"On some positions, Cowardice asks the question, "Is it safe?" Expediency asks the question, "Is it politic?" And Vanity comes along and asks the question, "Is it popular?" But Conscience asks the question "Is it right?" And there comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular, but he must do it because Conscience tells him it is right."
MLK,Jr. to SCLC Leadership Class

[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.

This Monday (Apr. 11th,2011), the Council will have the first of two hearings on the Charterwood development. This proposed development supposedly aligns with the goals set forth in both the Town’s aged Comprehensive Plan and the problematic Northern Area Plan.

I’ve read well over a hundred of planning proposals the last decade and have seen a steady trend of “cut-n-pasting” language from other successfully approved proposals to justify a new project – usually generic snippets from the Comprehensive Plan characterizing some community benefit (“well being”) which is hard to objectively pin down.

Certain catch-phrases become de riguer as time goes on: “transit-oriented”, “green”,”sustainable”, etc. Each used to suggest qualities the project might or might not have but each having been successful in pushing other projects through the pipeline.

Because of that applications usually have a strange quirk, some strangled logic, used to justify a quality the project doesn’t innately possess. For instance, the developers of Charterwood are seeking a “mix use village” (MUV) zone and claim their project, which calls for clearing acres of 100-year growth forest to make way for 282 parking spots, is “transit-oriented”.

As Del Snow, a tireless advocate for northern Chapel Hill (who I’ve served with on several advisory boards), points out in today’s Chapel Hill News, the price of this project should be carefully weighed against all the costs it incurs.

As proposed, Charterwood barely meets the criteria laid out in the Northern Area plan. This is not a compact, dense development which seeks to maximize a tracts potential while minimizing its impact on local neighborhoods, current infrastructure and environment.

One example: the “transit-oriented” layout calls for carving an acre of impervious surface parking lot out of the existing tract of 100-year growth trees – a tract which sits at the headwaters of several local creeks. Another: the potential environmental risk posed by shifting the responsibility for maintaining the current on-site catch-basins in this sensitive area from NC-DOT to a private commercial entity.

As Del said in her guest editorial:

Land available for development is dwindling in Chapel Hill. As a result, we will be seeing more and more applications from developers that stretch the limits of our ordinances and ask us to re-assess our priorities.

Council will have to decide if the public good is best served by foregoing the principles laid in our current planning framework or by sticking with those community priorities which balance the public price against private reward.

More on Charterwood’s zoning application, design goals and anticipated footprint.

Among the many other activities going on today was the Orange County Democratic Party all-precinct convention. Quite a turnout with many familiar faces.

Local heavyweights US Rep. David Price, former State House Speaker Joe Hackney and House colleague Verla Insko along with State Senator Ellie Kinnaird (who changed a tire on the way to the meeting) attended.

Price, just returned from the budget breakdown nonsense in Washington, gave a rousing call to arms pointing out that the Tea Party express was bearing down on the nation – and last night’s buffoonery was just the first in many salvos aimed squarely at middle America. Verla and Joe sketched out the dire legislative morass they face in the State house and related how the turnover in control of the House has actually brought the Democratic caucus closer.

There were 44 prepared petitions put before the convention – a long list to dispense with in less than the budgeted 4 hours. Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt, who was running the proceedings, was able to work through a good chunk by getting collective assent upfront.

Though it has been a long time since I participated in a convention, I came prepared to offer an amendment to the petition calling for support of the Board of Commissioner’s [BOCC] recent plan to hold a Nov. 2011 referendum increasing our local sales tax 0.25%.

The BOCC has proposed splitting the anticipated $2.5M per year evenly between economic development and education. I asked the gathered folks to support a change in that allocation from 50/50 to 33% for economic development, which would adequately support the economic initiatives the BOCC has already laid out, and 66% to restore and support the many human service programs curtailed by the County these last 5 years.

My neighbor Tom Henkel seconded the call and an interesting discussion followed. Unfortunately, my suggested changes were completely shot down. It was great to get a strong dose of participatory democracy even if my effort was for naught. I appreciate the kind and thoughtful consideration the convention offered.

Afterwards, BOCC member Steve Yuhasz came over and graciously encouraged me to keep on pressing the BOCC to find money for human service programs. I told him I wasn’t going to give up.

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.

Looks like the rumors I’ve been hearing for the last few months are true, the much touted Greenbridge project is in deep financial trouble. The high-density development (which has saved Downtown according to the local Chamber of Commerce director Aaron Nelson) hasn’t been able to sell units and pay its construction bills according to today’s N&O.

Most of the “successful” sales have been the moderately priced affordable units. Those are the same units Mayor Pro Tem Jim Ward wanted a report from staff on to verify that they were serving the broader community instead of housing well connected community members or graduate students. Most of the current sitting Council enthusiastically endorsed Greenbridge, creating a new Downtown zoning district and then granting variances on density and height above and beyond the new zones limits, because they bought into this new model of development.

With the Town’s similar joint project with RAM Development (West140) just underway, now would be a good time to reflect on the lessons that can be learned from Greenbridge’s difficulties.

Google has chosen Kansas City, Kansas as their partner in deploying 1 gigabyte/second network services to the community. Chapel Hill applied with some gusto several years ago for the “honor”. At the time I argued that while it would be nice to have the financial backing of Google, Google’s reticence in discussing privacy, security and local control made a possible deal problematic.

The Town continues to limp along with its joint fiber optic deployment project with NC-DOT. What is missing, still, is any real effort by the Council to form a community-based advisory group for leveraging that public investment in high speed networking to attract economic development or increase access throughout our Town’s neighborhoods.

Maybe with Google off-the-table we will finally put the attention into the fiber project I called for over 9 years ago when I started pushing for municipal broadband.

The Carrboro Citizen has another report on Carrboro’s BOA’s decision not to amend the inter-local agreement governing access to Lake Jordan water.

I was bothered by this passage:

Board member Joal Hall Broun said the issue was not the lake water, but freeing up OWASA in the event of emergencies and allowing the utility to find ways to keep the cost of water from rising. Many people in the community can’t afford increases in their water bills like those seen in recent years, she said.

Joal should recall that OWASA bills went up as this community met the conservation challenge. It was not the lack of water that increased fees but the unsustainable cost structure of OWASA and the way capital outlays are financed.

It boggles the mind that five years into our great conservation efforts local leadership still hasn’t pushed OWASA to rework its financial model to reward good behavior.

Our neighbors across the tracks are celebrating their 100th birthday today.

Carrboro, “the little community that could”, has still managed to keep itself, as local radio icon Ron Stutts likes to say, “one degree cooler than Chapel Hill”.

Celebrations start this evening around 7:30pm at the Century Center across from Weaver St. Market.

More information at Carrboro.com.

“…lift up your hearts, all will come right. Out of depths of sorrow and sacrifice will be born again the glory of mankind…”

PRIME MINISTER WINSTON CHURCHILL’S SPEECH TO THE ALLIED DELEGATES
St. James’s Place, London, June 12, 1941

I’ve been thinking about my Libyan friend Ish’s family the last couple weeks. Finally, a promise of freedom from oppression but at a steep price. As the daily death toll mounts in the Libyan countryside I can only hope that they come through unscathed.
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[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.

Spent a tad more than 5 hours discussing zoning and zoning related issues today.

Had an incredible work session with UNC’s Counter-Cartographies Collective (www.countercartographies.org), who “seek to create collaborations for engaged research and cartography — transforming the conditions of how we think, write and map and the conditions about which we think, write and map.”

Got a quick refresher on ArcGIS and then got some excellent practical advice on how to work with our local GIS (geographical information) to tease out socio-economic trends within our community. The technical know-how of the UNC students is impressive, the commitment to rethink cartography’s role in shaping our world view even moreso.

Maps, as one of the CCC members noted, are presented as fact. We habitually consume their content without due consideration, assuming the scientific trappings they come bundled with convey a solid certainty.

But maps can lie. They are often stripped of social context and employed to force a particular narrative. The CCC is interested in expanding the capabilities of maps – integrating a wider community-based context – exposing a richer variety of stories within our community.

After the work session, I sped off to the Southern Human Services building for a review of the County’s Unified Development Ordinance (UDO).
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