Trash Talk: Will We Stand United?

Friday, October 3rd, 2008

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.

Trash Transfer Site: And then there were seven?

Tuesday, September 16th, 2008

Quick reminder about tonight’s Board of Commissioner’s working session on siting the Orange County trash transfer station – 5:30PM at the Southern Human Services Center [MAP] (agenda).

I continue to be concerned about the process – including the criteria – but hold out hope that a good result will eventually be crafted. More on tonight’s meeting here (OC), here (DTH), here (HS – registration still required!!!) and here (CHN).

From Neloa Jones and Sharon Cook:

Dear Friends,

Our Orange County Commissioners are getting closer to selecting a site to build a county-wide trash transfer station. Please support the Eubanks-Rogers Road neighborhood in their effort to remove Eubanks Road as a potential site for this new facility. Eleven potential sites have been identified. Most of the other sites are west of White Cross Road along Highway 54 or off of the I-40 and Old 86 intersection.

This attachment shows all of the potential sites [SEE GRAPHIC]. Every current and future garbage truck in the county will travel the selected route to the waste transfer station. From there all the trash will be dumped and loaded onto extended semi-tractor trailers for shipment out of the county.

Please show your support by attending the Orange County Commissioners’ Work Session on Tuesday, September 16th at 5:30 p.m at the Southern Human Services Center on Homestead Road (back behind the new Senior Center.) Please come, even if you will arrive late.

There are so many reasons why Eubanks Road is NOT the best place for this new facility, including:

– the opening of Morris Grove Elementary School and the school buses and families who now use this route on a daily basis;

– the future middle school and county park near Morris Grove;

– the continuing residential and business developments along Eubanks Road;

– and most importantly, the fact that the Eubanks-Rogers Road neighborhood has hosted our county’s trash facilities for the past 35 years!

If there is simply no way that you can attend the meeting on Tuesday, September 16th, please send an email to our county clerk at dbaker@co.orange.nc.us and ask her to forward your comments to each of the County Commissioners, and to include your comments in the public record.

Many of your neighbors in the Eubanks-Rogers Road have been working very hard to prevent our area from becoming the permanent trash center for the county. Please give them your support at this critical time in the decision making process. For more info about the issue, google Orange County, NC Waste Transfer Station.

I have carved out more time for civic activities of late. As part of that, I’ve thought about applying for Chapel Hill’s open position on Orange County’s Solid Waste Advisory Board. A recent shift in that Board’s leadership holds out some hope for not only a reasonable outcome on the trash transfer site but a new look at managing our county’s future waste stream in an ecological and economically sustainable fashion.

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