environment


A couple meetings tonight that folks may want to check out.

First, a meeting on Northside and the corrosive effect burgeoning development, taxes and shrinking opportunities is having on that traditional community.

From today’s Herald-Sun:

Local activists united to address what they view as “historic discrimination, rising property taxes, and development that threaten communities of color in Chapel Hill” will share alternate visions for collaborative sustainability and social change at 6 tonight.

United with the Northside Community Now (UNC-NOW), St. Joseph C.M.E., NAACP, and EmPOWERment Inc. will host a community meeting at St. Joseph C.M.E. Church, 510 W. Rosemary St., to discuss the impact of local development on historically African American neighborhoods.

“It is important that we come together as a community to be the voice of righteousness and justice in the face of the injustice and racist environmentalism that is threatening our neighborhoods,” the Rev. Troy F. Harrison of St. Joseph C.M.E. said in a news release.

Second, at 7pm, the second Town-sponsored community outreach on the Carolina North development agreement.

A Public Input/Information Session on Carolina North will be held at 7 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 19, in the Chapel Hill Town Council Chambers of Town Hall, 405 Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard.

Carolina North is a proposed satellite campus of UNC-Chapel Hill. It is expected to be contained within about 250 acres of the Horace Williams Tract’s 1,000 acres and be built in phases over the next 50 years, as proposed. The property lies just to the north of Estes Drive adjacent to Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard.

The Thursday session will provide an update on the status of UNC-Chapel Hill’s
Carolina North plans and a description of issues being addressed by policy-makers and Town/University staffs. These issues include the following: design standards and public art; police/fire/EMS facilities and services; school site; recreation facilities; greenways, connections; historic, cultural features; stormwater management on site; water use and reclamation; energy conservation, carbon credits; Solid waste management; remediation of landfill; stream buffers; trees, landscaping; sedimentation; neighboring lands, compatibility, buffers; noise, lighting. A public comment period is scheduled.

This meeting will be aired live on Chapel Hill Government TV 18. Additional informational sessions on Carolina North have been scheduled for 1 to 5 p.m. March 4 and 7 to 9 p.m. April 1.

For more information, contact the Town of Chapel Hill Planning Department at (919) 968-2728 or carolinanorth@townofchapelhill.org.

Additional material is posted online at www.townofchapelhill.org/carolinanorth.

Tonight presents an excellent opportunity to not only get information but to help steer the discussion on what should be part of the development agreement which will codify the community’s expectations.


Today’s Chapel Hill News carries an interesting story from Jesse DeConto on concerns circulating around the misfire (not to sugarcoat it) known as East54. The story, which was as much about how the “dense/tall growth at any cost” Council majority’s vision is running up against reality, as it was the anonymous “I could be in Atlanta or Charlotte” East54.

OK, even though I wasn’t thrilled with East/West Partner’s “virtualization” of Chapel Hill, I did credit them for committing to meet the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design for Neighborhood Development (LEED-ND) standards (though Council wasn’t clear on what to do if the project didn’t meet those goals).

But does that justify such a pedestrian (to be nice) heap?

I expressed my concerns about the trade-offs – minimal setbacks, in-lieu monies instead of affordable square footage, height on Highway 54, traffic patterns, etc. – but was in the minority as the project sailed through an orchestrated “public review” (count me in as one of East/West developer Roger Perry’s “vocal minority” that unfortunately points out that the current sustainability political palaver is parading sans clothes).

Though the story tried to be balanced, it appears, as reported here to have raised the hackles of a few folks.

I understand the realities of today’s news media but I really wish the CHN had spent a bit more time using the “wayback machine” to contrast today’s political posturing from the more “veteran” of the Council folks (including those up for re-election) with what they stood for when they were more than happy to push East54 (and Woodmont) right on through based on a strange read of sustainability.

More on that later.

Bill Strom, following his usual strategy of playing to his “expertise” in transportation, said

“It’s a change in the development pattern, but the guiding principle there is that it is at a regional rail stop,” said Strom. “In order to get federal and state support for these projects, you have to have density organized in a way that promotes ridership.”

Yes, approval of that pile of nondescript architecture, looming over the Glen Lennox neighborhoods and serving as the “de facto” gateway to Chapel Hill, was justified by a rail stop coming sometime mid-century.

This is what passes nowadays for cogent analysis.

In any case, I’d rather leap off the train ala “Slumdog Millionaire” than alight on East54’s commercial doorstep.

Is there an alternative I believe is better?

Sure. Look east to Durham’s new multi-modal public transit station which will serve the Bull’s ballpark, the “white elephant” (Durham’s County jail), Downtown Durham and the American Tobacco complex. Downtown shopping, the Durham Performance Center and Theater, the Durham public library and Arts Guild is not that far away.

The glass heavy design (not sure the role environmental concerns played there) would not be fitting for Chapel Hill but every time I drive by the construction site (finishing this month) it seems like the unfolding design complements Durham’s retrofitted Downtown. Of course, like other Durham projects, the budget was blown – not unlike Chapel Hill’s Town Operations Center.

Central. Convenient. Complementary to its urban environment.

More on Durham’s multi-modal transit station backstory from the Urban Planet forums.

Orange County Voice, another Orange County organization working on the trash transfer site issue along side Preserve Rural Orange, has picked up on the Plan B options I have posted on as recently as last Fall (Trash Talk:Commissioner Gordon “No Plan B”).

Bonnie Hauser, Tony Blake, Susan Walser (recent editorial) and other members have done their homework, presented their cases both for cost effectively using existing local transfer services (one of the options I proposed to the Orange County Commissioners starting several years ago) to partnering with UNC on Waste To Energy facilities [OCV research].

Feb. 11th they renewed their call as reported by Mark Schultz in the Chapel Hill News.

The report says vendors charge $40 to $50 per ton to dispose of waste using existing facilities. Two vendors run waste transfer facilities in Durham and are willing to take Orange County’s waste on a monthly or yearly basis, the report says.

By contrast, the report says Orange County estimates it would cost $47 to $62 per ton to dispose of waste using a new county transfer station. The difference comes in the county’s spending too much to buy property, spending too much to build the facility and locating it in a rural area that lacks water and sewer services, according to Orange County Voice.

The Commissioner’s have opted to research (Herald Sun, Jan. 27th, 2009) alternatives to siting and building a new facility in the particularly troublesome proposed Hwy 54 locale. The race is on to see if common sense and a keen eye towards the future will win out over the current course of events.

Watching the folks who formed PRO – Preserve Rural Orange – in response to UNC’s foray into airport building and Orange County’s crazy siting of the trash transfer station on Hwy. 54 has been encouraging. From a small group of concerned citizens, they have developed an activist organization that puts the “pro” in PRO.

These are long term issues but, so far, they’ve done a great job rallying other concerned folks from across the county to address these significant issues.

Here’s Laura Streitfeld’s report on yesterday’s visit to Greensboro’s waste transfer facility.

To read and listen to WCHL 1360 AM coverage of Orange County Commissioners’ visit to the Greensboro Waste Transfer
Station, click on the link below: WCHL report.

Visit to the Greensboro Waste Transfer Station

Yesterday morning I visited the City of Greensboro’s Waste Transfer Station, on a trip planned for new Orange County Commissioners. I rode in a van from Hillsborough with commissioners Pam Hemminger, Bernadette Pelissier and Steve Yuhasz, Orange County’s Solid Waste Director Gayle Wilson and Solid Waste Planner Blair Pollock, and reporters from the News and Observer, WCHL 1360 AM, and a student reporter and camera person from UNC. When we arrived at the station we were joined by Bonnie Hauser and Susan Walser of Orange County Voice and Forrest Covington, who is working on a video project with Bonnie Hauser. While at the site I took photos and video, and attached are two photos, one of a truck dumping trash inside the building and the other of trailers parked outside, with petroleum tanks in the background. Steve Yuhasz speaks with Jeri Covington in the second photo.

City of Greensboro Environmental Services Director Jeri Covington talked with us and answered questions about the city’s landfill and waste management history and the transfer station’s financing, construction and operations, then took us for a tour inside on the floor, where operations were slowed down for us to walk around. Like the proposed Orange County station, the two-story Greensboro station is entirely enclosed. Inside there was a thick dust in the air that clouded some of my photos, stirred up by the wind blowing in and by the constant motion of trucks and earthmoving equipment driving in and out, dumping and pushing trash across the floor. The smell was not as strong as I anticipated, but walking through the dusty interior I did get a vivid picture of how traffic, noise and airborne particles from an entire county’s waste would affect the ecosystem and watershed in southwest Orange County.

In selecting a site, Jeri Covington noted that they looked for property close to the interstate and near rail lines in an industrial zone. As we saw on our drive in, the station is close to an I-40 exit and and surrounded in all directions by petroleum tanks which Covington called “tank fields.” When it was built in 2005, the Greensboro facility’s cost of construction was $9 million, and the cost of the ten acre property, which Covington said was too small, was over $800,000. She described the station’s funding as a “hybrid,” explaining that they receive funds from city taxes and from tipping fees for taking trash from outside municipalities and companies. At the Greensboro station, garbage is dropped from the upper floor into tractor-trailers below and hauled to the Uwharrie Regional Landfill in Mt. Gilead, North Carolina.

The visit and the van ride were both informative. On the way to Greensboro I spoke with Pam Hemminger, and learned about her background, school board experience and new role as a commissioner. Riding back, Gayle Wilson and Blair Pollock shared their expertise on a broad array of waste management and recycling issues, answering Steve Yuhasz’s and my questions. Wilson discussed the future of the county’s collection centers on Bradshaw Quarry Road and Ferguson Road, one or both of which could close if a collection center were built on the Howell property near the proposed transfer station.

My purpose in visiting the station with the commissioners was to bring back information that would be useful to county residents. Photos, video and a description of the Greensboro station visit will be posted soon on the Preserve Rural Orange website. At our upcoming meeting on March 1st, I look forward to sharing more with you about recent developments in the waste transfer issue. Please feel free to contact me with questions or comments at: info@preserveruralorange.org

Wow! A %50 reduction in this years Halloween crowd.

The Town of Chapel Hill successfully reduced the size of the Halloween event on Franklin Street with an estimated showing of 35,000. Town Manager Roger L. Stancil said he believed the “Homegrown Halloween” campaign assisted in reducing the number of revelers, and strategies implemented by Chapel Hill Police helped to improve safety. Franklin Street was closed at about 10 p.m. to accommodate the crowd and was cleared of people after midnight to wrap up the party.

“The partnership of the Town, the University, student government, businesses downtown and the community at large is what brought us back closer to a homegrown event that was safer and more manageable,” Stancil said. “We did this together as a community.”

To manage the event that attracts costumed revelers to promenade on Franklin Street, the Town must coordinate a workforce of more than 700 people, including law enforcement officers, fire and emergency medical service personnel, parking monitors, public works, and parks and recreation crew members.

Some of the changes this year included restricted access to downtown Chapel Hill through lane and street closures starting at 8 p.m. There were no bus shuttles although Safe Ride buses operated for UNC-Chapel Hill students. Alcohol checkpoints were in place at the event, and DWI enforcement took place along outskirts of Chapel Hill with cooperation from the NC Highway Patrol. The Town worked with downtown bar and restaurant owners to restrict alcohol sales after 1 a.m. All ABC permittees among the bars and restaurants in downtown Chapel Hill would not permit customers to enter or re-enter after 1 a.m.

Town crews were expected to work through Saturday morning to clean up litter and restore order. The Town is holding special hours on Saturday morning to receive calls from residents who wish to report post-Halloween related issues that require prompt attention. Service calls will be accepted between 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturday, November 1, at the following:

Following up on tonight’s trash theme, another quick and quite thorough response, this time from Orange County’s Recycling Programs Manager Robert Taylor.

Early June, with an eye on the impending approval of a new Orange County solid waste transfer facility, I was doing some research on e-waste (electronic waste) management. I already knew Orange County’s residents, the University and businesses have worked hard to reduce, reuse and recycle – and that we’re making good progress towards our goal of %61 waste reduction (see Blair Pollock’s Chapel Hill News column).

In reviewing our county’s waste management plans, I didn’t see an explicit mention of two concerns I had: one, was the county prepared for an onslaught of analog television sets with the Feb. 17th, 2009 switchover to digital (Wired’s Oct. 28th article) and two, what due diligence does Orange County plan to take to validate that the waste facility our solid waste is shipped to will manage e-waste responsibly ( GAO 2008 report detailing U.S. e-waste export travesty [PDF]).

As the transfer site selection process progressed, I had asked the Board of Commissioners consider a site large enough to accommodate additional facilities – like commercial e-waste post-processing operations (E-WasteCenter for instance) that certified their processing complied with the highest available standards. Providing adequate on-site opportunities for these type commercial operations not only makes environmental sense but also offers an economic benefit – jobs.

Here’s my June 1st email:

I’ve been concerned for some time that we’re not handling our county’s e-waste as effectively as we can. Along those lines, are there any special preparations being made to handle the anticipated flood of old style TV’s that might occur with the 2009 switch to HDTV?

Rob’s response was not only thorough but included links for further research.

Hi Will,

Thank you for contacting the recycling program with your concerns.

I understand from your email that you have concerns about the effectiveness of Orange County’s Electronics Recycling Program. Have you experienced a particular difficulty or problem that causes your concern? If you do have a specific concern, it would be helpful to me for you to provide me with some detail so that I can attempt to address your concerns directly.

As a general response to your concern, I will attempt to describe in a broad sense why I believe that our electronics recycling program is quite effective. I will also briefly describe the County’s plans for addressing the potential consequences of the change from analog broadcasting to digital broadcasting that will happen in February 2009.

Orange County began our electronics recycling efforts in the spring of 2002. Since this time our electronics program has experienced significant growth and has also been recognized both regionally and nationally as one of the leading public electronics programs. This is true even when our program is compared to programs operating in states that were early to enact strict electronics recycling legislation such as Massachusetts and California. North Carolina did pass a law last year that requires “computer equipment manufacturers” to develop and implement recycling plans. It is important to note that NC’s legislation specifically excludes televisions, and as such there has been no real leadership on the part of our state to prepare for the transition to digital broadcast. For more information on current state legislation re electronics recycling, please see the National Electronics Recycling Infrastructure Clearinghouse web site: http://www.ecyclingresource.org/ContentPage.aspx?Pageid=28&ParentID=0

Orange County currently accepts all electronic goods and items from Orange County businesses and citizens at no cost. We maintain six public drop-off sites for electronics recycling, and we cooperate with each of our local public works departments (Carrboro, Chapel Hill, and Hillsborough) to enable municipal public works departments to collect from households that choose to work through their municipality’s public works infrastructure, and then deliver that material to our program. Finally, we have a cooperative relationship with the Chapel Hill Carrboro City School System’s PTA Thrift Shops to encourage people who would like to donate their working machines to the Thrift Shops and then in return the electronic materials (computers, monitors, stereos, printers, televisions etc) that are rejected by the Thrift Shop are funneled back into our recycling program.

Our electronics recycling vendor is Synergy Recycling, based in Mayodan NC. Before deciding to work with Synergy, County staff visited, interviewed and audited at least five other vendors. Synergy is ISO 14001 2004 certified, meaning that they have achieved the highest levels of environmental standard for the management of the materials we send them including down-stream audit of the facilities that process and reclaim the commodities that come out of the back-end of the electronics recycling system.

The typical measure used to gauge an electronics recycling program’s success and effectiveness is by measuring diversion (from landfill disposal) in terms of pounds per person per year. By this measure, Orange County’s program is one of the most effective in the nation. Using our program figures from the 2006-2007 Fiscal Year and an estimated population of 121,000 for Orange County, our per-capita diversion for FY 2006-2007 was 5.9 pounds. A more common per-capita diversion rate for a mature electronics recycling program would be on the order of 3.5 lbs per year. Our program continues to improve, and I expect that we will exceed our 5.9 lbs per capita rate for our current fiscal year, FY 2007-2008. I am unaware of any public recycling effort in the nation that exceeds our per-capita diversion rate.

I appreciate your desire to know what Orange County has planned in order to manage the anticipated increase in demand for television recycling that will likely accompany the end of analog broadcast television and the change to digital broadcast.

The Federal Communications Commission has a web site dedicated to providing public information about the transition from analog broadcasting to digital broadcasting. Here is a link to the site: http://www.dtv.gov/index.html

While we have anticipated an increase in the amount of material we will manage, it is my opinion that the transition to digital television will not impact Orange County to the extent that it will impact other communities. I feel this way for three main reasons:

1 – The impending transition to broadcasting only in digital will primarily impact people who watch broadcast television. This means that it will not impact those households who receive their primary television signal through cable or satellite subscription services. Because of the relative affluence of our community, and because of the wide availability of both cable and satellite television service in our area, it will not be necessary for most households to upgrade their television or to purchase a digital-to-analog converter box;

2 – While we have not conducted a scientific survey, I generally believe that many households in Orange County have already purchased televisions that are equipped with internal digital tuners and have already recycled their outdated television sets; and finally

3- Orange County’s electronics recycling program began accepting televisions in the summer of 2003. Since that time we have recycled more than 15,500 end of life televisions. Because of our early commitment to electronics recycling, we already have a robust infrastructure for recycling televisions in place. With this in mind, in order to be ready for the transition to broadcast television we simply need to ensure that our current system is ready for the influx of additional units. In comparison to communities without an active electronics recycling program that accepts televisions, much of the groundwork here has already been completed.

That being said, Orange County is definitely taking several steps to ensure that we are ready for the transition. County staff are preparing language to enable the Board of County Commissioners to add Cathode Ray Tubes (CRTs, the lead-bearing glass picture tube found in televisions and computer monitors) to the items banned from disposal at the Orange County Landfill. If the BOCC approves this proposed ban, it is contemplated that this ban would become effective in January 2008, or about 45 days before the end of analog broadcast. The Department of Solid Waste Management is also preparing to reallocate resources so that there are more staff members available to assist with the handling and processing of the electronics that we receive, and our proposed budget for FY 2008-2009 includes funds to cover the anticipated recycling costs for managing the additional televisions we anticipate receiving.

I hope this information helps address the concerns you raised in your email. I would be glad to answer any specific questions you may have, or to further discuss our electronics recycling program with you. Feel free to email me or to call me at 969-2072.

Sincerely,
Rob

So, the reason for the transfer site omission was straight-forward: Orange County already contracts with Synergy Recycling, a company verified to manage e-waste competently.

Over the years I’ve had the pleasant opportunity to meet folks that quietly and competently perform their job on our community’s behalf.

When I worked at Northern Telecom and, subsequently, as an operating officer at Blast, Inc. (CTO) and Reged.com (CIO/CTO), I liked to present folks that performed beyond their duties a “spot award” as an immediate acknowledgment of a “job well done”. Unfortunately, all I can do here is recognize another effort – like Harv’s – to respond to a citizen’s concern.

Thanks Rob.

I’ve pushed for not only greater transparency in our governance but greater inclusiveness. Chapel Hill has an incredibly talented community well worth listening to, that is why I’ll be asking Council, again, to reconstitute the citizen budget advisory board to assist in identifying efficiencies and spending reductions to get us through next year.

Listening to a concern without following through, investigating deeper, doesn’t make sense.

The other night at the Preserve Rural Orange meeting a gentleman that used to work for our Town suggested someone look into the potential increased fuel costs associated with shipping Chapel Hill’s waste to Hillsborough or Highway 54. He told me that the garbage trucks of his era had been geared in such a way that long-haul operations were , when compared to in-town service, inefficient by a factor of two or more.

Great concern.

I ask a lot of questions, frequently seek out expertise, to better understand the issues before our Town. I find that Council and advisory board minutes, attending numerous meetings and doing my own research doesn’t necessarily reveal underlying problems or solutions – reaching out for input is part of my process.

In some cases, like getting records documenting our Town’s energy and water usage, years go by without any response.

Many times, though, Chapel Hill, Carrboro, Orange County and University staff turn an answer around immediately. I appreciate the time and effort they take to answer citizen concerns – even when the concern is moot.

For instance, Harv Howard, Chapel Hill’s Superintendent Solid Waste/Fleet Maintenance Services, took on the issue of garbage truck gearing:

Mr. Howard,

At a community meeting I attended this evening, a fellow citizen told me that Chapel Hill’s garbage trucks were geared in such a fashion that they could operate effectively on hills but would have terrible mileage running long hauls. His comment came from his concern about siting the new solid waste transfer site. I had asked the Town several years ago about any additional fuel costs associated with trucking waste out-of-town. My understanding that the trucks were roughly as efficient in long and short hauls. Has there been an evaluation of that cost? Is it true we will be burning double the diesel running these trucks up to Hillsborough or out to Hwy 54?

Will Raymond

Harv responded within hours:

Dear Mr. Raymond,

Chapel Hill’s Solid Waste Fleet used to be “geared” as your fellow citizen informed you. However, they have not been so beginning with the 2000 fleet replacements. The current fleet is able to efficiently operate in town or over the road. Your understanding that the trucks are roughly as efficient in long and short hauls is correct to some extent.

We have not concluded our full evaluations of the pending transfer station proposed locations.

The fleet would start and end each day at the TOC. It’s everything in the middle that has to be evaluated. What makes perfect sense as a route starting point now, could change depending on location of the transfer station.

Please feel free to contact me if you have further questions.

Harv Howard
Superintendent Solid Waste/Fleet Maintenance Services
Public Works Department

Thanks Harv. Good to know, one, that the trucks won’t cost twice as much to operate and, two, that you plan to follow up with a cost analysis once the solid waste transfer site is selected.

One suspicion raised by the local organization Preserve Rural Orange is that the newly proposed UNC airport has more to do with private desire than the public good.

UNC’s lead on the formation of an Airport Authority, Kevin Fitzgerald, was already hard-pressed to justify the recent fabulous (as in: “almost impossible to believe; incredible”) claims made by UNC’s consultants that the airport would generate $40M to $53M in yearly economic activity.

Those claims are utter balderdash (read the draft report [PDF]).

Now it appears, as the Chapel Hill News’ Mark Schultz reports over on OrangeChat, that the report had some private backing – to the tune of $30,000.

According to public records, two prominent businessmen — Jim Heavner and J. Adam Abram, contributed $15,000 each toward $100,000 paid to Talbert & Bright. The money helped retain the consulting firm and fund its working paper, according to Kevin Fitzgerald, associate dean of the medical school, which contributed $20,000.

The remaining $50,000 came from the university, and both the med school and university contributions were not from state appropriations, UNC spokesman Mike McFarland said in an e-mail.

I’ve met Jim a few times. He has always been cordial. He owns WCHL 1360 (wonder if they’ll report the link?) and was nice enough to invite me to one of his radio round-tables. I’ve known that he has opposed moving Horace-Williams for years. I assumed that was why WCHL news seemed to be less than critical of the report than other local media outlets. I’m surprised that he is comfortable underwriting this draft report which makes some rather tenuous extrapolations in justifying the $40M figure.

It is great to see Mark tear into a local story. As much as I like the Carrboro Citizen (Happy First Birthday!), I don’t want Chapel Hill to be a one-horse town.

By the way, Preserve Rural Orange is having another community meeting. Laura Streitfeld sends this:

Since our first meeting in late September, news and letters about UNC’s airport plans have generated increasing interest from the wider community. Committees have begun to work on research, outreach, speaking with officials and continuing to gather petition signatures to build our case against building an airport in rural Orange County. At last count, there were 1980 signatures– that’s 180 more people who signed during the week and a half after we presented petitions to county commissioners. While the petitions came out of our community’s concerns over being a likely site, we stand with all of rural Orange County in urging UNC to move its operations permanently to RDU or another existing airport.

This organization is still in its early formation and there will be many opportunities for those who wish to be more involved. If you know of people who don’t use email but would like to be included in our communications, please send us their names and phone numbers. Our website is almost complete and we’ll let you know within the next day or two when it’s ready
for you to log on and get more information. The web address is:

preserveruralorange.org

At our next meeting we’ll hear from local residents who would be affected if an airport were built. We’ll also hear from others including elected officials and community leaders, who will speak of the potential impacts on the environment, our health, and the economy that would result from building an airport. There will be time for questions and answers afterward.

Attached is a flyer with the meeting announcement. We anticipate a large turnout, so please bring your folding chairs just in case!

Please come and be part of the discussion, and spread the word. Here are the details:

Monday, October 27th 7:00 pm

White Cross Recreation Center 1800 White Cross Road, Chapel Hill [MAP]

Speakers will include:

  1. Senator Ellie Kinnaird
  2. Bernadette Pelissier, Candidate for Orange County Commissioner
  3. Mitch Renkow, NC State Economist
  4. Elaine Chiosso, Executive Director, Haw River Assembly
  5. Jutta Kuenzler, Kuenzler Wildlife Habitat Preserve
  6. Nancy Holt, Carolina Concerned Citizens
  7. Local Land Owners

Even though local environmentalist have talked about our county’s responsibility to manage its waste stream responsibly – not dumping the problem on another community – I couldn’t find a recent request to the Board of Commissioners by either a organization or an individual to start the process of developing either a new landfill or a sound alternative. With the missteps selecting the trash transfer site fresh in our community’s mind, I thought that starting that search now would give our community plenty of time to come to terms with what I think is a civic responsibility.

Why? Simply because it will take years to build community consensus on, one, whether we do have an obligation to manage our waste locally and two, what kind of facility is most appropriate.

Earlier this year, the Board of Commissioners did direct the Solid Waste Advisory Board to research alternative waste management technologies with an eye to the future. Their Oct. 7th report on Solid Waste Process Technology Assessment [PDF-huge] and September minutes [PDF] sketches out both the advantages and pitfalls of existing technologies.

Their comments also reveal that the greatest hurdle is political, not technical.

For instance, one promising, though expensive, alternative is to use of waste to produce energy. The only financially feasible way to implement incineration, at least at Orange County’s current level of waste production, is to develop a regional approach in cooperation with surrounding counties and the University (one concern is that there is a “secret plan” to build this type of a facility or a new landfill on the excess acres purchased for the new transfer site).

Incineration can be done in an environmentally friendly fashion and appears, at least using state of the art techniques, not to have as large of a carbon footprint as transporting waste 90 miles to a landfill that doesn’t capture its methane by-products.

Incineration, of course, is even less politically popular than landfills.

In either case, the search for a reasonable and supported solution will take time. Selling the public, probably years. Developing the political will (and backbone) probably even longer.

Shipping waste out-of-county was NEVER going to be a longterm solution (unless fuel cost stay constant and other communities willingness to host our garbage continues ad infinitum). Recognizing the built-in limitation of the transfer process now and acting accordingly is the responsible course to take.

The Orange County Board of Commissioner’s narrowed the possible trash transfer sites to three – 779, 759 and 056 – this evening during their special working session [agenda].
All three are along Hwy 54.

While I’m quite happy that the Rogers Road community is off the hook, at least for now, I’m troubled by the process used in narrowing the field.

As I said to the BOCC several months ago, the process must be more than seem to be fair, it must be measurably fair. This reiterated my March 2007 call (Trash Talk: Systematic is the New Watchword) to junk Orange County’s Solid Waste Advisory Board’s subjective analysis and replace it with the more objective decision-matrix process.

Beyond objective metrics, I added that the criteria used must be understandable and equitably applied in order to build confidence within our community that the end-result – placing an unwelcome solid waste transfer facility in someones backyard – was fair.

I was quite pleased that the BOCC did adopt a matrix approach and had their consultant, Olver [Orange County site], rank sites based on three broad sets of criteria: exclusionary – which removed sites, technical – which ranked sites by their suitability and community – which introduced community values, like environmental justice, into the process.

The rub is in applying the criteria correctly, objectively and equitably. As once again demonstrated this evening, the BOCC and their consultant still are having difficulties with application.

I’m fairly sure that a number of citizens attending this evening – including those who dodged the bullet – were concerned that necessary criterion – cost, transportation, environmental, infrastructure – were either missing or not applied correctly.

For instance, in re-checking my Mar. 9th, 2007 analysis of the county’s projected “centroid of waste production” (2035 Orange County’s Garbage Center of Gravity?) – incorporating additional data from Mebane, Durham County and extrapolating growth at the newly approved developments like Buckhorn – I’m remain convinced that Olver’s calculations are off. This is critical as sites are excluded if they lie 12 miles or more beyond the center of waste production. I informally suggested the County have UNC’s relevant academic departments do a quick review – there’s still time.

I attended the meeting this evening to reiterate my concern that the public outreach portion of the process is “designed for failure”.

As I cautioned the BOCC before, this cannot become a matter of “Us and Them” – neighbor against neighbor. So far, building bridges between folks has been left to the community – with the Rogers Road coalition leading the way.

In spite of professing their desire for community input, there has been a failure to incorporate citizen contributions from previous meetings. Worse Barry Jacobs confusing behavior this evening – “running out the clock” to limit community comments – left more than a few citizens new to this issue dismayed (I spoke to several after the meeting – they all thought Barry did it deliberately).

Considering the problems in applying the technical and exclusionary principles, Olver’s confusing “draft” community input document, the severe self-imposed time-line and other similar issues, I’m worried that the BOCC will arrive at a decision that doesn’t account for community concerns.

[UPDATE] Herald-Sun story (sorry, they still don’t get it – registration required).

Dr. David Owens, Gladys Hall Coates Professor of Public Law and Government at UNC and advisor to Council on the development agreement process, has responded to my Oct. 14th.

Will,

Roger Stancil passed your queries along to me.

You asked if the Council is in some way bound to follow this approach should they determine to start on this path. They are not. The Council can at any time decide that the process is not working and needs to be modified or abandoned. All existing options remain open until the Council actually adopts a development agreement (with that accompanying LUMO text and zoning map amendment).

The issue of how to set measurable performance goals — what they are and how they are monitored — is essentially the same for all of the tools available to the town. For each approach the Town has the difficult task of addressing the substantive question of what those goals and standards are and how they are monitored. While I will discuss the enforcement question in more detail with the Council tonight, the short answer is that the Town retains all of its existing enforcement tools and a development agreement, to the extent it changes things at all, enhances enforcement options.

The scope of provisions in a development agreement is subject to negotiation and can be as broad or narrow as the parties agree to make it. One significant advantage to a development agreement is that it allows a broader range of issues to be addressed in binding approval requirements than most any other regulatory approach. As one would expect, the scope of the provisions is frequently a significant point of negotiation between local governments and applicants. The question of how long an agreement runs and how much development is approved is often related to the range and scope of mitigation measures applicants are willing to commit to. But the ultimate answer to this query is that it is for the most part whatever there is mutual agreement on.

I hope this helps.

It certainly does.

Since a development agreement provides a legal framework for requiring adherence to standards above and beyond existing zoning requirements, I am exploring how the Town can negotiate “best in class” environmental expectations somewhat along the lines of the work proposed by the Horace-Williams Citizens Committee sub-committee on environment.

Those requirements, which I set the stage for (May 26th, 2006’s The Last Horace Williams Citizen’s Committee. Hurrah?), would set the “greeness” bar moderately high for UNC. Of course, if you don’t ask, you don’t get. I wouldn’t ask, though, if I didn’t know that our world-class University has the capability, if not the will, to meet environmental standards typically applied in other jurisdictions.

Thank you Dr. Owens for the quick reply.

I will be attending this evening’s meeting I’m glad to hear your going to explore some of these issues in greater depth. Before the Horace-Williams Citizens Committee was decommissioned, the environmental sub-group had started to create a framework for establishing specific “best in class” environmental benchmarks for Carolina North. We also discussed how to monitor compliance – so many candlepower per square foot for light pollution, so many gallons of runoff, so much particulate pollution, etc. – and possible enforcement procedures. This is the context behind some of my questions.

Since your Sept. 25th meeting I’ve had an opportunity to research several other states adoption of this process. While the basic theme is the same, it’s interesting to see how different jurisdictions bind community needs to developer requirements. One issue, though, that I haven’t found much material on is the public hearing process. You might recall from the Sept. 25th meeting my concern about evidentiary procedure. It appears many communities dispense with a quasi-judicial framework and defer to an informal process.

I’m going to lobby Council for the greatest transparency in adopting the development agreement: no ex parte discussions, minutes of all meetings, some formal evidentiary proceedings and informal – though open, documented – discussion. I know Council has indicated they want the community to have a full opportunity to weigh in but given the tight timetable, I’m afraid that the public might be shortchanged as the process concludes. This is not an abstract concern, as this has happened several times recently. Any suggestion on how to build in this transparency from day one?

Thank you again for work on behalf of Chapel Hill.

I appreciate Dr. Owens rapid response.

I’m not afraid to ask questions – dumb or not – in order to zero in on the relevant issues. I have a number of updates from recent requests on everything from the County’s e-waste management to the Police department’s “eyes on the community” plan in the pipeline. I hope to share soon – keep an eye out.

John McCain really stepped in it out West. When he suggested sending more of Colorado’s precious water south to Arizona, a broad spectrum of citizens rose up to condemn him.

Water, it appears, is precious, no matter what a Coloradan’s political stripe.

Our own multi-governmental OWASA (Orange Water and Sewer Authority) has suggested we borrow additional water from the Haw River, either from the Town of Haw River, or directly, via a pipeline as suggested by this 2008 Stage 3 drought emergency plan.

A Stage Three declaration will also highlight our preparations for a worst case drought response that will provide for temporarily pumping water from the Haw River to the Cane Creek Reservoir. Unless supplementary water is available from neighboring communities, this will be the most viable option for ensuring that we do not run out of water under worst case conditions. Cost estimates for the temporary system are under development, but will likely be in the $4.5 million to $8 million range, depending on the duration and volume of pumping. Specific funding source(s) have not yet been identified, but any supplemental revenue from the Stage Three surcharges will offset a portion of those costs

$4.5 to $8 million sounds outrageous but pales in comparison to the estimated cost of $50 million to cooperatively tap the ever filthier Lake Jordan.

Over the next few years, Chapel Hill’s citizens have to decide whether they have a firm commitment to “live within our means”, to bound development based on our local carrying capacity or to continue expanding to the extent we have to take other folks vital resources (and further diminish the viability of our natural environments, such as the Haw River corridor). There’s little will to substantively take on the long term consequences of our current trajectory. Even with the incredible conservation efforts our local citizenry and institutions have demonstrated, what was once a Stage 3 emergency will become a daily necessity.

Shipping waste 90 miles or pumping water 30 doesn’t jibe with our responsibility to maintain our community’s footprint within what resources are available. Living within that footprint, especially as energy costs increase, makes great economic sense. But for all the teeth gnashing some local politicos and a few green-washed foundations like to engage in, we have taken too few practical and effective steps to realize that commitment.

Talking about commitment (mental?), I was just looking over some old and new requests I have made of our local elective bodies these last eight years.

From my newest one to the Orange County Board of Commissioners – asking them to begin the process to either site a new landfill or develop an in-county alternative for waste management – to one of my oldest to Chapel Hill’s Town Council – setting a goal to reduce fuel use by %5-10, measuring progress and rewarding folks that exceed our expectations – I’ve tried to push a proactive approach to living within our community’s “means”. Water use, available land, even the ability of a wide cross-section of our residents to pay their property taxes, should all play a part in our decision to expand. The current local love affair with high-density, mixed-use developments has obscured this central concern: there are limits to responsible growth – growth that doesn’t demand “borrowing” (to use a development euphemism) resources from far-afield – and Chapel Hill is quickly nearing those limits.

Still haven’t sold our Council on that concept.

Who needs to wait, though, for a popular uprising? Is the plan to schlep on, continue to rely on a comprehensive plan that lacks the nuance to account for carrying capacity, and build until the taps run dry? Do we dump garbage in someone else’s community until it becomes prohibitively expensive to transport it from ours? Do we limit home ownership to those making well-above our Town and University staff’s median income?

Or do we just wait and wait and wait until our own John McCains “step in it”?

Tomorrow the Town Council will hold a public hearing describing the basic framework for managing Carolina North’s development over the next couple decades. This is the second meeting discussing the framework. The first was Sept. 25th. Unfortunately, I was the only citizen not directly involved – as either a representative of the Town, UNC or the media – there. Here are my [remarks [VIDEO]].

The proposal couples two legal strategies – zoning and a North Carolina development agreement (authorized by NC Statute 160A-400.20 [DOC]) – to set conditions for the proper build-out of the 250+ acre Carolina North project. Under a development agreement, a developer can be bound to conditions – like fiscal equity – that lie well outside the purview of the zoning process. In return for being bound to what is hopefully measurable performance based goals that have specific remedies for non-compliance, the developer can be confident that the rules of the game won’t change mid-stream.

Other benefits and concerns are covered by Prof. David Owens’ excellent Sept. 25th overview.

The development agreement process is new to North Carolina but has been used extensively elsewhere to create a flexible approach in dealing with large projects instead of insisting on piecewise approvals – a process which tends to introduce uncertainty. If I’ve learned one thing about local development in the last ten years, it is developers – and the University is a major developer – want more certitude in Chapel Hill’s approval process. We’ve had folks willing to jump through as many hoops as necessary to push their project forward but, in the end, have decided on a more mediocre approach because of inconsistency in the current process.

A Carolina North development agreement coupled with one or more potentially new zones could be quite effective and mutually beneficial in managing growth of this 50 year project.

Still, there are questions surrounding the application of this process to UNC’s Carolina North project that must be answered before firmly committing the Town to this approach:

For example, here’s a couple from an email I sent Town Manager Roger Stancil and Town Attorney Ralph Karpinos today:

Hello Roger and Ralph,

I have a few quick questions about tomorrow’s meeting and the proposed resolution the Council is being asked to adopt.

First, will citizen comments on the development agreement framework be taken?

Second, as far as the language of the resolution, does proposing the agreement as the “preferred tool” give the Council some wiggle room if they decide the process isn’t working out? In other words, does this mean there is a built-in “escape clause” or will the Council be bound to follow this approach?

Using a development agreement coupled with a new base zone (or zones) seems like a good and equitable strategy but there are some issues – for instance, how one sets measurable performance goals linked to specific remedies for noncompliance or establishing long-term requirements, like green space preservation, beyond the agreements term – that I would like see resolved before the Town commits whole-heartedly to this approach.

Finally, has anyone considered extending the coverage of the development agreement beyond the borders of HWA?

Along those lines, has anyone explored the legality of including a project approved outside of the Carolina North process, like the Innovation Center, into the agreement? The University is developing the Duke Energy property. Last night, UNC described putting a small power generation center on that property to support their Airport Dr. facility. Any discussion on incorporating the development of that property or of the anticipated modifications at the Airport Dr. facility that will support the Carolina North project into the agreement?

Basically, my concern is that once the physical dimensions of the development agreement are established, any supplementary development in support of the Carolina North project outside of the described property cannot be included under that agreement’s provisions. Because various performance goals, like mitigating water runoff, controlling air/light/noise pollution, managing traffic impacts, etc. are expected to be defined as part of the agreement, I want to understand how these secondary projects can be brought under the same umbrella. If these secondary projects don’t require a SUP or zoning change, I don’t see how the Town has any leverage to encourage a voluntary assumption of the development agreement’s obligations.

I know you both are quite busy but it would be great to have an answer prior to tomorrow’s meeting.

Take care,

Will

encl: Resolution language

“NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED by the Council of the Town of Chapel Hill that the Council establish the development agreement, with a base zone, as the preferred tool for guiding development at Carolina North; and concurs with the Trustees’ request that June 2009 is a reasonable target date for having established the process for guiding development at Carolina North; and sets the next joint work session with the representatives of the University Trusts for Wednesday, October, 22, 2008.”

http://townhall.townofchapelhill.org/agendas/2008/10/15/1/2008-10-15_r1.htm

I’ll let you know what they have to say. I also have planning to pull together my notes and remarks from the Sept. 25th Special Carolina North Meeting – I’ve got a backlog of posts but I’ll try to get them out ASAP.

One problem I’ve had in trying to change the way our Town does business is that the issues I’m trying to address – higher energy costs, revenues drying up, development policy that drives diversity from our community, financial instability – haven’t reached a level of concern for the greater community.

I’m a proactive guy, work in an industry that rewards innovation and leading not trailing the pack, so it just makes sense to me to work an issue before it rises to a level requiring crisis management. Trying to raise folks concerns about %10-20 tax increases two or more years before they are implemented is a tough task – doubly so when tricks are used by our elected officials to postpone the inevitable. Trying to prepare folks for the impact of $4/gallon gasoline on the Town’s budget when gas in $2/gallon is a tough sell – doubly so when Council members publicly discount prudent measures in spite of obvious trends.

In any case, I’m just dumb enough to keep trying to work issues prior to a crisis point – it just makes good financial and social sense.

A case in point. I asked former Town Manager Cal Horton 4 years ago for public records documenting fuel use by Chapel Hill’s staff. About the same time, I asked for information on electricity use at each of the Town’s facilities. My idea was to identify specific problem areas, measure policy changes to see how effective our Town’s “green” goals were being met, to look at rewarding staff for impressive reductions in their energy use and basically get prepared for the anticipated increase in energy costs.

This was four years ago when gas was under $2 a gallon.

Four years later, after numerous requests, a new Town Manager, I still haven’t received any of those records. I’m going to make another run at doing that analysis – now in retrospect – to see not only see how we can pare down the cost of operating our Town but to understand if the policies so far adopted have had any direct effect.

Here’s what I asked for Sept. 26, 2005:

3a(10). Will Raymond, regarding Agenda Item #5b, Fuel Supply, Cost and Budget Issues for the Town’s General Municipal Fleet and Transit Bus Fleet.

Mr. Raymond petitioned the Council regarding Agenda Item #5b, Fuel Supply, Cost and Budget Issues for the Town’s General Municipal Fleet and Transit Bus Fleet. He noted he had sent the Council an email regarding the purchase of bio-diesel fuel, and was pleased that shortly after that the Town had purchased 1,000 gallons. Mr. Raymond said that was a “fantastic” first step and hoped the Town would follow up on that, noting that at the present time bio-diesel fuel was 20 to 30 cents a gallon cheaper than diesel or kerosene.

Mr. Raymond said there appeared to be some confusion in the agenda item, noting there had been some discussion that they could burn bio-diesel fuel in their buses, and now they were saying that maybe they could not. So, he said, he had called Detroit Engine that made the engines for the buses, and they were recommending to their customers that a 20 percent blend was “perfectly suitable” for those engines. Mr. Raymond said that Detroit Engine had indicated they would be happy to work with the Town and could possibly get that blend higher. He encouraged the Town to contact them and take that action.

Mr. Raymond also suggested that since they were running at a deficit within the fuel budget that they today start with targeted reductions in the amount of fuel they were using. He said they still have vehicles that idle wastefully, and that yesterday he had observed a Town vehicle left idling for two hours. Mr. Raymond said with the price of gasoline that was unacceptable behavior. He asked that the Council take immediate action to conserve fuel.

THE COUNCIL AGREED BY CONSENSUS TO REFER MR. RAYMOND’S COMMENTS TO AGENDA ITEM #5b.

A Lion used to prowl about a field in which Four Oxen used to dwell. Many a time he tried to attack them; but whenever he came near they turned their tails to one another, so that whichever way he approached them he was met by the horns of one of them. At last, however, they fell a-quarrelling among themselves, and each went off to pasture alone in a separate corner of the field. Then the Lion attacked them one by one and soon made an end of all four.

Aesop, 6th Century BC

Had an opportunity tonight to listen in on a group of concerned Hillsborough and southwest Orange County citizens discuss the potential siting of the trash transfer facility in their neighborhoods (Eno River Economic Zone – 2 sites and Hwy. 54 corridor – 3 sites).

A number of issues were raised at the meeting: apparent bias in site selection, the “surprise” announcement of the sites on Hwy. 54 and the Hillsborough zone, weighting of access to water and sewer hookups sans cost of making those connections, inadequate traffic studies, confusing or misapplied scoring of technical criteria, whether the BOCC would implement the more costly enclosed transfer site design previously proposed for Eubanks or shave some costs by going with an open pavilion, concern that Chapel Hill’s/Carrboro’s increased transportation costs were improperly used to justify removing Durham County’s transfer site from consideration, underestimation of water use (500 gals. a day!), possible “hidden” reasons for acquiring 82 acres ($7.5 million the current asking price) instead of a smaller tract, if incineration and ultimate in-county disposal got due attention and a slew of others which I’m sure the Rogers Road community are well acquainted with.

Nathan Robinson, the environmental engineer I wrote about Sept. 16th, a founding member of Orange County Community Awareness, gave the clearest deconstruction of the current solid waste transfer site selection mess that I’ve seen. Orange County’s consultant, Olver, should review his presentation to improve their own dog-n-pony show.

Nathan quickly out-lined the dimensions of the issue, discussing what a solid waste transfer site does, how it is laid out, managed and maintained before launching into an analysis, from his professional viewpoint as an environmental engineer, of the problems associated with the current siting process.

Nathan’s concerns mirror a number of mine, especially in terms of the weighting of the selection criteria, the incredibly confusing community criteria feedback procedure, biased scoring of the technical criteria, analysis of environmental consequences and the evaluation of Orange County’s waste creation “center of gravity” (my Mar. 9th, 2007 post on that issue: 2035 Orange County’s Garbage Center of Gravity? ).

As folks that have read my ‘blog know (or have heard me whinge on about local issues elsewhere), I promote reality-based decision-making using measurable criteria. Not all issues are amenable to this approach. Sometimes you have to make a subjective call – say as to the weighting of the importance of environmental justice in the current transfer site process. As I noted a couple years ago, the previous decision by Orange County’s Solid Waste Advisory Board to plop this new facility back on Eubanks sorely lacked rigor, objectivity and transparency.

I questioned SWAB’s ability to make a sound decision because they didn’t generally use objective, understandable, measurable criteria – technical or otherwise – and what criteria they did use were inequitably evaluated differently depending on context and perceived necessity.

Because of that disconnect, I lobbied the Board of Commissioners (BOCC) to create a more thoughtful process grounded by sound engineering principles, guided by community standards. I was encouraged by the process they adopted, but, just as the BOCC themselves admitted on return from their summer break, greatly concerned by Olver’s implementation.

The folks of Rogers Road shared my concerns and expressed their uneasiness at the BOCC’s Sept. 16th meeting.

Of the concerns expressed and the comments made at the meeting, two need serious highlighting.

First is the statements by Hillsborough’s elective folks – like Mayor Stevens and Commissioner Gering – to this community that “they didn’t know” about the process or potential siting of the solid waste facility near Hillsborough. I attended several Assembly of Orange County Governments meetings where these issues got a thorough airing. As a quick Google of minutes of these meetings document, Hillsborough’s reps had to know that these sites were in-play.

Second, and really the most encouraging of all the comments, was Nathan’s call to adopt a united and collaborative approach in dealing with these outstanding issues.

He said, clearly, that he has come to understand the depth of Rogers Roads concerns, their 36 year struggle to simply have promises made – promises completed. He said, clearly, that equitable environmental justice was a relevant criteria and that this was not a battle between neighbors. When a few comments from the folks assembled veered into the “us versus them” realm, Nathan and some of the other organizers rose to say that their emphasis was on the overall process – their focus to get an reliably objective analysis within the established criteria and remove the confusion around the more subjective components of Olver’s mission.

Finally, and the most heartening of all, Nathan said he was meeting with Rogers Road resident (and champion) Rev. Campbell today to see how they could work together. I well remember the landfill expansion fight – which pitted neighbor against neighbor. An attempt to avoid that rancor from the outset gives hope the community won’t fracture. Interestingly, the folks around the county starting to deal with UNC’s new airport authority, already recognize that a united approach is a better approach.

My hope? That the BOCC improves the process. That they realize that the solid waste transfer decision is a beginning. And they work knowing how these issues are resolved will set the template for the new landfill selection process.

If you’re just stumbling upon my site and want some background, here’s a few posts and links to get you up to speed:

Additional posts on the issue are available by doing a search on “trash” from the sidebar.

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