The Orange County Board of Commissioners has a new site to consider for the controversial trash transfer station -- one they already own. The county had rejected the site because at 10 acres it was smaller than the 25-acre minimum officials had set to ensure adequate buffers from nearby properties. But Solid Waste Management Director Gayle Wilson says surrounding government property such as the 200-acre landfill would buffer the new site from private land. The board will consider the new site on Millhouse Road, another site across the street and owned by the town of Chapel Hill, along with a previously targeted site on Highway 54 west of Carrboro and a potential partnership with Durham County.
The Chapel Hill Town Council will not discuss offering land off Millhouse Road for a possible trash depot Monday night, its last meeting before summer break.
Instead, Mayor Kevin Foy has decided the council will now discuss whether to offer Orange County the town-owned property for a solid waste transfer station at its Sept. 14 meeting.
“Given the Town Council’s agenda process there was insufficient time to add this item on the printed agenda and provide the public with an adequate and reasonable amount of time to consider the proposal,” according to a town news release.
Without an official offer, county staff has said it will not spend any more time this summer looking at the Millhouse Road location. The county is also considering a site off N.C. 54 in rural White Cross.
Read more about the solid waste transfer station debate in Sunday’s Chapel Hill News.
The Orange County Organizing Committee and the Orange County Sierra Club Group have joined those opposing the Howell property off N.C. 54 in White Cross for a possible solid waste transfer station.
The organizing committee is a coalition working on issues of social justice. It is affiliated with Durham CAN (Congregations, Associations and Neighborhoods) and follows the principles of Saul Alinsky, a community organizer who influenced Barack Obama when he was an organizer on Chicago's South Side.
Here is a letter the local Sierra Club sent the Orange County Board of Commissioners:
The Orange Chatham Sierra Club Group remains concerned about the disposal of solid waste. We applaud the efforts to reduce, reuse and recycle. We were pleased that the county used the new criteria and determined that the Rogers Road community should not be the site of a solid waste transfer station. However, we are concerned about the proposal to site the solid waste transfer station west of Carrboro on NC54. It does not seem to meet the criteria which we and others suggested for a transfer station. It is not near a railroad nor a major interstate highway. The proposed site appears to be almost entirely deciduous forest. It appears to include wetland. It contains the headwaters which feed into nearby streams with threatened or endangered aquatic species. It is a large rather than small parcel of land which would mean more loss of habitat. It is near the maximum travel distance so would involve more travel than other potential sites. Fortunately, the landfill is not filling as fast as projected so the county has more time to find better solutions.
Mr. Loren Hintz
This is how it begins.
The controversy over whether Rogers Road residents were promised veto power over the Millhouse Road transfer station site brings to mind another promise widely reported but which we could never find in writing. That promise, of course, is the one that started it all: a promise reportedly made a generation ago that, in exchange for hosting the landfill, the Rogers Road community would never have to put up with the county's trash again.
As Jesse DeConto reports in today's N&O, Chapel Hill's outgoing mayor says he never promised Rogers Road leaders in a meeting that he'd drop the Millhouse Road site if they didn't support it. A council member who wants to be mayor says he, the councilman, did. And the chairwoman of the county commissioners says residents couldn't have left the meeting thinking anything other than that the promise was "fact."
I believe Kevin Foy when he says he made no deals. Ninth inning or not, the mayor sees this town-owned site as a way to save money that can help bring sewer lines to Rogers Road. But if the mayor didn't make a promise, why do the two other elected leaders in the room, Mark Kleinschmidt and Valerie Foushee, say they can't see how the Rogers Road leaders could interpret the meeting any other way?
A few weeks ago, Carrboro Mayor Mark Chilton said his board would not participate in a meeting to discuss this site because the meeting had no clearly stated purpose. Chilton was wary of entering a room to discuss an agenda his board had no hand in organizing.
We don't know what Rogers Road residents were told when they were invited to the meeting with the mayor, the council member and the commissioner. It was not advertised; no minutes were taken.
But Chilton's caution is suddenly making a lot of sense. In discussions this sensitive, it just makes sense to keep the conversations in the public sphere, where everyone knows what's being promised, or not.
Orange County met last night about where to put its its garbage when the landfill fills up in 2012. The mayors, some elected representatives and staff from Chapel Hill and Hillsborough were there. No one from Carrboro attended, though, so we called Mayor Mark Chilton this morning about the no-show.
The Board of Alderman didn’t want to participate in a meeting set by someone else’s agenda, he said. The county has been looking at White Cross in Bingham Township for a future solid waste transfer station. Chilton says some in Carrboro sense the county putting the blame on his town and Chapel Hill for saddling the rural community with the unpoular trash station, even though by state law trash disposal is the county’s job.
“There is this tendency for people to say it’s the towns producing this waste and it’s the towns’ responsibility to deal with it,” he said. “I think someone’s telling Bingham Township that’s the case. I don’t think that’s fair. … I’m not going to walk blind into a meeting where at least some of the people are trying to blame me.“
The Orange County commissioners will talk again Tuesday about whether to consider a 32-acre parcel north of the Town Operations Center on Millhouse Road for a future solid waste transfer station.
At a meeting tonight with members of the Chapel Hill and Hilsborough town boards (Carrboro did not send anyone.), commissioners agreed to keep studying the Howell property off N.C. 54 in White Cross, and to talk more about Chapel Hill Mayor Kevin Foy's "idea" -- no one's calling it a proposal yet -- at their next meeting. The board will also talk with Durham County about possibly collaborating on a transfer station.
The Southern Human Services Center was standing room only for the two and a half hour meeting. Members of the Rogers Road community and Millhouse Road area were not permitted to speak at the session, which the commissioners called so they and the towns' elected leaders could gain clarity on the transfer station search.
Foy repeated that he doesn't know if the Millhouse site is the best one, that he just wants to have a discussion. He says the land is already publicly owned and savings could help bring sewer service to the Rogers Road area.
"The issue is there are limited local dollars," Foy said. "If you spend $3 million buying this [Howell] site and another couple of million developing it, that's millions of dollars that can't be used for something else."
But Commissioner Mike Nelson cautioned the mayor against bringing a new site to the table and stirring anxiety before getting his board's support.
"I worry about putting this on the table," he said. "I've grown weary of what we're doing to the neighborhoods in the community. I wish the offer were firmer. I'm really not interested in scaring the dickens out of people."
New Commissioners Steve Yuhasz, Pam Hemminger and Bernadette Pelissier all expressed interest in exploring the Millhouse Road site. Chairwoman Valerie Foushee said she didn't want to delay the board's current process focusing on the N.C. 54 parcel. The board is on a path to picking a site by September so that a transfer station can be built by the time the landfill reaches capacity in 2012.
But even that's a moving target. Solid waste officials have several options for extending the life of the landfill, including operating both the landfill and a solid waste transfer station at the same time.
That surprised Town Council member Mark Kleinschmidt, who said he had assumed a transfer station would come on line when the landfill closed. Solid waste director Gayle Wilson explained he brought the options to the meeting in response to the commissioners' request that he explore contingency plans.
Tuesday's meeting is a regularly scheduled commissioners session, and the public will be allowed to comment.
This past weekend, we broke the story in the N&O and Chapel Hill News of Mayor Kevin Foy's suggesting an alternative site for the future solid waste transfer station: a parcel by the Town Operations Center on Millhouse Road. Yesterday, we called the county commissioners to ask what they thought. Here are some responses:
VALERIE FOUSHEE, chairwoman, didn’t know about Foy’s idea until he told her about it Friday afternoon, after his tour with local residents. The county asked the towns months ago — “and probably more than once” — if they had property for a transfer station, she said. “Nothing was forthcoming.”
MIKE NELSON, said the mayor needs the majority of the Town Council behind him if he wants the site to be considered. “It can't be a shock to anyone that a waste transfer station in that location would be very strongly opposed by residents of northern Chapel Hill,” Nelson said. "It will take an inordinate amount of political will — in a town election year no less — to site the waste transfer station there,” he said.
STEVE YUHASZ, one of the board's new members, wants to learn more. “There’s a recognition the Highway 54 site does have some problems with it,” he said. “Certainly this would be a potential alternative site.”
One immediate sticking point: The opposition from the Rogers Road neighborhood, which says it considers Millhouse Road part of its community and therefore out of bounds for a future transfer station.
The county had a task force that looked at compensation for the historically black neighborhood (the town followed up with a similar task force that crafted a small area plan for the Rogers Road area). Both Foushee and Commissioner Barry Jacobs said they don't recall Millhouse being included in the area at that time.
Read more on this in tomorrow's Chapel Hill News. In the meantime, what do you think about the mayor's idea?
Just picked up a flier at Weaver Street for tonight's meeting of the county commissioners. The county is scheduled to discuss the search for a solid waste transfer station (not to make a decision as the flier says, as far as we know).
Folks who have been asking the county to explore hauling trash to a regional transfer station or to dispose of waste through alternative technologies are likely to be disappointed. A report prepared for the meeting says the first would cost significantly more than hauling trash to one of two sites in White Cross. The report says the second idea is just not practical.
Meanwhile, the county has bought itself some time. The county landfill on Eubanks Road, which was expected to reach capacity in mid-2011, now appears to have enough space to last until mid-2012.
The county gained the additional year by asking UNC to redirect garbage, using an alternative daily cover that takes up less space than dirt, buying a better waste compactor to compress garbage at the landfill and by banning residential cardboard as of last November.
Tonight's meeting starts at 7 p.m. at the Southern Human Services Center on Homestad Road in Chapel Hill.
Orange County Voice sent us the following information, courtesy of Orange Tax revolt, about the Howell property. The Howell property off N.C. 54 in White Cross, is one of two sites the county is considering for its future solid waste transfer station.
Based on the county's 2009 revaluation, the property's new tax value is $931,000. Yet, the groups say, when the county had a professional market appraisal done as part of the transfer station project, the property's market value was estimated at $820,000.
That puts the new tax value at $111,000 or 13.5 percent above its market vaue. The 2008 tax value was $748,201. The 2009 value of $931,000 is an increase of 24.4 percent, about the average increase in assessments countywide.
Mr. Howell's willingness to sell the property is one of the reasons the county has said it is a finalist site.The other site, also in White Cross, is owned by OWASA, which says it needs it for application of sewage sludge.
What's in the sludge?
OWASA won't sell land off N.C. 54 to the county for a future waste transfer station. In tomorrow's N&O and Chapel Hill News, we report the water and sewer agency also is not interested in a land swap unless the county has a specific property to offer, which it doesn't.
So what's so important about the parcel? OWASA uses about 20 of the 43 acres to spread biosolids, the treated byproducts of the sewage process. The county has over 1,000 acres permitted for sludge application, but the majority is owned by private entities. Is OWASA holding on to its land because it might someday become more difficult to find suitable sites for sludge disposal?
OWASA director Ed Kerwin suggests maybe. The EPA says sewage sludge is safe when applied by the rules. But groups like the Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League continue to raise questions. Now, the county's Environment and Resource Conservation Department plans to ask the county board to take a closer look.
We'd like to talk with local people who have feelings -- pro and con -- about biosolids in Orange County. If you are interested in talking with a reporter please contact me at 932-2003 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Read more in tomorrow's Chapel Hill News.