environment


The following letter does an excellent job summing up my reasons for delaying the July’s abbreviated community review process for the ciritical Estes Drive/MLK, Jr. intersection, the two congested transit corridors and the surrounding area which includes UNC’s Carolina North campus.

The current CH2020 proposal calls for us to plan in haste and repent in crisis.

This intersection is a bulls-eye for development activities and lies at the crossroads of competing goals: creating an appropriate gateway to UNC’s Carolina North, managing a critical transition point between Downtown and North Chapel Hill/Carrboro and East Franklin St., supporting the new transit framework for MLK, Jr. and acting as the template for the ring of development around Horace-Williams Airport.

In many ways, it is one of the most critical areas in Town and deserves a thorough, deliberative and broad-based community evaluation before moving forward.

The following letter asks Council to take the time to “get it right”.

June 23, 2012

Dear Mayor and Town Council,

We are residents of Estes Hills, Huntington-Somerset, Coker Hills, Coker Hills West, Mount Bolus and Coker Woods and would be affected if zoning changes are made to the Town’s land use map in our area.

The Estes Neighbors group strongly recommends that the CH2020 Plan expand the scope of the proposed Estes Corridor study to include all or most of the ‘MLK South future focus area’, and develop a robust, deliberative and broadly inclusive community outreach effort to build a consensus for managing development prudently within that focus area. Two hundred and eight of our neighbors have signed on to that vision.

By definition a small area plan needs to include a larger area than the small strip along Estes Drive. The Estes/MLK,Jr. intersection is a critical element of several overlapping concerns: a gateway to Carolina North, a current traffic bottleneck, and a key transition point between downtown and north Chapel Hill and Carrboro.

We recommended a focus area plan that covers Estes Drive Extension to Seawell School Road and MLK from Homestead south to Hillsborough Street, including Carolina North. Further, the focus effort must answer the following open questions:

(1) What land uses in this MLK South focus area are most compatible with the new Carolina North campus, the biggest change in our Town for decades?
(2) How will future development be effectively integrated with the Carolina North MLK transit plans to ensure continued mobility for residents, commuters, and transit access to Carolina North?
(3) How will the anticipated development affect our neighborhoods?

Summer is not the time for this critical planning effort. Many stakeholders are away on vacations, the Council is not in session, no clear process has been described, and not enough time will have passed for residents to have adequately digested the new CH2020 plan. Fall is a better time to start a robust, inclusive and sustained community process,
ensuring both strong participation and one resulting in broad community support. We anticipate several rounds of discussions and community evaluations of draft proposals extending into 2013.

Our recommendation: We request that the language making the Estes Corridor study a priority be removed. See p.45 of the Implementation Chapter in the June 25th DRAFT Comprehensive Plan.

Not only is this narrow strip of land an insufficient basis for planning, we also don’t know of any instance in the 2020 discussions where such a study emerges as a priority. We think it makes good sense to complete an integrated area plan for the MLK and Estes focus area before any changes are contemplated for Estes Drive.

In addition, we ask the Council that the final Comprehensive Plan contain a detailed process to develop area plans for all future focus areas, including:
(1) participation by citizens;
(2) adequate time to do the job;
(3) enough data to support assumptions and justifications; and finally
(4) how area plan recommendations will be turned into changes on the zoning map.

We ask that the area plan process be built in consultation with the affected neighborhoods, the University, property owners, businesses and interested residents. We envision something much more detailed and rigorous than the 15-501 south discussions, but shorter than the Glen Lennox process for all these areas. Development within each of these areas will impact not only the surrounding neighborhoods but all of Chapel Hill.

Thank you for considering these changes.

Sincerely,

David Ambaras, Mary Andersen, Stephen P. Berg, Kim and MaryEllen Biechele, Jill Blackburn, Watson Bowes M.D., Laurie Cousart, Rose Marie D’Silva, Glen H. Elder Jr, Verla Insko, Patty Krebs, Fred Lampe, Ross and Winsome Leadbetter, Emily Lees, Ronald C. and Sue Link, Julie McClintock, Sarah K. McIntee, John Morris, Priscilla Murphy, Nelson and Diane Price, Sandy Turbeville, Pat Lowry,Will Raymond, David Robinson, Steve Rogers, Gretchen Stroemer, Susan Swafford, Misako Toda, Alan Tom, Barrie Trinkle, and Cathy Walker

A last minute request of support for Orange County’s agricultural community. The PFAP program is working “to create a strong base to help launch and grow new food-businesses in the Piedmont, focusing on a 75 mile radius in all directions.” Orange County is home to a wide variety of farms producing specialty items for the local market.

Strengthening our local choice is critical to our community’s long term success. Please take a moment to review the program, their grant with an eye towards lending your support.

Letters of support needed by noon tomorrow! The Piedmont Food and Ag Processing Center is collaborating with Piedmont Grown on a USDA/NCDA specialty crops grant . We could use a few more letters of support. The goal of the project is to increase knowledge and consumption of specialty crops by children and adults.

The project has four deliverables:

1) Monthly educational programs at PFAP,

2) Monthly outreach events across the 37-counties served by Piedmont Grown,

3) a public awareness campaign using mass media, and

4) a children’s activity and coloring book featuring easy to prepare recipes that use specialty crops.

Kindly send them to nranells@co.orange.nc.us by 2 pm on Friday May 20th to ensure they are included in the grant packet.

The kids’ understand how important watershed protection is:


Haw River Assembly Puppet Show, Creek Action Day, 2011

In forming the new Comprehensive Plan initiating committee, the Mayor studiously avoided recruiting members of the Sustainability Visioning Task Force who challenged the narrow approach foisted upon that effort by staff.

The concerns raised by those committee members (Sustainability Task Force: The Whole or The Sum of the Parts? ) are unlikely to be addressed by the currently constituted group.

Without those dissenting voices, the Comprehensive Plan Initiating Committee will most likely craft a process that is targeted towards a particular outcome rather than one that will illuminate and resolve the discrepancies and omissions in our current Comprehensive Plan discovered by that task force.

Those gaps have led to development outcomes which our community has found troubling.

December, 2008 the Neighborhoods for Responsible Growth held a forum on development density which highlighted some of the issues which have to be addressed in the new plan to meet the future needs of this community. It’s a long forum but worth reviewing to get a sense of the rising tide of negative community reaction to the current “rah rah growth at any cost” approach which has failed to yield the advertised results.



Quick update on last week’s post Easthom: Let’s Revisit Lake Jordan.

Several weeks ago Chapel Hill approved an amendment to language of the 2001 Water and Sewer Management, Planning and Agreement (WSMPBA) which gave OWASA much more leeway in tapping OWASA’s 5 million gallon per day (5Mg/d) allocation from Lake Jordan. At that time there wasn’t much sustained discussion of the long-term impacts or broader dimensions before adopting the amendment.

After midnight last Monday the Council decided to revisit the issue which creates an opportunity for more nuanced analysis and broader community input. That opportunity hasn’t been scheduled as of yet.

Today is the final meeting in a several week series of outreach sessions seeking community input to help formulate a new Affordable Housing Strategy for Chapel Hill. Staff sought advice from a broad range of local residents – from current affordable housing residents to professionals managing a wide variety of community programs.

Council, after a bit of prodding and plans spinning awry, wisely recognized there are some structural problems with our current affordable housing approach. Beyond acknowledging the need to rebalance our selection of affordable housing options, Council, on the heels of Greenbridge’s financial difficulties, has finally started to understand some of the inherent risks with their current policy (issues they were made aware of prior to their approval of Greenbridge, East54 and West140 luxury condo projects).

BACKGROUND The Town Council has directed staff to develop an Affordable Housing Strategy. In order to develop a strategy that is inclusive and reflective of the community’s concerns, staff has been conducting focus group sessions with affordable housing stakeholders as well as groups who may not be traditionally associated with the topic.

PURPOSE The purpose of this meeting is to obtain feedback from the community about affordable housing in Chapel Hill. This focus group session is being held for anyone in the community who would like to offer their input about the topic of affordable housing. For more information about this effort, please visit to the following website: http://www.townofchapelhill.org/index.aspx?page=1657

I’ll be attending today’s meeting in order to get a sense of what lessons the Affordable Housing Technical Advisory committee has learned from our community over the last month.

I’ve had several folks ask me about my suggested and rejected changes to the recent Democratic Party resolution supporting the 1/4 cent sales tax increase (Orange County Dems: Thanks for the Consideration…).

This is a terrible year to raise any tax yet the Orange County Board of Commissioners (BOCC) decided 4/5/2011 (VIDEO [my comments at 48 minutes and 103 minutes]) to hold another referendum, at a cost of $105K to $125K ($85K election +$20-40K “education”), trying to succeed where they failed just 6 months ago.

I and others appeared before the BOCC arguing that 1) scheduling the vote this year amounted to “vote shopping” and didn’t serve their professed commitment to “small-d” democracy:

“I do understand that there’s a need for the revenues sooner rather than later,” said Chapel Hill resident Will Raymond. “The turnout is not representative of what the impact is for this tax. You’re looking at dis[en]franchising the rural voters. In terms of integrity of the process and confidence in the process, it feels a little bit like you’re doc[k ]shopping, you’re vote shopping. The reality is that the referendum did very well down in the municipal areas.”

Not only did the referendum pass overwhelmingly in the cities last time, but turnout in the rural districts will likely be low, Raymond said. And, according to Orange County Board of Elections Director Tracy Reams, off-year general elections typically boast a lower turnout than presidential primaries—something to the tune of 25 percent compared to 40 percent, respectively.

“Doing it in November just doesn’t feel very democratic,” said James Barrett, Chapel Hill resident and member of Orange County Justice United, adding he supports the increase. “I think, as we see changes around the world, it’s important to make sure that everyone’s engaged in voting. We have a much greater opportunity to do that in May than we do in November.”

News of Orange, April 19, 2011

“Putting this on the municipal elections is a bad idea … the reality is [that] this did very well in municipal areas,” said Will Raymond, a Chapel Hill resident. “You’re vote shopping.”

N&O, 4/6/2011

and

2) that the County would be better served by altering the proposed allocation from 50% economic development/50% to education to 33% economic development/66% human services:

Will Raymond said that two-thirds of the tax should go for human services, where the real need is since Orange County is creeping toward an 18 percent poverty rate and the county has cut back on some of the services it provides to citizens who need the most help.

“The only way I’m going to support this is if I see a significant portion going to the human services deficit,” Raymond said.

Burlington Time News, April 19, 2011

By the way, that was doc, as in doctor, shopping and not “dock shopping” as reported.

If the County used 2/3rds of the anticipated revenue, $1.6+ million, for human services the impact on existing programs would be significant. Further, the County would finally have funding to address the emergency housing problem they long offloaded to the Interfaith Council (IFC).

Allocating $1.2+ million to bolster the multi-million dollar school budgets ,though, will not go as far. When you review last year’s proposed educational expenditures the contrast between priorities is stark – repaving running tracks versus bolstering our burdened community health service.

As of tonight (Tues. 4/19/2011), not only will the sales tax appear on the ballot (with a non-binding commitment to the proposed 50/50 split) but the BOCC has floated the idea of adding an additional 1/2 cent sales tax bump to fund regional transit initiatives (including light rail).

That’s an 3/4 cent increase from the current 7.75% to 8.50%.

That could drop to 8.25% if the requested extension of a “temporary” State sales tax hike, currently 1 cent, passes the Republican controlled legislature at Gov. Perdue’s suggest 3/4 cent rate . If that extension fails and both referendums succeed, the new Orange County rate would be lower than today – 7.5% – a possibility the BOCC might leverage to sell the bump to voters.

Last year the BOCC responded positively to a critique of the vagueness of their proposed economic development spending priorities by providing specific projects with fairly well established cost structures. One example – extending sewer and water service into 2 of the economic development zones. I expect them to develop a similar list of very targeted expenditures to fix creaking critical physical infrastructure at the schools.

That said, I don’t plan to support the tax because it further burdens folks during a worsening economic downturn, because scheduling it during an off-year election appears to be “gaming” the electoral process and because the allocation doesn’t address escalating demand for critical core services.

Of course, I remain open to the possibility that my mind could be changed by the BOCC’s new advocacy program.

Below is my revised resolution merged with the original:

(more…)

Tomorrow Council member Laurin Easthom is petitioning her colleagues to sharpen up their decision to allow Orange Water and Sewer (OWASA) tap Lake Jordan for less than dire and near catastrophic need.

Several weeks ago Chapel Hill approved an amendment to language of the 2001 Water and Sewer Management, Planning and Agreement (WSMPBA) which gave OWASA much more leeway in tapping OWASA’s 5 million gallon per day (5Mg/d) allocation from Lake Jordan. At that time there wasn’t much sustained discussion of the long-term impacts or broader dimensions before adopting the amendment.

I attended the Jan. 27th OWASA Board meeting where the proposed loosening of the reins was first discussed and then approved [MINUTES].

In selling the need for the modification to his fellow board members, Gordon Merklein, the Chair of OWASA’s Board and UNC’s Executive Director Real Estate Development related a conversation he had with his colleague Carolyn Elfland, UNC’s Associate Vice Chancellor for Campus Services. He said that Carolyn expressed concern that UNC wouldn’t have access to that 5Mg/d allocation and desired an agreement that solidified UNC’s future ability, through OWASA, to get at Lake Jordan’s supplies.

That was a bit disconcerting as local policymakers had fairly consistently rejected tapping Lake Jordan for anything other than the most extreme of needs.

Not only have elected folks the last two decades worked hard to secure and protect the watersheds OWASA claimed were sufficient to supply our needs for the next 100 years but adopted land-use and building ordinances that conserve the resources we already have.

Of course, as I said at the time (Water,Water,Everywhere…), at the base of this discussion is a decision, which the community has supported, to live within our local footprint. Time after time the community has been in the forefront of protecting that valuable asset – most recently challenging the County’s siting of a trash transfer station in a critical watershed area and questioning OWASA’s proposed timbering operations.

The loose language of the adopted amendment puts that community-supported principle at risk.

Luckily Carrboro, a party to the agreement, stepped in and rejected the current proposal (Water, Water, Everywhere? Carrboro Holds The Line).

In light of their rejection and the continued concerns of local environmentalist, I applaud Laurin’s effort to put this decision back before her colleagues for closer inspection.

Council Member Laurin Easthom petitions the Council to place the Water and Sewer Management, Planning, and Boundary Agreement resolution (2011-02-28/R-5) recently passed by the Council back on the agenda for further Council discussion.

[UPDATE] Valerie said she was “appalled” not “ashamed”. Turns out so is the Chapel Hill News.

Tomorrow night Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt will petition his colleagues to appoint a representative to participate in discussions with the County’s Solid Waste Advisory Board (SWAB) on the future of the Interlocal Agreement on Solid Waste Management.

That agreement, coordinating waste management between each municipality and the County, needs to either evolve to meet the changes in our collective waste management plans or face dissolution.

For the good of our wider community, evolution is the better alternative.

Folks might recall that I asked Council several times over the last 6 years to fill the seat set aside on the SWAB for an elected representative from Chapel Hill – even offering to fill that position myself if appointed or elected to Council. Mayor Pro Tem Jim Ward took up that task, finally, less than a year ago.

Last year the Board of Commissioners (BOCC) agreed to ship our waste to Durham’s trash transfer station (which will subsequently ship it elsewhere). Even though this decision laid the groundwork for what I hope is a temporary solution to our garbage disposal needs, the time that decision bought hasn’t been used effectively by the SWAB to plan for the longer term.

There has been no real effort, to date, to find a local or regional solution that aligns more closely to our community’s fiscal and environmental policy objectives. Instead, the County contracted a new waste management consultancy that “discovered” three increased capacity options. Last week the County proposed extending the landfills life, again, irrespective of the commitments made to the Rogers Road community.

Commissioner Valerie Foushee, reviewing her inaction in tasking County staff to work the issue over the last 6 years, said she was “appalled” by the lack of progress – a sentiment echoed by all her colleagues.

Resisting expediency, taking that deceptively easy path of delaying the inevitable yet again, the BOCC finally took the bull by the horns and agreed to forge a solution themselves (Trash Talk: The Neverending Story…Ends?).

As the BOCC and County Manager noted, their partners in the Interlocal agreement have been MIA during the last few years, and though the County preferred a collaborative accommodation, they could no longer delay.

Tomorrow night, Mark moves Chapel Hill one-step closer to being part of the solution rather than the source of the problem:

This petition responds to a request from the Orange County Board of Commissioners for Towns to consider establishing a working group to address and resolve solid waste management issues. The Solid Waste Advisory Board (SWAB) recommends that this working group be comprised of elected officials and senior staff, and that the process should begin as soon as possible.

I wholeheartedly agree and expect the Council to expeditiously move the process forward.

My first suggested action – take advantage of the provision built into the 1997 landfill extension agreement, as County Manager Frank Clifton highlighted last Tuesday, and start setting aside part of the tipping fees for eventual mitigation of landfill related problems.

Though the day was grey, this morning’s formal commemoration of the end of the current phase of Baldwin Park’s stream restoration project was well attended by local pols: Carrboro Alderman Randee Haven-O’Donnel, Lydia Lavelle, Sammy Slade, Chapel Hill’s Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt and Council member Donna Bell (who lives a few steps away from the park) joined Town staff and a small group of local supporters in recognizing the revamp of this stretch of stream.

Baldwin Park Work Group

Mr. Baldwin, whose uncle Henry Baldwin owned the property (and mortgaged his house to help build St. Joes), told of walking across this stretch of land as a boy in a straw hat when it was still relatively wild before thanking the community for the improvements.

Mr. Baldwin's Uncle Donated the Land for St. Joe's

Local environmentalist and incredible photographer Mary Sonis has made a stunning discovery in her backyard.

Below is a rare 4 toed salamander, “a species of special concern in North Carolina” (to quote her excited announcement).

Mary contacted an expert at the North Carolina Museum of Life and Sciences who said he had never seen one of these in the wild. These salamanders breed in bogs and seepages. In this case, a seepage from a vernal pond within the Bolin Creek forest.

Some readers might recall the recent two year long lively debate over paving tracts of Bolin Creek within Carrboro’s jurisdiction for a greenway. Several of the proposed routes targeted for obliteration the very vernal ponds and seepages making up the habitat of this exceedingly rare species.

Now that Mary has confirmed that these salamanders inhabit Bolin Creek’s watershed, it is incumbent on our local leaders to adopt those proposed routes which maintain the integrity of the stream and vernal pools that are critical components of this and other “critters” habitat.

Our community spends a lot of time talking “green”. We’ve encouraged developers and policy makers alike to commit, with some success, to an environmentally sustainable future. Most of the effort has been put into conserving energy, lowering the impact of development, preserving green-space and securing open-space.

“Think green” has moved, in fits and starts, from an empty mantra to being a more integral part of the development discussion. Unfortunately, the time isn’t always taken to tease out what is truly “green” and to what amounts to “green washing” in evaluating various development proposals. Sometimes the natural alignment between environmental justice and social justice is split. Some environmental concerns continue to be ignored.

For one, shepherding our limited natural water resources and adopting policies that constrain growth to live within those limits continues to get short shrift.

Chapel Hill’s Council recently reversed a policy of not tapping Lake Jordan for anything other than a catastrophic water crisis. In weakening the resolve earlier bodies showed, they opened the door to growth fueled by external resources. Our community has steadfastly supported land-use policies that try to maintain the high quality water drawn from the local watersheds. We have been told that our investment in those resources would maintain a reasonable level of growth for the next 100 years. Apparently the community’s resolve is firmer than our current Council’s.

Water is becoming the dominant limiting factor to growth for community’s all across the globe. Even in areas blessed with plentiful rainfall, maintaining safe and reliable access to water is a problem that only grows with time. As North Carolina continues to dip in and our of drought, we need to recommit to the vision of living within the watersheds OWASA has acquired on our behalf.

Along those lines, we need to think more than “green” in making decisions about how Chapel Hill and Carrboro evolve over the next few decades, we need to start thinking “blue”.

That is why I’m thrilled by the efforts of the Friends of Bolin Creek [FOBC] partnering with Chapel Hill and Carrboro in putting together an Earth Action Day which emphasizes WATER.

Starting off at 9:30am, a dedication will be held for the Baldwin Creek Restoration project [MAP]. Chapel Hill, Carrboro and the Friends of Bolin Creek partnered on this EPA 319 grant project to start reversing some of the damage caused by previous poor management practices.

Project lead Trish D’Arconte has worked hard to make “think blue” a reflexive part of Chapel Hill’s policies and will be explaining how the work at Baldwin Park is a start on a larger effort to remediate many of the impaired streams in our community.

From 10am-12pm April 9th, 2011, the FoBC’s Creek Action Tour has 9 separate events (INFO) and demonstrations reflecting on improving our local impaired watersheds through conservation, sound management and awareness.

You can learn how to make changes at your own home, in your own neighborhood, that will improve the streams in your area. The FoBC is also holding a raffle with several great prizes, including a personal tutorial on constructing a rain garden.

Chapel Hill’s Wes Tilghman (who I worked with on planning 2010′s Festifall) and staff put together an event that celebrates and highlights our community’s environmental commitment. From 12-5pm (INFO) a wide range of entertainments and exhibits will be shown at Southern Community Park. Free shuttles are available (check the website for more information).

[UPDATE:] WCHL’s Elizabeth Friend has a great summation here.

Over a decade ago, just as I was beginning to get involved in local issues, I heard then local NAACP President Fred Black and Roger Road resident Rev. Robert Campbell brief Council on the fairly extensive list of negative impacts our landfill was having on the Rogers Road neighborhood: rats, buzzards, landfill leachate spilling across lawns, tainted water, debilitating odors, broken sewers, dangerous roads, among others, plaguing the area for decades.

They referenced a 1972 unrecorded pledge (since disputed by local governments) by then Chapel Hill Mayor Howard Lee that the small community would get new services for taking on, at the time, Chapel Hill’s garbage burden. Further, they stated Lee claimed the landfill would only operate 10 years (1982) and that he promised obvious negative impacts would be mitigated over the whole lifespan of the project.

As of early 2000, after several extensions of the landfill’s lifespan, the small Rogers Road community still waited on those new services, necessary remediation and a time-certain for closure. Fred and Robert made a convincing case that given the dearth of leadership from the County that Chapel Hill should lead the way in finally addressing these issues. The Council wrung their hands but did little more than pass the buck back to Orange County claiming impotence in discharging that long held obligation.

The struggle to get some kind of reckoning has been long. Its been tough. There have been setbacks ( background).

Tonight, though, with unanimity the current Orange County Board of Commissioners vowed to finally make good on that 40 year old debt. What started out as a discussion of a proposal to extend the landfill’s life, again (through 2017), became a solid consensus to delay any further action contingent on the formulation of a firm, specific plan of remedying the Rogers Road community’s problems.

It started out with more than a dozen folks, including Rev. Campbell, standing before the Commissioners highlighting environmental problems like air and water pollution, describing the 42 illegal waste dumps surrounding the landfill, reporting on the 2+ tons of litter recently removed by volunteers from the nearby roadsides.

I focused on the process. Why, I asked, hadn’t the County included a specific mitigation plan in tonight’s proposal? A call Commissioner Valerie Foushee echoed minutes later. Where would the funds come from given the County hadn’t been setting aside funds as per the 1997 landfill extension agreement? Why hadn’t, given the breathing room last year’s decision to ship waste to Durham’s trash transfer facility, the Solid Waste Advisory Board (SWAB) taken on the task of capping of the landfill in a socially responsible fashion? What would the Rogers Road community get from yet another extension of their problems?

As I put it – irrespective of whatever promises made or not by Chapel Hill Mayor Lee in 1972, the County and the Commissioners now owned the problem.

The Commissioners, after taking in these comments, each took a turn explaining why they couldn’t endorse an extension that didn’t include a specific plan of action for mitigating the decades of harm caused by the landfill.

Relatively new County Manager Frank Clifton said as someone who hadn’t been involved in all the discussions, hadn’t heard decades of problems, as an outsider, he was mystified that the County Commissioners hadn’t taken advantage of the 1997 stipulations to fund mitigation. He said he and his staff had long been ready to take all the studies, advisory board reports, commission results, etc. and formulate a plan of action. He also said – clearly – that this had to be a County staff driven effort and that the County’s partners – Chapel Hill and Carrboro – would be advised but not counted on in moving forward (the municipalities have been missing in action for decades though the Council finally did appoint Jim Ward as liaison to the SWAB).

Brief summary: the BOCC accepts full responsibility for what should be an obligation borne by all the local leadership. They have instructed staff to create a specific plan of action and to seek funding for it. That plan will identify mitigation strategies the County can legally carry out. The municipalities will be advised but not relied upon (a sorry comment on current affairs) in moving forward.

Quiet elation – a strange feeling – and a reasonable outcome after a long, long haul. More than ten year’s in the making the final chapter, hopefully, is being written on the Rogers Road landfill story.

[UPDATE] WCHL’s newest reporter Freda Kahen-Kashi has the story – Mayor Mark Chilton Finds Faults With OWASA Plan.

[UPDATE 2] Further information on the meeting from the Daily Tar Heel.

They quote Gordon Merklein, OWASA Chair and UNC’s Director of Real Estate as saying “Jordan Lake is essential because the other water supplies cannot meet all of the expected needs of the community over the next 50 years.”

Continuing, the DTH says Merklein said the water might be needed sooner than expected. “Recent droughts have emphasized the need for a diverse water supply as we face increasingly uncertain future conditions of climate, land use and hydrology,” he said.

If this is an accurate quote then we should be concerned.

Chapel Hill’s Sustainability Visioning Task Force probed OWASA on this point repeatedly last year. They were told that the Long Range Water Plan, which relies on the local watershed, had sufficient resources allocated for non-emergency use without tapping Lake Jordan for the next 50 years.

Chapel Hill’s Town Council was told the same thing several times, last year when OWASA presented the Long Range Plan and as recently as last week.

Gordon is right highlighting the uncertainty in land use policy. Until Chapel Hill adopts policies which specifically tie resource constraints to growth, OWASA and other local agencies will have difficulty planning for the future.

Our community has invested heavily in acquiring and maintaining a watershed that was projected to suit our needs far longer than 50 years.

With the recent flurry of statements coming from OWASA’s Board to the contrary, do we need to re-evaluate that previous assertion? Like I said last night, what has changed so dramatically?

Or, rather than bungled projections, is this a case of wanting to accommodate a much higher growth rate than local resources will ever sustain?

[ORIGINAL POST]

Following up on yesterday’s post (Water, Water, Everywhere…), I just heard that Carrboro’s Board of Alderman have decided not to approve OWASA’s proposed amendments.

I don’t have anymore detail at the moment so I’m not quite sure if they agreed with all the points I outlined or had a few additional ones I didn’t pursue. In any case, maybe Council will now take time to review the provisions and reconsider last night’s vote.

Look for updates tomorrow.

After a very long day and a very long evening. I finally got a chance to ask Council to take a more measured approach to approving OWASA’s proposed modifications to the agreement controlling access Lake Jordan’s water.

The proposal might have appeared technical in nature but, at the heart of it, had policy ramifications impacting our community’s environmental commitments, fiscal health and pledges of sustainability.

Unfortunately Council, by a 7 to 2 vote, passed the resolution tonight without reviewing those wider issues and doing due diligence.

What might the future hold then?

1) Non-emergency use of the 5 million gallons per day (5MGd) to meet unsustainable growth patterns.

Current utilization is 6 to 7 MGd per day. No justification was made for doubling our water usage profile by tapping Lake Jordan for new non-emergency uses. Sadly, Council decided not to limit water allocations to clear emergency conditions.

UNC has already stated several times that it is keenly interested in securing this supply. If the new supply is only to function as an “insurance policy”, why that sharp interest?

2) As OWASA Chair Merklein put it so well this evening – there is only room for one more straw into Lake Jordan.

Any of the 5MG/d we draw down from Lake Jordan will have to come through either Cary’s or Durham’s infrastructure. OWASA clearly suggested that Chapel Hill will eventually rely on Durham’s “straw”.

Given that, I don’t think there’s any scenario involving long term draw downs through Durham which don’t incorporate significant additional costs to the OWASA customer base.

Why? As Durham has already signaled, as recently as 2008, it wants its Lake Jordan intake partners to participate in the financing and build-out of that new “straw”. If OWASA doesn’t directly underwrite its part of the project, it is hard to imagine that Durham and its other partners won’t charge a higher fee for water in order to recover their expenses. Either case, the fiscal impact was totally ignored this evening.

3) When OWASA’s 2010 Long Range Water Plan was presented to the Sustainability Task Force last year, we were told that supplies were sufficient for the next 50 years. The only “tight spot” were the years just prior to 2035 when the Rock Quarry reservoir comes online.

That point was reiterated this evening by Gene Pease, who spoke of a meeting he had just last week where he was told the same thing. The maximum anticipated shortfall is well less than 15%, very much less than the 5MG/d Council just approved, so why the hurry to move ahead?

OWASA stated approval was needed this year to secure the allocation, and I accept that, but that doesn’t excuse Council from putting some constraints on non-emergency allocations.

4) Water is required for growth. That point was well-understood when our joint community’s financed OWASA’s acquisition of a watershed that was supposed to meet our very long term needs. This community has fought hard – continues to fight hard – to maintain the best environmental standards within that watershed.

Council repudiated that tough fight this evening when they essentially agreed that OWASA could “borrow” as much as 5MG/d from Lake Jordan (an impaired water source).

Worse, we don’t know what constrains OWASA from tapping Lake Jordan for “non-emergency” reasons. If Council or Carrboro approves one too many East54 type developments – is that considered grounds for purchasing resources to fuel inappropriate growth?

5) Finally, as Council member Jim Ward pointed out this evening, just knowing we can tap another 5MG/d makes it tough to sell even more stringent water conservation policies. An important negative feedback loop has been removed.

Tonight’s misstep, of course, is part of a wider problem which our community and, especially, its current leadership has yet to successfully grapple with – are there constraints to growth?

Are we willing to purchase resources on the open-market to fuel an unsustainable level of growth? What, exactly, are we willing to trade away in building our future?

Unfortunately, the answers this evening were loss of local control of our water, loss of community reliance on local resources, loss of a commitment to live within our own footprint.

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