by Joe Schwartz
The Orange County Board of Commissioners are committed to closing the local landfill, a burden that the Rogers Road-Eubanks community has been saddled with for 40 years now, in June 2013.
But, at last night’s Assembly of Governments meeting, leaders from the three Orange municipalities who dump garbage there as part of an interlocal agreement said they want to work together but differ on how to move forward. They have just 17 months to decide.
Chapel Hill is hiring a consultant, hopefully next month, to study its options and wants to consider keeping trash local and converting it to energy.
Carrboro is balking at the cost, both in dollars and in pollution, of the county’s plan to transport waste to Durham’s transfer station and then onto a landfill in Virginia. The Board of Alderman unanimously supports studying the feasibility of building a waste transfer station in Chapel Hill near the northwest intersection of N.C. Hwy 86 and I-40.
Hillsborough is OK with whatever everyone else decides so long as it doesn’t cost significantly more than what is being done now.
All want to offer remediation for Rogers-Eubanks and agreed to form a task force to work on creating a lasting community center for the neighborhood and on providing the water and sewer connections for neighbors that were promised when the site was built in 1972.
Last year there were 35,340 tons of waste was disposed in the landfill. Of that, Chapel Hill contributed 42 percent, Orange County accounted for 30 percent, Carrboro chucked 19 percent of it and Hillsborough pitched 9 percent.
Gayle Wilson, Orange solid waste management director, said the Durham transfer station could be used for three to five years while a new strategy is developed. Carrboro Mayor Mark Chilton said that strategy should be found now. Temporary solutions have a way of becoming permanent, he warned.
“It does not seem responsible to close the landfill and have essentially no other plan or any other facility for disposing of our solid waste in Orange County,” Chilton said.
Carrboro would have to buy additional equipment and hire additional personnel to commute to Durham. It would entail a 40-minute roundtrip and cost $200,000 annually, Interim Town Manager Matt Efird estimates.
“I don’t think that’s a responsible use of taxpayer dollars,” Chilton said, adding that he would rather use money to contribute to Rogers Road remediation. “It’s neither fiscally nor environmentally sustainable.”
Chapel Hill’s pilot program showed it would cost the town $500,000 to $600,000 a year. That’s equivalent to a one-cent increase to the tax rate, Town Manager Roger Stancil said.
That could be a disastrous scenario, council members said.
“We are going to find a better solution than trucking our stuff to Durham for $600,000 a year,” Chapel Hill Town Councilman Gene Pease said. “There just has to be one.”
Pease said he couldn’t believe that the county decided to close the landfill without a plan for the towns. Town Councilwoman Donna Bell countered that residents who have lived adjacent to the landfill and dealt with the smell and vermin that accompanies it can’t believe the decision wasn’t made before now.
Bell wants to keep trash as close as possible to where it is generated so “another Rogers Road someplace else,” isn’t created.
County commissioners agreed that Durham isn’t the best option, but recalled that they were left with little choice after searching for a new landfill site and being met with full-throated opposition with each proposal.
Commissioner Pam Hemminger said Durham was “not a good choice, but the only one left for us.”
Local governments have struggled with this politically tenuous decision for years now. There are few, if any voters, who want a landfill near his or her home. That means elected leaders have punted time and time again. Now they are “out of time,” as Commissioner Earl McKee said.
“This is a great example of why we work best at 11:30 at night when we have to have a decision by 12:01,” Chapel Hill Town Councilman Jim Ward said. “We are paying the price of inaction, and so be it, let’s learn from it.”
Though many expressed frustration at being put under the deadline, Commissioner Valerie Foushee called that counterproductive.
“I don’t think there’s an elected official who lives in the Rogers Road-Eubanks community,” she said. “We can’t imagine how frustrated they are.”
Added Chapel Hill Town Councilman Matt Czajkowski, “I, for one, do not see how all of us who claim we are intent on social justice can let this matter continue. It needs to close. We need to make a decision. Amen.”