Trash Talk: The Neverending Story…Ends?

Tuesday, April 5th, 2011

[UPDATE:] WCHL’s Elizabeth Friend has a great summation here.

Over a decade ago, just as I was beginning to get involved in local issues, I heard then local NAACP President Fred Black and Roger Road resident Rev. Robert Campbell brief Council on the fairly extensive list of negative impacts our landfill was having on the Rogers Road neighborhood: rats, buzzards, landfill leachate spilling across lawns, tainted water, debilitating odors, broken sewers, dangerous roads, among others, plaguing the area for decades.

They referenced a 1972 unrecorded pledge (since disputed by local governments) by then Chapel Hill Mayor Howard Lee that the small community would get new services for taking on, at the time, Chapel Hill’s garbage burden. Further, they stated Lee claimed the landfill would only operate 10 years (1982) and that he promised obvious negative impacts would be mitigated over the whole lifespan of the project.

As of early 2000, after several extensions of the landfill’s lifespan, the small Rogers Road community still waited on those new services, necessary remediation and a time-certain for closure. Fred and Robert made a convincing case that given the dearth of leadership from the County that Chapel Hill should lead the way in finally addressing these issues. The Council wrung their hands but did little more than pass the buck back to Orange County claiming impotence in discharging that long held obligation.

The struggle to get some kind of reckoning has been long. Its been tough. There have been setbacks ( background).

Tonight, though, with unanimity the current Orange County Board of Commissioners vowed to finally make good on that 40 year old debt. What started out as a discussion of a proposal to extend the landfill’s life, again (through 2017), became a solid consensus to delay any further action contingent on the formulation of a firm, specific plan of remedying the Rogers Road community’s problems.

It started out with more than a dozen folks, including Rev. Campbell, standing before the Commissioners highlighting environmental problems like air and water pollution, describing the 42 illegal waste dumps surrounding the landfill, reporting on the 2+ tons of litter recently removed by volunteers from the nearby roadsides.

I focused on the process. Why, I asked, hadn’t the County included a specific mitigation plan in tonight’s proposal? A call Commissioner Valerie Foushee echoed minutes later. Where would the funds come from given the County hadn’t been setting aside funds as per the 1997 landfill extension agreement? Why hadn’t, given the breathing room last year’s decision to ship waste to Durham’s trash transfer facility, the Solid Waste Advisory Board (SWAB) taken on the task of capping of the landfill in a socially responsible fashion? What would the Rogers Road community get from yet another extension of their problems?

As I put it – irrespective of whatever promises made or not by Chapel Hill Mayor Lee in 1972, the County and the Commissioners now owned the problem.

The Commissioners, after taking in these comments, each took a turn explaining why they couldn’t endorse an extension that didn’t include a specific plan of action for mitigating the decades of harm caused by the landfill.

Relatively new County Manager Frank Clifton said as someone who hadn’t been involved in all the discussions, hadn’t heard decades of problems, as an outsider, he was mystified that the County Commissioners hadn’t taken advantage of the 1997 stipulations to fund mitigation. He said he and his staff had long been ready to take all the studies, advisory board reports, commission results, etc. and formulate a plan of action. He also said – clearly – that this had to be a County staff driven effort and that the County’s partners – Chapel Hill and Carrboro – would be advised but not counted on in moving forward (the municipalities have been missing in action for decades though the Council finally did appoint Jim Ward as liaison to the SWAB).

Brief summary: the BOCC accepts full responsibility for what should be an obligation borne by all the local leadership. They have instructed staff to create a specific plan of action and to seek funding for it. That plan will identify mitigation strategies the County can legally carry out. The municipalities will be advised but not relied upon (a sorry comment on current affairs) in moving forward.

Quiet elation – a strange feeling – and a reasonable outcome after a long, long haul. More than ten year’s in the making the final chapter, hopefully, is being written on the Rogers Road landfill story.

Rev. Robert Campbell’s Letter

Saturday, October 24th, 2009

I first met Rev. Robert Campbell, an incredibly dedicated advocate for the Rogers/Millhouse community, over 8 years ago. At the time I was attending one of my first Council meetings.

Fred Battle, Robert Campbell, Yonni Chapman
Yonni’s Picassa, Aug. 28th, 2009, Peace and Justice Commemoration

Fred Battle, then President of the local NAACP (and member of the Hank Anderson Breakfast Club), had presented a compelling case for extending sewer and water to the Rogers Road community on the basis of promises made by Chapel Hill’s Mayor Lee decades before. The community had been told that if they accepted the landfills, the County and the Town would provide mitigations, including proper sanitation and potable water, to offset those burdens.

I was moved by Fred’s and Robert’s words that evening, wished I could lend a helping hand. I introduced myself, apologized that as a longtime resident and part of the problem I had not known of their plight and done more to help. Luckily I’ve since had an opportunity to make amends.

The last 4 years Robert, Neloa Jones and many of other other folks working to lift the burden off of this community have set an example that I strive to follow. It is a true welcoming gift that they’ve invited my service on their behalf.

Unfortunately, eight years on, we are still dealing with some of the same issues. The Council this Spring pledged to form a working group to resolve this long owed debt but that pledge, like Mayor Lee’s of decades ago and Mayor Foy’s of this Spring, remains unkept.

Robert wrote this stirring endorsement of my candidacy which appeared in the Chapel Hill Herald and at the IndyWeek.

Thank you Robert for the very kind words:

Raymond has vision; is the voice town needs

Will Raymond is a person that knows the issues and the effect it has on policies making in local government. Will has been and still will advocate for social and environmental justice. Will is one who sees the importance of citizens’ voices and will be the voice of those that are not at the table where decisions are made that affect them.

We are at a critical point in planning for our future of our town. Construction will soon begin in a Chapel Hill planning district, a waste transfer station is part of the development which must be addressed. Will Raymond knows our roads, schools, housing and right to basic amenities will be on the minds of citizens.

Local and political education, accountability, honesty and democracy are the keys to transparency in government. A vote for Will Raymond is a vote for Green initiative and sustainability. We need new vision on the town board. Make the right decision and vote for Will Raymond, a man that sees from within and not from without, one who has been at the meeting and has seen and heard the voice of the people.

I, Robert Campbell, call for all friends, family members, church members, citizens and veterans to vote for community service and experience. Vote for Will Raymond.

Robert Campbell
Chapel Hill

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.

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