Union Co. commissioners vote to leave group after criticism

WBTV Investigates: Fight over wastewater continues
Union County commissioners voted 3-2 to terminate their membership the the county chamber...
Union County commissioners voted 3-2 to terminate their membership the the county chamber during their meeting on June 5th.(WBTV)
Published: Jun. 8, 2023 at 12:35 PM EDT
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WBTV) - MONROE, N.C. –  The Union County Board of Commissioners voted Monday to terminate its membership in the county’s chamber of commerce. The vote, which was split 3-2, came weeks after the chamber passed a resolution critical of the board’s handling of an ongoing issue over wastewater.

The chamber’s resolution called on commissioners “to take immediate action to begin resolving… the current wastewater crisis.” The resolution also asked state legislators to create a study committee to investigate and make recommendations for ways to assure cost-effective wastewater capacity to sustain business and industry growth.

Commission chairman Stony Rushing criticized the chamber’s resolution during Monday’s meeting.

“I don’t want to be part of an organization that sends out something like this,” Rushing said.

Rushing was joined by commissioners Melissa Merrell and Brian Helms in voting to drop the county’s $5,000 chamber membership. That includes an additional $8,000 the county traditionally spends in supporting the chamber’s events and initiatives.

In a statement sent to WBTV, Chamber President Pat Kahle said they are always disappointed when a member leaves.

“Ultimately, no one member, current or former, dictates our policy stances as we advocate for the business community,” Kahle’s statement said. “We continue to urge policy makers at all levels of government to work urgently to address Union County’s wastewater crisis.”

Despite the conflict, the chamber and commissioners still align on prioritizing commercial and industrial projects over more residential developments in areas where capacity is limited.

The Chamber’s resolution was milder than the resolutions recently passed by several Union County towns that called on state lawmakers to create a new utility authority and remove water/wastewater planning from the board of county commissioners.

Last month, commissioners passed a resolution by the same 3-2 vote asking state and federal authorities to investigate county and town officials and determine if they had any financial interested in property and development related to wastewater expansion in the Twelve Mile Creek service district.

Rushing claimed that the statements in the chamber’s resolution were not accurate and Vice Chair Melissa Merrell said she spoke with the chamber president for 45 minutes to try and explain their perspective.

“We are implementing and planning funding mechanisms for increasing wastewater capacity,” Rushing said.

County Commissioner David Williams, who voted against rescinding the chamber membership, said the wastewater situation in Union County is indeed a crisis.

“This resolution from the chamber is actually pretty tame,” Williams said.

Williams and Commissioner Richard Helms, who are generally in agreement with Rushing on wastewater issues such as a new allocation policy for towns and prioritizing industry over residential, say the actions taken against the chamber and towns is “embarrassing” and “bullying” and “the heigh of nitwittery.”

“I’ve been on the board ten and a half years, and I’ve always been proud of it. I’m not right now,” Helms said.

A county spokesperson provided new information to WBTV that shows six projects have been granted NCDEQ sewer extension permits since the beginning of the year. Those permits are granted after Union County and towns finish their review process.

Five of the six projects are residential, and one is for office/retail space on South Providence Road in Waxhaw. Public records show the Waxhaw property is owned by a company managed by Afshin Ghazi. Ghazi is the developer who built, and then lost, the Charlotte EpiCentre.

Of the five residential projects that received NCDEQ permits, four of them originally submitted sketch plans for the county to review in 2021. During the recent county commission meeting, Union County Manager Brian Matthews said the speed of the county’s review depends on the project engineers and developers, and that the county is reviewing them as fast as they can.

Matthews said that not every project submitted by developers will come to fruition because of the current wastewater capacity situation.

“It’s not (that) the sky is falling but there certainly is a limitation,” Matthews said.