Trash Talk: Council Confusion

Council seemed somewhat confused in making the decision to take the Rogers Rd./Millhouse community off the table as far as the new County transfer site. Details on the site selection criteria and an analysis of anticipated municipal fiscal impacts have been available since Spring here.

The community-based, technical and exclusionary criteria were well established prior to Mayor Foy throwing the Town Operations Center site on the table. Both the Mayor and Council have been briefed on the criteria, so the confusion this evening didn’t quite make sense. Further, if the Council was concerned about the objectivity or quality of the criteria, as Councilmember Ed Harrison said he was, they had plenty of opportunities to improve upon the community’s approach. Neither individuals, like Ed, or the Council as a whole took that opportunity.

I chalk up both that lack of participation and tonight’s confusion to institutionalized disengagement on solid waste management issues. Yes, technically the responsibility for managing Chapel Hill’s waste belongs to the County. No, that’s not an excuse for abrogating oversight and participation (if for no other reason than the link between Chapel Hill’s sustainable growth and responsible resource management).

Tonight I tried to get the Council to take both Millhouse sites off the table. The Town’s by having staff apply the community-based criteria. And, subsequently, the County’s site by implication. Along with other concerned citizens we managed to move Council halfway towards that goal.

[UPDATE] WCHL’s Elizabeth Friend’s report.

My remarks to Council:

Tonight Mayor Foy recommends that:

“the Council seek more information…regarding the potential impact each proposed option would have on Town operations….to review the four sites that are currently under consideration and provide the Council with a report detailing the benefit or detriment of each site as it affects Town operations.”

Restricting the evaluation to “effects” and “impacts” on Chapel Hill’s own operations takes a rather narrow view of our community’s responsibility for dealing with our solid waste.

Over two years ago, I and other concerned Chapel Hill and Orange County residents questioned the Solid Waste Advisory Board’s – SWAB – selection of the current landfill for use as a trash transfer site. The SWAB’s criteria for selecting that site seemed arbitrary and capricious – especially given the broken promises and many years of environmental and socioeconomic impacts on the Rogers Road/Millhouse community.

I’m quite familiar with the issue having collaborated with citizens and groups – such as Preserve Rural Orange represented by Laura Streitfeld, Orange County Voice represented by Bonnie Hauser, Orange County Community Awareness represent by Nathan Robinson and our local Rogers-Eubanks Coalition represented by Rev. Campbell ñ to convince the Orange County Board of Commissioners to adopt community-based, objective and measurable criteria for siting the trash transfer facility.

Adopting transparent criteria was critical to building community consensus with the final proposal.

The Commissioners agreed and our County consultant, Olver, began to meet with folks from all over the County. Last year, the culmination of that effort lead to the creation of a set of community-based, technical and exclusionary criteria for determining an appropriate location for the transfer site.

These criteria were well-publicized and in-place well before Mayor Foy recommended the Town Operations site. Further, these criteria had been presented to Council several times during Joint Governmental meetings.

A cursory review of those criteria – even from a laypersons viewpoint – would have immediately led one to understand how inappropriate the Town’s Operation Center site suggested is – violating 6 or more key criteria.

To continue to entertain this site not only flies in the face of the criteria our community developed in cooperation with Olver, the technical consultant, and the Orange County Commissioners but continues to undermine the community’s confidence in a transparent and fair approach in addressing this community’s responsibility for our waste.

I ask the Council to instruct staff to not only review the impacts upon Chapel Hill but to also analyze the Millhouse sites in light of the community-based, technical and exclusionary criteria that our citizens help create.

Once they do that, I believe the Rogers Road/Millhouse community sites will be off the table – once and for all – and that the Town can then turn back its attention to addressing the long standing obligations we have to our neighbors in that community.



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6 responses to “Trash Talk: Council Confusion”

  1. Terri Buckner Avatar
    Terri Buckner

    I was very happy to hear Mayor Foy ask for a cost analysis for the town on all 4 sites. It’s amazing to me that they’ve waited this long to get a grip on what the different options mean in terms of real dollars. Hopefully, they will also look at the environmental costs too. Only when they have a clear understanding of costs and environmental impact can they put that together with what they know about the social impact and make an informed decision.

    How much additional truck traffic would the transfer station add to Millhouse Road?

    As for the evaluative criteria, the consultant totally ignored the social justice criteria when recommending the Hwy 54 site. Apparently, they don’t understand the loss many of the residents in that area suffered when they lost their farms to OWASA. Nor do they understand the health threats associated with all the fields used by OWASA and Burlington for applying sewage sludge.

    If you or anyone else wants to take a leadership role in this discussion then you need to make the case for following the criteria–not just creating them.

  2. Administrator Avatar

    The cost analysis has already been done Terri, it’s been available at the link I provided since late Spring.

    The criteria that I and others helped develop did not come from a vacuum – many of them are based on Federal guidelines for siting waste facilities in a socially and environmentally responsible fashion.

    Not only do I agree that the Hwy. 54 site is inappropriate on several grounds, environmental and social being just two (having the center of trash generation move north over time another) but I have publicly challenged the BOCC’s decision to consider that site numerous times.

    I’m not sure what you’re getting at with the last statement but I am sure that I have not only helped develop the criteria in collaboration with other concerned groups and citizens but built the case for applying them as specified. This was key to their creation and key in the discussions that followed (criteria without sound underpinnings and relevant rationale are useless).

    I also know that Kevin had been presented the criteria, had an opportunity to critique the criteria, and definitely has the background understanding to apply the criteria. Given that, his suggestion to site a facility on Millhouse at the TOC (which arguably opened the door to the County’s site) was inappropriate.

    I’ll continue to argue that when Chapel Hill ceded landfill operations to the County it didn’t cede its responsibility to provide leadership and oversight. I’ve said that before, have offered to served on the SWAB as Council representative and, if elected, will ask once again to liaise with the County on this issue.

  3. Administrator Avatar

    Here’s current chair Sassaman’s letter on Monday’s meeting. While I don’t recall anyone complaining about the consultant Olver (I’ll check the video < href="">here to see), I do know that I’m not the only Chapel Hill citizen that has spoken out on the choice of Millhouse or Hwy. 54 sites.

    The best location proffered so far is the one adjacent to the rail spur within the County’s Eno Economic Development zone. Beyond being zoned for this type of industrial use, having easy/effective access to rail/high capacity roads and having few nearby residences or other elements that contravene the community-based criteria, siting the facility there could actually kick-start the development of service infrastructure the current site lacks. Further, the County could relocate other solid waste functions to this large site and even lease land to private concerns that can turn our waste into profitable revenue streams. Finally, given the patterns of development in Hillsborough/Efland/Mebane/Durham County the economic development zone is arguably closer to the centroid of future waste production than any other site.

    To: Kevin Foy
    Subject: Solid Waste

    Mayor Foy:

    I applaud your efforts during Monday evening’s meeting. I think you understand the issues and the potential
    consequences if we continue down our present path of inaction with respect to the Waste Transfer Station.

    The Waste Transfer Station will be the centerpiece of solid waste operations for Orange County and its municipalities
    as we phase out the landfill and if we indeed site and build the facility. Without the transfer station, we will be
    forced to rethink how we deal with solid waste, including garbage and recyclables, in Orange County, and perhaps scrap
    what is considered one of the best solid waste operations in the State of North Carolina and perhaps the nation. At
    present, Orange County and its municipalities provide an example of what can be done well by a publicly operated
    service that is probably better and cheaper than an equivalent private one.

    With respect to the 4 options on the BOCC’s table for a Waste Transfer Station location, Durham and Route 54, compared
    to Millhouse Road options, would be bad for Chapel Hill in terms of economics, bad for the SW Operations (both Chapel
    Hill and Orange County) operationally, create a much larger carbon footprint, and just does not make sense. With
    respect to social issues, as the BOCC noted some 2 to 2 1/2 years ago, there are continuing solid waste operations at
    Eubanks Road as there will be for the next 20 years or so in the form of the C&D landfill and other operations. To
    site a Waste Transfer Station somewhere else just adds the burden to yet another community, either in or out of Orange
    County. And a Waste Transfer Station is not an egregious operation. There is probably less traffic with such a
    facility than there is associated with the two schools on Estes Drive in Chapel Hill. An interesting point is the fact
    that siting the transfer station on Millhouse will result in less truck traffic (in terms of trips) overall than any
    other location since that is, as you noted, where the trucks are parked at night.

    Kevin, on an important note, I was disturbed that the interests of the residents of Chapel Hill seemed to be
    discounted. Many if not most of the speakers in this debate do not represent Chapel Hill. Indeed, most of the rhetoric
    comes from people who simply do not want a facility in their back yard. Sometimes, we have to recognize that if we
    want to live in a community of citizens, we must share the burden of responsibility, in our taxes, and in living near
    some of the public facilities that we all want and need. Sometimes, elected officials must do what they were elected
    by the citizens to do, and see that we have the services that we need and desire as a community.

    Finally, I was disappointed in the attack on the County’s consultants on Monday. They are just following the
    directives of the BOCC and County staff as the County tries to accommodate all of the public questions and attacks.
    When this debate gets personal and either individuals or corporate participants (consultants, volunteer boards, staff,
    and elected officials) are attacked, then the real facts and issues become obscured.

    As usual, feel free to share this e-mail as you see fit.

    Jan Sassaman
    Chapel Hill Representative to the Orange County Solid Waste Advisory Board

  4. Terri Buckner Avatar
    Terri Buckner

    Sounds to me like Ms Sassaman and I agree that Millhouse Road is the best choice for the transfer station, and for the same reasons. Operations will continue at the current landfill; the trucks are housed at the TOC so they’ll be coming and going anyway; and it makes no sense to impose a new industrial operation somewhere else when this is the most cost effective site.

    As I understand it, we do not produce sufficient waste to make rail transport feasible. You may want to check with staff, but that was the case as of last year.

    As for the cost analysis having been done, I think it’s incomplete. Unless I’m missing something the cost of new trucks for Chapel Hill is not included–just fuel. The current trucks cannot handle the distance to Hwy 54 or to Durham. I’m not sure about the Carrboro or Hillsborough trucks.

    With respect to the siting criteria, I’m satisfied with the criteria. But criteria must be applied appropriately to hold value. If you look at Olver’s ranking sheet, you will see that there are no social justice concerns with respect to the Hwy 54 site. This was pointed out several times to the BOCC and it has never been corrected.

  5. Administrator Avatar

    Terri, Harv Howard had this (Gearing of Garbage Trucks and Fuel Usage) to say about our trucks and fuel efficiency October, 2008 when I asked about our rolling stock.

    I believe rail can be competitive but the issue is housing the waste on-site until sufficient quantities have accumulated to move it down the line.

    There are extensive waste to rail systems in place throughout the northeast and in California ( but, of course, are trash generation is minuscule in comparison.

    It’s unfortunate that we have to use the transfer option even for the short term but I’m convinced both by the data and the promises made it is time to move off of the current landfill.

    The calculation now is trying to figure out how long it will take to build enough community support to manage our waste stream either in Orange County (or possibly regionally). The result of that calculation determines whether building a transfer site or using existing facilities is the most sound decision. You were part of the fights over the landfill, what’s your sense on how long it will take (if ever) to build support for the “in house” option?

    BTW, EPA weighs in here:

  6. Terri Buckner Avatar
    Terri Buckner

    Thanks for posting Howard’s response. Glad to know whichever site is chosen won’t require purchasing a new fleet.

    Can we get a landfill sited in Orange County? Not without stronger political leadership. We need someone to take charge who doesn’t care if she/he is ever re-elected. Or maybe it’s just that we need someone who won’t care if opponents use leadership on siting a landfill as a bludgeon against her/him.

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