Responding to feedback from citizens across the lower Cape Fear region, the North Carolina Senate on Wednesday passed legislation that will immediately empower local officials to begin improving water quality in the Cape Fear River while helping ensure the state Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) promptly enforces the law against the company that dumped the contaminant GenX into the region’s water supply.
The plan, developed by Wilmington-area legislators, takes steps to immediately and directly address the problem of GenX contamination in the lower Cape Fear region by:
- Directing $250,000 to the University of North Carolina at Wilmington to quantify the amount of GenX in the Cape Fear River and determine the impact it could have on public health and safety.
- Providing $185,000 to the Cape Fear Public Utility Authority and other local public utilities to develop treatment technologies to remove GenX from public water supplies, and to make sure that treatment is working through ongoing monitoring.
- Beginning the development of an electronic filing system to speed up the water quality permitting process along with an online, searchable database where local officials and the public can easily find information on permits that have already been granted.
It also directs DEQ to explain why it has not issued a ‘notice of violations’ (NOV) to the company responsible for the discharge of GenX if the department still has not done so by the end of next week.
Although the first news reports of the GenX discharge circulated in early June, close to three months laterthe department still has not issued an NOV informing the company that it is suspected of violating state law. An NOV is typically the first step to holding violators accountable and potentially requiring them to bear the cost of remediation that is needed as a result of their illegal actions. Since early August, lawmakers have twice asked the DEQ secretary why his agency has not yet issued an NOV, but they have not received a direct response.
By contrast, in another high-profile example, following the coal ash spill into the Dan River in February 2016, the department issued an NOV to the violator within just 30 days.
“This plan is an important first step – it gives local authorities who’ve been on the ground dealing with this issue since day one the immediate tools to begin addressing GenX contamination,” said Sens. Michael Lee (R-New Hanover) and Bill Rabon (R-Brunswick.) “We expect the General Assembly will continue exercising its oversight responsibilities in the coming weeks to better understand what happened and to determine appropriate strategies to identify and address concerns going forward.”
Listen to Senator Lee’s floor remarks:
Last week lawmakers met in Wilmington to begin investigating the GenX discharge, which they expected to be the first of multiple meetings to review what happened along with the administration’s response.