Another issue on tonight’s Orange County Board of Commissioner’s (BOCC) agenda involved UNC’s Bingham Research Facility ( report on UNC’s response to environmental violations and plans for expanding the facility [PDF]).

There’s been a number of recent (Chapel Hill News) stories (INDY) outlining the numerous environmental and policy missteps [PDF] made over the last few years.

Local community group Preserve Rural Orange (PRO) has done a great job keeping public attention on UNC’s problems at the facility. They have also provided a slew of good suggestions to address the growing concerns.

Recently appointed Associate Vice Chancellor Bob Lowman, who has the unenviable task of straightening out years of shoddy operations, spoke on behalf of the facility this evening. He pointed out that 8 of 10 key issues PRO raised earlier this year have already been addressed, not because, as he said “they were working on them” but because “they did the right thing”.

He related his new management approach – air problems quickly, address key concerns expeditiously and keep the community in the loop.

Folks from PRO responded well to the tenor of his comments (there was a bit of a gasp when he revealed the plan to build an on-site 500,000 gallon water tank)

After his presentation I felt that UNC was back on track by picking Bob to lead the effort.

That said, I did ask the BOCC to consider jointly creating a framework with UNC for managing the growth of UNC’s Orange County facilities. This new framework would resemble the one Chapel Hill elective officials, staff and community members used to create the Carolina North development agreement.

While I don’t believe all aspects of the Carolina North process apply to this new expansion, key lessons involving fiscal equity, transportation infrastructure, environmental monitoring and remediation and public participation could certainly be applied in addressing some of the issues arising from this project.

For instance, one citizen mentioned that the White Cross Volunteer Fire Department was scrambling to get $900 to cover expenses dealing with protecting the existing Bingham Facility (which it appears doesn’t even have rudimentary safety gear like a sprinkler system). The $14.5M NIH grant recently awarded UNC for expanding the Bingham Facility will spur the creation of $60+million worth of facilities. $900 a year won’t cover it.

Bob Lowman immediately offered to redress this financial inequity, which is fantastic, but depending on an ad hoc approach when we have four years experience in creating a structured, transparent and fairly thorough framework for highlighting and negotiating solutions to these type of problems makes little sense.

Hopefully the BOCC will consider using those hard-earned lessons to manage UNC’s migration into rural Orange.

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