Trash Talk: Shall We Stand United? Rogers-Eubanks Community Says “Yes”!

Thursday, November 20th, 2008

I knew that the final siting of the solid waste transfer station might devolve into an “us vs. them” debacle – pitting neighbor against neighbor. Orange County is no stranger to inter-community bickering caused by waste-related issues.

From the beginning, as I made contact with leaders of various organized groups – the Rogers Road community, Hillsborough’s Orange County Community Awareness, Highway 54’s Orange County Voice – I asked that they look at those concerns they have in common and work together as a united front. Fortunately, the folks involved across the county, coming from different perspectives, have found common ground and, essentially, joined together to confront the challenge of managing our solid waste responsibly.

One example ? CEER’s Neloa Jones desire to mitigate community impacts as expressed in her Nov. 17th statement read to the Orange County Board of Commissioners:

Good evening Chairman Jacobs and Other Members of the Board.

My name is Neloa Jones. I am a resident of the Rogers-Eubanks Community, co-chair of the Coalition to End Environmental Racism (CEER), and a member of the Roger-Eubanks Neighborhood Association (RENA).

For 36 years, the Rogers-Eubanks Community has hosted two municipal solid waste landfills, two construction and demolition landfills, a hazardous waste collection site, a recyclables sorting and packaging facility, a mulch/compost site, and a 1/3 acre leachate pond that even the county believed threatened our groundwater.

For these reasons, my community certainly empathizes with ANY community that might also become a host community for solid waste, and I am here tonight to ask that the county GUARANTEE certain provisions and compensation to the community asked to host the waste transfer station.

As suggested in the U.S. EPA Waste Transfer Stations manual, these provisions and compensation might include independent third-party inspections and video monitoring of the facilities, eliminating 3R fees, “funding for road [and] utility improvements,” and “financial support for regulatory agencies to assist with facility oversight.”

Unfortunately, for its 36 years of service to the county, the Rogers-Eubanks Community has never received ANY compensation. We consider this treatment to be unjust and immoral; we do not want another community to receive similar treatment.

For many Rogers-Eubanks residents, our community represents the legacy of ex-slave ancestors who attempted to prosper as they established a community. It represents the legacy of ancestors who wanted to preserve the land to live on and pass to their children and their children’s children.

Our ancestors never envisioned a community blighted by pollution, deflated property values, and the loss of business opportunities. They never envisioned a community blighted by buzzards and vermin, the stench of garbage, and contaminated water. NO, as a member of the Rogers family–FIFTH-generation–I believe that this IS NOT what my ancestors envisioned. As CEER and RENA members, no, we cannot stand by and watch another community destroyed and its quality of life sacrificed. We hope the people of Orange County and our local governments will use the lessons of the past and probe their consciences so that they do what is right for Orange County. Finally, we should ensure that as we look to waste-to-energy and other waste disposal alternatives, we do not bring more technology and waste facilities to Eubanks Road.

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.

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