Last night, the Orange County Board of Commissioners voted unanimously to set June 30, 2013, as the closing date of the county’s municipal waste landfill, and to pursue a costly interlocal agreement to ship our trash to Durham’s waste transfer station. Orange County’s trash, according to county manager Frank Clifton, will ultimately come to rest in Montgomery County (specifically, the middle of the Uwharrie National Forest). The commissioners also approved the creation of a task force to address sewer service and a community center for the Rogers Road neighborhood.
In a stormy interlude between these two decisions, the commissioners—cheered on by residents of the rural buffer and speakers from Justice United, the Rogers-Eubanks Neighborhood Association, and Orange County Voice—took turns laying into Carrboro mayor Mark Chilton. At an Assembly of Governments work session three weeks earlier, Chilton asked that county staff be allowed to investigate the feasibility of a property northwest of the I-40/NC 86 interchange as a potential site for a transfer station. His request came in the wake of a discussion on OrangePolitics about closing the landfill.
In latching onto controversy about the I-40/NC 86 suggestion, the commissioners and others seem to have missed the larger point: we should not be shipping our trash to other communities. Doing so will be expensive, will be bad for the environment, and will get us into the habit of not dealing with our own mess. Shipping our trash elsewhere will also substitute one social justice problem with another.
If we’re going to take responsibility for our trash, we need a way to decide how to do it. Chilton proposed a set of criteria for how to determine where a new solid waste facility should be located. The criteria include locating the facility (1) in the Chapel Hill-Carrboro area, (2) near as few residences as possible, and (3) near a major highway. The location also should not add to the existing burden on the Rogers Road neighborhood. Chilton suggested the I-40/NC 86 location as an example of a site that would meet the proposed criteria. He also explicitly acknowledged problems with the site and how they might be mitigated, and he and others later discussed other potential sites.
By willfully missing the point of the proposal, the commissioners have also missed an opportunity. Municipal leaders who attended the recent Assembly of Governments meeting indicated a renewed willingness to consider sites in or near the towns. Trucking our trash to Durham will cost Chapel Hill and Carrboro taxpayers something like $750,000 per year. The commissioners haven’t indicated how long the trucking will continue, so we can expect to pay higher taxes indefinitely on a solid waste solution that doesn’t really solve anything. We could spend that money instead on the sewer service and community center the commissioners agreed last night to pursue. (How do they plan to pay for those, by the way?)
The commissioners made clear last night that they want to be seen as the lone deciders on shipping our solid waste out of the county, with or without the towns. But when it comes to long-term decision making, they say they won't even begin to think of planning without assurances that they won't have to go it alone. So, in their eagerness to score political points, the commissioners get to strut for a while like leaders who make big decisions when, in fact, they have accomplished little.