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Carrboro and Chapel Hill have no room to complain over landfill tipping fees

Peter Gilbert

In its May 26 issue, The Carrboro Citizen reported that Carrboro and Chapel Hill town leaders were upset over Orange County’s plan to move ahead with reparations to the Rogers-Eubanks Community for almost 40 years of dumping in their majority African-American community. Rogers Road continues to be plagued with the smells, traffic and illegal dumping that are the direct result of the landfill. The community also lacks the basic water and sewer service provided throughout Chapel Hill and Carrboro.

Carrboro leaders expressed concern over the increased tipping fees passed by the county that will be used to pay for water and sewer service and other needed landfill mitigation. These protests ring hollow.

Carrboro annexed the western portion of the Rogers Road Community in 2006, but has not provided those residents the public water and sewer service that is provided elsewhere in Carrboro. The town’s annexation plans show that the administration relied on a private developer to install a large portion of the infrastructure extension; when that did not happen, the town abandoned any plans to make water and sewer available to the residents, even though they have been paying Carrboro taxes for almost five years. It reflects poorly on the town to gripe over a potential $20,000 a year in the face of this obligation.

Chapel Hill Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt has complained that the county is moving forward with remediation without including the towns. Such complaints also find no sympathy in the community. Chapel Hill and Carrboro have both had ample opportunity to provide some measure of justice for Rogers Road and have continually declined. Since the landfill failed to close as promised in 1982, community members have repeatedly met with the county and with both towns. In the 1990s, all the local governments were members of the Landfill Owners’ Group, which heard the community’s demands yet consistently failed to act.

In 2001, Minister Campbell of the Rogers-Eubanks Neighborhood Association specifically requested that Chapel Hill allocate funds for water and sewer. That request was again denied. Under community pressure, in 2005, the towns and the county formed another committee, the Rogers Road Small Area Plan Task Force, charged with mitigating the effects of the landfill, which again failed to make any significant progress.

Most recently, in 2008, following the last report of the Small Area Plan Task Force, the Assembly of Governments approved a process to raise money for the water and sewer infrastructure and created yet another committee, the Infrastructure Task Force, with representatives from OWASA, both towns and the county. This task force only met twice because of the governments’ lack of commitment to the project.

While these serial committees and task forces were making minimal progress towards justice for the Rogers-Eubanks community, Carrboro and Chapel Hill continued to support a long-term planning strategy for the area that included ultimately splitting this historic community between the two municipalities. Infrastructure was provided to new affordable housing in the community without consideration of placing the pipes to benefit existing homes. Additional adverse land uses were put in and around the community. And after a two-year site selection process that eliminated the community from consideration, the former Chapel Hill mayor suggested that the proposed solid-waste transfer station be located in the neighborhood.

The Orange County Commissioners deserve recognition for their effort to address the continuing effects of the landfill. Carrboro and Chapel Hill have benefitted from the landfill for almost 40 years. Complaints about a tipping fee in the face of years of injustice sound hypocritical and perpetuate the discriminatory treatment of this community.

Peter Gilbert is a Community Inclusion Fellow with the UNC Center for Civil Rights.

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