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GenX response leads to toxic CFPUA meeting

Star-News - 10/11/2017

Oct. 11--WILMINGTON -- What started out as the Cape Fear Public Utility Authority (CFPUA) passing a relatively benign resolution calling on state water quality officials to do everything possible to guard against contaminants like GenX getting into public water supplies became testy when board member and Wilmington Councilman Kevin O'Grady said the N.C. General Assembly should also be in the board's crosshairs.

"The Montagues and Capulets are fighting in Raleigh and we're left here to drink possibly poisoned water," O'Grady said, referring to the two feuding families in Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet.

Earlier this month, the Republican-dominated House and Senate voted to override Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper's veto of House Bill 56, which contained a host of controversial measures, including the repeal of a plastic bag ban on the Outer Banks, a landfill bill that placed more power with private operators and $435,000 in local funding to address GenX contamination.

Cooper said in September's veto that the bill did not provide any funding to state agencies tasked with preventing situations such as the GenX contamination of the Cape Fear. Cooper had requested $2.6 million to fund additional N.C. Department of Environmental Quality regulators, a water health safety unit and water monitoring.

O'Grady, a Democrat running for re-election in November, offered an amendment to Wednesday's CFPUA resolution that included language calling on the General Assembly to adequately fund the state agencies the original resolution was calling on to protect the region's water quality.

"The fact is that neither branch has acted like big boys," he said. "I think we need to call them both out."

Since the StarNews broke the story of the contamination of the Cape Fear River -- the region's primary source of drinking water -- with the unregulated chemical GenX in June, the issue has gotten hotly political.

That political interplay has reached local levels, including last month, when the Republican majority of the New Hanover County Board of Commissioners released a statement supporting the Republican legislators' move. It was quickly followed by a release from the Democratic minority supporting Cooper's request.

Two of those Republican commissioners, Skip Watkins and Patricia Kusek, vocally opposed O'Grady's amendment.

"I don't think this body needs to call the legislature out," Watkins said. "I just don't see any benefit in calling the legislature out."

Board Chairman Mike Brown agreed, saying he worried about the board "picking one side over another."

O'Grady, though, said the original resolution "picks sides. It says it's all the executive branch's fault. The whole resolution is directed at the executive and doesn't even mention the legislature."

His amendment fell on deaf ears, though, as he was the only board member to vote in favor of the additional language.

Reporter Tim Buckland can be reached at 910-343-2217 or Tim.Buckland@StarNewsOnline.com.

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(c)2017 the Star-News (Wilmington, N.C.)

Visit the Star-News (Wilmington, N.C.) at www.starnewsonline.com

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