Easthom: Let’s Revisit Lake Jordan

Sunday, April 10th, 2011

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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 Talk: 1 Megawatt of Waste Not Methane, Want Not Energy, April’s SWAB Report Reveals Opportunity

Thursday, March 15th, 2007

To flesh out my earlier post “Trash Talk: Waste Not Methane, Want Not Energy” here’s a few comments from the April 6th, 2006 Orange County Solid Waste Advisory Board (SWAB).

There’s a few inline comments demarcated by [CitizenWill:…].

Landfill Gas Preliminary Report (discussed after item 1)

Tipton [BJ Tipton – member ] states that other than what was in the newspaper I don’t know a lot about what is going on. I just wanted to get the update.

Wilson [Gayle Wilson – OC staff] states that a presentation was given at the Assembly of Government’s meeting March 30 regarding this. Back in 1997-98 an EPA representative, myself and another staff member met with UNC Energy Services officials who were in the process of designing a fourth boiler (at UNC) and that was when they decided to look at modifying the boiler to use landfill gas. The University never formally responded.

Over the years the use of landfill gas at Chapel Hill North has come up. Phil Barner of UNC facility services called at the end of October early November and stated as they were talking about Carolina North they wanted to know about using landfill gas. I explained that we had a consultant do a report and would be glad to send it to him. After the report was sent in February, I didn’t hear anymore about it until a couple of weeks ago.

Then we got a letter from Carolyn Efland at UNC about landfill gas.

Now there appears to be competing interest in landfill gas. Some of the Commissioners are interested, if it’s feasible, in powering the new Animal Shelter, a new elementary school to be developed on Eubanks Road, our Operations Center and possibly the transfer station. The University has some interest as well. We are in the process of discussing further work with our consultants to do an additional evaluation regarding each of those potential uses. We know that we have gas, but if Carolina North isn’t coming on line for another six or seven years it won’t be worth it.

There are no partners imminent, like next June.

Sassaman [Jan Sassaman – member] states that the gas would have to be used, you can’t store it.

[CitizenWill: Don’t understand this comment as the gas can be converted into methanol or liquid natural gas or propane, etc.]

Smith [Remus Smith – member] asks if the landfill was closed tomorrow how many years would it take to produce gas?

Wilson states that gas worthy of recovery – 12-15 years of time left.

Tipton states that the report talks about the flow.

Wilson states that there are two landfills. The old one on the north is down the [gas production; it started in 1972] curve. The one on the south side isn’t half way up the curve. It has some good stuff coming from it now, but it will not produce for a long period of time [because it’s small].

[CitizenWill: Below we find out this “good stuff” is being vented!]

Kabrick [Randy Kabrick – member] asks if it is being flared now?

Wilson states that we are passively venting it. We have one flare at a central point. I have been resistant in the past because I didn’t want to scare the neighbors lighting up the landfill like a birthday cake. Now we are going to take another look at it even though we are below the regulatory threshold for recovering it.

Kabrick estimates 500,000 cubic feet a day are vented.

[CitizenWill: 500,000/day is roughly 350 cubic feet per minute. This article from GeoTimes points out that “A 1-megawatt electric power plant working on an internal combustion gas engine needs a sustained flow of about 350 standard cubic feet per minute of landfill gas.” So, we’re pissing away from this small, old landfill 1 MEGAWATT of electrical generation capacity.]

Wilson notes that the biggest single cost of recovery is the network of piping that must be installed and for an active landfill it’s more difficult until it’s closed.

Spire [Paul Spire – staff] notes that there is no infrastructure for recovery on the south side now at all and there are problems with putting this gas into the pipeline; the gas company doesn’t want it.

Wilson notes that [unlike Duke Power] the gas company is not required to accept landfill gas.

Tipton asks when will this group take any action on this?

Wilson states that I plan to keep you all apprised of any reports. If you all have any input it would not be out of line to make a recommendation. You will be hearing more about it in the next six months.

As I noted above, we are currently venting from the smaller, older (1972) landfill enough gas to drive a 1 megawatt electric power plant. 1 megawatt of discarded capacity seems like a profligate waste to me.

Imagine what we could do with the “newer” landfill.

Imagine if we used fuel cells with land fill gas [PDF] instead of internal combustion (more expensive upfront but the lack of nasty byproducts make it worth considering).

Imagine if we positioned our county to be more self-sufficient, reduce dependence on Duke Power’s coal-fired misery and generate some positive cash flow to boot!

Is that the Orange County we live in?

Trash Talk: If not Eubanks, where?

Tuesday, March 13th, 2007

Given the anticipated growth patterns in Orange County, siting the transfer station near a high capacity transit corridor would seem to be best. The BOCC has two additional sites located at just such a location – the Eno Economic Development District [EEDD] (as I noted in Orange County’s Garbage Center of Gravity).

The EEDD is not without some flaws, including the nearby Eno River, but given the access to the already heavily travelled Hwy. 70/I-85 and a nearly adjacent railroad corridor, the EEDD’s transit profile appears quite promising.

After reviewing the various advisory board, staff and other recommendations made over the last few years on siting a transfer station I’m struck by how options were narrowed in absence of other factors.

It would be great if the reassessment that Mark Chilton has called for would include a new kind of decision matrix that took into account a wider variety of factors for deciding a new location:
economic, social and environmental impacts, future growth – including Carolina North, the current and projected centers of waste creation (like UNC), energy costs, etc.

In other words, we need a decision matrix that incorporates more dimensions than a straight landfill engineering problem. That matrix should assign values to social, environmental, economic, etc. impacts and assess possible sites against that metric.

The two US70E sites referenced in tonight’s agenda item [PDF] are:

5412 US70E. Tax Value: $654,435. Asking Price: $3.8M. Size: 19.05 acres.

5701 US70E. Tax Value: $326,942. Asking Price: $2.0M. Size: 16.27 acres.

Google MAP of general area.

Here are the profiles for each of the selected sites:

5412 US 70E (click image to expand) 5701 US 70E (click image to expand)

2035 Orange County’s Garbage Center of Gravity?

Friday, March 9th, 2007

I was struck by a conjunction between the following image from the Durham-Chapel Hill-Carrboro Metropolitan Planning Organization 2035 Long Range Transportation Plan Socio-Economic projections I mentioned earlier and the debate currently raging over siting a trash transfer station on Eubanks Road.

35 years ago the Orange County landfill currently blighting the Rogers Road community was sited close to Chapel Hill/Carrboro communities because they constituted the predominant source of garbage.

Now, with projections of dramatic population shifts 30 years hence, it seems like the center of gravity for Orange County’s trash production (creation?) is shifting North.

I did a quick review of the Orange County Board of Commissioners agenda items covering the Rogers Road issue and couldn’t find a discussion of a new “trash axis”.

Maybe those more mathematically inclined could weigh in on how to calculate this new centroid which, it would seem, help locate the most effective transfer site.

Potential site for transfer station at the Hwy 70/I-85 split (within the Eno Economic Development District):


Eno Economic
Development District

Sign, Sign Everywhere a Sign…

Tuesday, November 7th, 2006

This time last year I was catching 14 winks in preparation for election day.

Earlier in the evening I had made the rounds collecting my outlying signs for redeployment. About 3 hours from now, I was leaping out of bed to fill some balloons, say a hasty goodbye to the family and rush to pick up local activist Tom Jensen ( thanks again Tom for kindly assisting with the last round of sign deployments at every municipal polling station).

It was the start of one of the longest days in my life. Exhilerating, enjoyable, extraordinary, engaging – the hospitality and good cheer of the citizens of Chapel Hill made the long hours fly by.

The beautiful fall weather was an incredible bonus.
(more…)

Chatham’s Yes Men

Tuesday, October 31st, 2006

I’m quite interested in the fortunes of our southern neighbors in Chatham County.

As reported in today’s N&O, local Chatham activist Mark Barroso has put together a great little youTube video on the outgoing Commissioner’s ill-deeds.

By the way, the Chatham redistricting proposal, which everyone should vote NO on, serves well as an example of the divisive nature of districting. Orange County residents should vote NO on our referendum to preclude such inanity.

Via Dan Coleman on OrangePolitics.

Here comes the Judge: Superior Court District 15B Oct. 16th Bar Forum

Tuesday, October 17th, 2006

There were 20+ folks tonight – with a couple from the media – maybe 4 or 5 organizers – some town staff and the balance being interested citizens. I was already convinced that District 15B voters have a heck of slate of candidates before them – tonight I was more impressed than ever.

Very simply – we can’t lose. Of course, we have to pick and the candidates did a good job differentiating their philosophies, approaches, procedures and performance.

Due to what turned out to be poor placement of the camera and some technical issues I botched Adam Steins opening statement. In my defense, I set my camera up early – on a tripod as per BrianR’s excellent recommendation – well away from onlookers and the moderator. But then “dancin’ Doyle” decide to move stage right. By that point, my bobbing photographic nemesis for the night had taken the high ground.

Opening statements in reverse order appearance on the ballot. Essentially, Adam Stein reviewed his service before the bar, his work on the Mel Watt and Daryl Hunt cases and laid out his career as per the first forum.

I apologize for cutting Judge Fox off during question on political parties influence: essentially he gave a reprise of his answer on parties and politics from the 1st forum.

Some interesting highlights.

  • Anderson on reforming the system for selecting judges – especially the perception of the public about what the effect of money has on jurisprudence.
  • Anderson on keeping current with the law.
  • Stein taking up the transition challenge with his closing statement.
  • Stein on why he’s punctual now – great story of his youth.
  • Fox on managing high profile cases.
  • Baddour on how a short term can hurt our system of justice.
  • Baddour on direct outreach and keeping the “common Joe” in the picture.

Again, I apologize to the candidates for weaving around, botching the focus, not anticipating “dancing Doyle” and, in Mr. Stein’s case, completely zapping a segment. I’m working to get better at this vLog business.

And to my readership, thanks for the feedback. I wasn’t sure if these videos would have any utility.

Oct. 16th Superior Court 15B Forum: Opening

Tuesday, October 17th, 2006

Opening statements. I botched Mr. Stein’s statement. Later this week I hope to retrieve a video copy from the cable telecast.

youTube link to opening statements.

Madison: Some Smoozing, No Snoozing.

Wednesday, September 27th, 2006

At least, not much snoozing as participants have reported on local ‘blog OrangePolitics.org.

I appreciate the time and effort Mark Chilton, Gene Pease, Fred Black and Dan Coleman put into real-time reviews.

I hope some of our other “known” blog commenters (Anita, Linda, Aaron, Andrea, Diane ?) get in to the act.

[UPDATE:] Anita and Frances Henderson joined in.

While you’re there…Hillsborough Gallery of Arts…

Friday, September 8th, 2006

If you’re heading up to Hillsborough to join the throng cheering on our Continentals, why don’t you check out the new Hillsborough Gallery of Arts pre-opening review.



There are 14 diverse artists showing paintings, jewelry, stained glass, ceramic sculpture, wooden artifacts, etc.

One of the painters does quite interesting work.

Damn you David Fanning!

Thursday, September 7th, 2006

Sure, I’m nearly 225 years behind the times cursing David Fanning’s troop’s drunken pillage of nearby Hillsborough, North Carolina but it is the thought that counts…

In the early morning hours of September 12, 1781, Loyalist David Fanning led 600 Tory militiamen on a daring raid of Hillsborough where Governor Thomas Burke had taken refuge. Taken by surprise, the Hillsborough District militia and handful of Continentals offered little resistance. Fanning’s men quickly captured the Governor, 71 Continentals, and a large number of Whig militia while also freeing 30 loyalist prisoners held in the jail. After their success — in which they suffered only one wounded — the victorious militia began to plunder the town, and after finding liquor, a number of them celebrated by becoming increasingly drunk.

Some interesting fun in-store this weekend as our brave Continentals are surprised (at 11am Saturday, 2pm Sunday Sept. 9th & 10th) by the Loyalist militia.

Schedule & Maps

Events running all weekend, so check it out.

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