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Cape Fear utility’s PR firm tweaked press release to cast doubt on Gov. Cooper’s commitment to GenX probe

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The web of political and professional ties among Eckel & Vaughn, state lawmakers, New Hanover County and Cape Fear utility officials. (Graphic: Nelle Dunlap)

Eckel & Vaughan, a high-powered public relations firm, advised the Cape Fear Public Utility Authority to change language to make it appear Gov. Roy Cooper was disinterested in GenX contamination in the Cape Fear River.

The Port City Daily learned of the maneuver by reviewing county government emails, and reported the story today [2]on its website.

The utility’s original statement was written as “We are certain he [Gov. Cooper] shares our concern over Chemours discharging GenX to the Cape Fear River.”

Eckel & Vaughan responded with the change:

We think this looks good, with one minor tweak. We believe the county’s perspective is that the governor does not share (or at least the same level thereof) the county’s concern over the discharge or water quality. We’ve made one minor edit to the second sentence to reflect that (from “we are certain that” to “we certainly hope that,” and added the word “of” between “type” and “situation” in the last sentence.

No county commissioners were informed of the change. In fact, the Port City Daily quotes Anna-Marshal Wilson, an account supervisor at Eckel & Vaughan justified the small, but significant tweak: “We were simply trying to provide guidance to our client that, given the unknowns of the visit at the time, we did not want to come across as 100 percent confident until we knew what the visit would entail. It honestly comes down to being as accurate as possible.”

As NCPW reported last month, [3] Eckel & Vaughan has professional ties with several New Hanover County Commissioners and utility board members. Earlier this year, the authority hired Eckel & Vaughan to manage its communications for $65,000. At the time, the authority did not have a full-time communications officer, although it hired one in August.