmosis plant? 

RJ: When we look at what's happening outside of the Cape Fear River, within the Cape Fear river, that explains it all. We do have GenX out there, no telling what else is out there. You know, like I said, when I came on board four years, three years ago I was against it, and I'll say that, but now I am in favor of making sure that we have safe, clean, contaminant-free water for everyone in the Leland area. Right now, I wish we could do it all over the county. Wish we could do it all over the region, but right now we are the leader in putting this together. So now is the time for us to go ahead and continue, because of the fact that we can eliminate the GenX and all the other contaminants in our water source.

RLH: You've had some important opponents to this, including the Town of Leland.

RJ: Sure. Leland has wanted to own H2GO. They've done some things to try to, you know, to take over H2GO. Leland only have fifteen hundred customers. H2GO has ten. Ten thousand. That's a huge number. My concern is you have Belville, you have Navassa, you have the outside areas, such as Parkwood and some of the other areas that can come under Leland, should they own this. Right now we are more regional than Leland, as far as the area.

RLH: Would you consider joining forces with Brunswick County Public Utilities or some of the other water authorities in the region?

RJ: It is when it comes to providing clean water. Sure. But I think H2GO is the leader in this at this time. You know, we have really worked hard towards making sure that we can get good, clean water. I looked at the well the other day that we have -- well number five. The water is crystal clear, clean water, contaminant-free. Yes, I would be interested in having folks that come to the table. One thing about Leland, they haven't even been able to sit at the table with us, to talk about anything in relation to water. The county, I had to ask the county to sit at the table just to discuss water. So what we were doing, we were up front with the county, and telling them, this is where we are this, this where we are going. And so, there will be no surprises in terms of what, you know, is to take place with H2GO, in our direction. We gave them some directions that we were going in.

RLH: Warren from Leland is asking -- and we've sort of visited this, but if you could explain this in a little more detail -- how would this reverse osmosis plant be funded? I know you explained you wouldn't be paying $1.8 million dollars to Brunswick County, and that money would be used to fund the debt service. What happens if there's some sort of drop in customer usage, or you know, you've got a revenue bond, you default on the bond. How do you recoup the funds?

RJ: I don't see there being a revenue drop, because we're constantly having people moving into the county. With the population increasing, there's no way you're going to have a drop, unless simply people just move out of the county. No, you're still going to have people moving in, and so you're still going to have revenue generated, as far as the water is concerned. People got to drink water, but they want safe, clean, contaminant-free water.

RLH: Where would the water that goes into the reverse osmosis plant come from?

RJ: We have an aquifer about the size of Lake Garrett that we would be getting water from. It's been down there millions of years, and it hasn't changed, contaminants can't get to that water. So it's good clean water. Like I said, I went to well number five, and I was impressed.

RLH: And Well number five is tapping that aquifer that you're talking about it.

RJ: That's right.

RLH: So why can you not just use the water coming from the aquifer, if that water is pure, if it is not contaminated by these chemical compounds, it's not coming from the Cape Fear River -- Why do you need to build a $30 million dollar plant?

RJ: Well, naturally, you got to have some way of making sure that the water is clean. Right now, I would be honest to say that we can pretty well drink the water now. But, you know, you've got to go through the screening process. There's some salt in the water. So you had to go through that screening process, to make sure that we following guidelines as far as the water is concerned.

RLH: This RO plant is planned for the site of the current plant in Belville. Is that correct? That's in the Waterfront Business Park, that's close to a lot of people. Does that mean there's going to be additional light and noise coming from the plant?

RJ: That plant is quiet. In fact, we took some of the folks from Leland to several plants, and they got a chance to see the operation of a plant, and they could tell you there's no noise. It's not noisy. The lights are very, very limited. In fact, one was very close to a school and a restaurant. So those issues are not at issue there. There's no true pollutants there, like in some of the other areas in Leland, such as a sewer plant. There's none of that in that particular area. It's clean.

RLH: What about some of the environmental concerns that opponents of this plant have expressed? The Town of Leland's opposes this plant, and this was partly on the grounds that there hadn't been -- they're concerned about the environmental impacts, all the wastewater going into the Brunswick River, which is a fish nursery. What do you say to that?

RJ: Well, you and I have a lot of waste as such. You've got brine, but you're putting what's in the water back into the water. We're not putting GenX back into the water. We're not doing that, so we're putting back in the water, is what we get out of the water. This is contaminant-free, and so within 30 feet, 40 feet, 60 feet, somewhere in there, it has already dissipated. So therefore, there's no problem putting the brine back into the Cape Fear. 

RLH: You're saying no potential impacts on the fish nursery?

RJ: There's no potential impact from all the studies. None, or else we would not get a permit.

RLH: Jane asks: Why not wait for Brunswick County to implement a solution to remove these contaminants from the water supply and go with a regional solution? Why impose this burden on 10,000 people?

RJ: Brunswick County has not come to us and said well, we're ready to get started. If we wait on Brunswick County, we may be waiting another 5 to 10 years, containments still flowing in our water. So someone's got to take the lead. So I think H2GO is ready take the lead on that, and it's not an undue burden on 10,000 people when you already paying $1.8 million, take that $1.8 million and buy your own system, you know, we'll be paying for our own system. And if Brunswick County want to come in, let's invite them in, but let's sit at the table and talk and see which direction we're going. That's the problem, no one wants to sit at the table.

RLH: If you are re-elected, Ron Jenkins, how will you bring people to the table to talk, or are you just going to charge forward with H2GO's own projects?

RJ: Like I said, I've already invited the county at one time. We sat down with the county manager, and at the time, the chairman of the county commissioner, we sat down and talked with them, and we told them direction that we are going in, and I will do this again. I don't have a problem sitting down with people discussing where we are. What is it that you need? What is it that we need to be doing? I don't have a problem with it, but I do have a problem with people stating things, and not want to sit and talk about where they want to be and where we should be.

RLH: Lenny from Leland asks: Before GenX, how was H2GO testing for contaminants?

RJ: How were we testing for contaminants? We get our water from the county. You know, we're not getting the raw water from...

RLH: Right, your buying finished watered from the Brunswick County Public Utilities. Does that mean H2GO wasn't doing any of its own testing?

RJ: So we did some testing, but we weren't testing for GenX, that was not even thought of. But then, where was the county? That's a question. Was they testing for GenX? Was anyone else testing for it? That's a big question.

RLH: So, Ron Jenkins, talk to the people who are opposed to this RO plant, and tell them what you think they don't really understand about why this is important.

RJ: This is important because we are in a time when the growth in North Carolina is exceedingly high. When you start looking upstream, we're pulling water from upstream, we're getting what's left. We're getting what's coming from Raleigh, what's coming from the hog farm. It's not all about GenX. It's about all the other contaminants in the water. We've got to get rid of those contaminants. Sure, we can shut Chemours down. We can shut them down. But the fact there are other chemicals, there are other contaminants that are coming downstream. So I tell you now, we need to go ahead and take a different look. We cannot continue doing the same thing that we've been doing. If we do, we're going to continue to get the same stuff we've been getting. 

RLH: Ron Jenkins, thanks so much for joining us today.

RJ: Thank you for having me.