The state budget that North Carolina lawmakers approved Wednesday includes spending choices on education, health care, road construction. It also would direct $1.7 million in taxpayer money to one company picked by legislators and other state officials.
The $21 billion state budget passed by lawmakers on Wednesday includes a highly detailed description of what it would take for a company to supply the state with water-cleaning technology for a pilot project on Jordan Lake, southwest of Raleigh. The wording matches specifications of a product sold by Medora Corp. of Dickinson, N.D., meaning potential competitors would be unable to bid for the contract.
"What this bill does in this piece is provide state funds to one vendor who is exempt from state contract rules for this Lake Jordan project," said Rep. Chuck McGrady, R-Henderson. "I don't frankly have the time to find out if there's other things like this" in the budget legislation.
The spending plan now heads to the desk of Gov. Pat McCrory.
The budget provision that narrows in on Medora's Solar Bee water-circulating equipment details that the motor: "a. Is brushless (brush motors requiring brush replacement are not acceptable). b. Uses a direct drive with no gearbox to avoid lubrication maintenance. ..."
A consultant for the company is part-time University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill faculty member H. Kenneth Hudnell, who said he met with Greensboro business boosters and staffers in Senate leader Phil Berger's office. Hudnell said his meetings involved scientific studies that he said showed the potential for cleaning up nutrients that have flowed into lakes, he said.
"This is really a top-quality product. It's made to last for 25 years with almost no service," Hudnell said.
A spokeswoman for Berger's office did not respond to a request for comment late Wednesday, as lawmakers and their staffers scrambled toward the close of the year's legislative session.
"I think it came to be because of the research the state did and saying, 'you know what, there's probably 20 companies in the world that are working on this problem but we can't find any that have cleaned up five lakes but Solar Bee has cleaned up 300,' " Medora co-founder and CEO Joel Bleth said.
The money would be used to find a technological solution to a reservoir that supplies drinking water to about 300,000 residents of the Raleigh-Durham metropolitan area.
The state House was scheduled to debate legislation Wednesday that would further postpone a cleanup opposed by some local governments and businesses upstream as far away as Greensboro and Burlington. Opponents say the regulations designed to reduce pollution sources would hurt growth and cost hundreds of millions of dollars.
The $1.7 million is for two-year pilot project that would test whether the Solar Bee equipment could circulate large areas of water near the lake surface and prevent harmful algae blooms.
The state entered into an agreement with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in 2007 to fulfill the state's obligations under the Clean Water Act to achieve targeted reductions of nitrogen and phosphorus into the lake. The nutrients cause algae buildup, which can lead to fish kills and poor water quality.
The EPA has concerns about using technology to mitigate pollution without pollution reductions upstream. The approach is "generally inconsistent" with the U.S. Clean Water Act, EPA acting regional administrator Stanley Meiburg wrote in a letter to a legislator earlier this month.