Rogers Road (Before Rogers Road Was Cool)

As someone who has worked with the Rogers Road neighborhood for many years, it really upsets me when I hear some of the criticism lobbed at our local elected officials over the issue of justice for the Rogers Road neighborhood.  It’s true that some of our elected leaders have sought to sweep the issue of landfill compensation under the rug.  But some elected officials in both Chapel Hill and Carrboro have worked hard on these issues for a long time. So let's not paint everyone with the same brush.  
 
The Landfill Compensation Working Group 
 
In 1996 and 1997, a group of elected officials (including me, then a Chapel Hill Council-member) and residents of the Rogers Road community recommended a list of 14 compensation items that our local governments owed to the neighbors of the landfill.  This list was a result of inclusive facilitated meetings of the Landfill Compensation Working Group (as the committee of neighbors and officials was known).
 
Showdown at the Assembly of Governments Corral 
 
The Assembly of Governments met on October 30, 1997 to discuss the LCWG's recommendations. Joal Broun, Jacquie Gist and I worked hard to pass as many of the recommendations as we could. And the governments assembled did agree to some of the easier items on the list, but many elected officials opposed three key compensation items:
 
Establishing a Park - Item 12 was proposal for a park on the landfill (to be built after the landfill closed) or on other nearby government owned land.  Despite our efforts, the elected officials refused to commit to creating a park.  I will never understand this reluctance, as it had been represented ever since 1972 that the landfill would eventually be a park.
 
Self-determination for Rogers Road - Item 11 was a proposal to allow the neighborhood to decide for itself where the eventual town line ought to be (earlier adopted plans called for splitting the Rogers Road neighborhood between Chapel Hill and Carrboro). Despite impassioned pleas from me and others on the Working Group, the self-determination model was rejected by the Assembly.  I raised this issue again in 2003 but my proposal fell on deaf ears.
 
Water and Sewer Service - Item 1 was a proposal to extend water and sewer service to families who had been affected by the landfill. The proposal for water and sewer service was quickly rejected by the majority, despite my advocacy. Several of the elected officials present, including me, pushed hard to at least make a commitment to provide water service, but the Assembly as a whole refused and adjourned for the night, reconvening at a later date to approve water service only.  
 
I have to tell you frankly that October 30, 1997 was a very disappointing night for me. I and others on the Working Group had struggled with these issues for months. As the meeting adjourned, one resident of Rogers Road, Bonnie Norwood, ran over to me and hugged me and Jacquie Gist, telling us how proud she was of how hard we had fought for her community, but I couldn't share in her happiness. This was to be one of my last meetings as a member of the Chapel Hill Town Council. I left office in December of 1997 and moved to Canada to get married and start a family.
 
But as disappointing as that Assembly of Governments meeting was, I never gave up on the issue of just compensation for Rogers Road.  When I returned from Canada in 2000, I resumed my role in advocating for Rogers Road. And though Bonnie Norwood passed away some little time back, I have not given up on advocating for her neighbors. And I never will.  We negotiated in good faith back in 1996 and 1997 and I intend to see the matter through.
 
Water for Rogers Road
 
The promise of water service has been largely (but not completely) fulfilled, contrary to your portrayal.  Also, it is not entirely accurate to suggest that the County alone paid for the water connections.  The connections were paid for by the Landfill Fund (not the County's General Fund).  The two largest contributors to the landfill Fund are the Towns of Chapel Hill and Carrboro. There are a few houses that still need to be connected, however, as I understand it, some houses in the area have such antiquated plumbing that they cannot be safely connected to OWASA water service unless the entire house is replumbed from top to bottom.  I am told that some plumbing is so old that it cannot withstand the higher level of pressure that OWASA maintains in its water lines.
 
Sewers for Rogers Road
 
Sewer lines have been a tougher problem.  They are far more expensive than waterlines and the topography of the Rogers Road area makes the problem complex (but by no means impossible).  While (as far as I recall) the local governments still have not specifically committed to extending sewer lines to all of Rogers Road, I have still been working on the problem.  
 
Since I returned to Orange County in 2000, I have advocated for sewer lines in the Rogers Road area several times:
 
1. I advocated (successfully) for Habitat for Humanity before the Chapel Hill Town Council for funding of a Habitat development on Rogers Road extending sewers in the neighborhood (CHTC Minutes, March 28, 2001).
 
2. On the Board of Aldermen, the entire Board of Aldermen voted to increase subsidies to $2,000for replacing existing septic systems with sewer lines (CBOA Minutes, January25, 2005). The $2,000 per house subsidy will one day help to pay OWASA tap-on fees and plumbing costs associated with connecting Rogers Road residents in Carrboro.
 
3. I advocated (unsuccessfully) for running sewers along Rogers Road to serve a county office building on Eubanks Road (CBOA Minutes, September 6, 2005).
 
4. The entire Board of Aldermen allocated money for a major sewer main extension which brought sewer service about a 1/2 mile closer to Rogers Road a few years ago.  At present a couple of additional extensions will be needed before sewer service will be available to the part of Rogers Road that is in Carrboro. However, it is important to realize that sewer lines can be a double edged sword.  Inmost places in the OWASA service area, private developers are expected to extend sewer mains in order to serve their own developments.  If the government pays to extend sewer mains to Rogers Road it will effectively subsidize private developers in that area, which is not a desirable use of tax dollars (nor is such development necessarily entirely wanted by those who live on Rogers Road).  Given that none of the septic systems on Carrboro’s side of Rogers Road are actually presently failing, I think it is more prudent to expect private developers to bring sewer lines into the area, rather than using local tax dollars to subsidize private development.  The desired sewer extensions on the Carrboro side of Rogers Road will eventually come partly through private development (pretty much completely stalled out by the present economic situation).
 
5. In the meantime, as Mayor I have worked with several of the intervening property owners to get them to voluntarily dedicate the easements needed for the eventual sewer extension to Rogers Road.  This work resulted in two new easements being dedicated and a verbal commitment to dedicating a third easement.  These easements were donated by suburban homeowners (through whose yards the sewer line will one day run) at no expense to OWASA or taxpayers and the easements will be critical to the completion of the sewer line from Rogers Road.  
 
Self-determination for Rogers Road revisited
 
I also did not give up on the idea that Rogers Road residents should have been able to decide which town they wound up in. When the Board of Aldermen began looking at annexing areas along Rogers Road in 2004, I brought up the seven year old issue of the Rogers Road neighbors request for self-determination (CBOA Minutes, September 9, 2004). I objected to including the Rogers Road homeowners in Annexation Area B because the matter of the planning boundary in that area was still unresolved and I voted against including Rogers Road in Annexation Area B that night. I continued to push the issue in 2005, but was voted down.
 
In Brief
 
The upshot of all of this is that while I agree that our entire community still owes a lot to the Rogers Road neighborhood, I am really frustrated by those who go around bashing our municipal governments on the strength of only part of the information.  I think it is fair to say that back in 1997 there were some elected officials who showed a callous disregard for the fundamental justice issues at stake on Rogers Road, but is not accurate or fair to suggest that all of our local elected officials have been so thoughtless.  I can say for certain that Joal Broun, Jacquie Gist and I have worked on the issue of justice for Rogers Road for 15+ years now.  Are there still problems to be solved?  Sure there are.  But have we given up?  Hell no.

Issues: 

Total votes: 161

Comments

Mark, thanks for all of your work on this issue as well as the documentation of the same.  Whenever you decide you've had enough of public office, we should make sure to keep you around as historian!I'm not sure which criticism has gotten on your nerves here, but I hope it isn't anything I wrote.  I was trying to live blog the meeting as much as I could (and still pay attention to what felt like a historic night in this struggle), so while there's certainly bias in what I wrote, it wasn't intended to be offensive -- just trying to capture what others were saying.Also, I wonder if you're taking the criticism (and there certainly was from BoCC members and the manager last night) too personally.  Every time I heard it, it was much more about lack of progress from the towns, rather than lack of concern or effort.  I'm struck by this distinction as I read what you wrote and notice all the things which you fought hard for (correctly), but were not enacted by a majority of the board.  So it may well be fair to criticize the outcome of what the towns have accomplished without passing any judgement on the individuals who hold a minority of the votes in those boards.Or maybe I'm just in a generous mood tonight.

Correct on all counts, James.

I suspect Mark's history lesson is in response to what Mark M and I wrote. While I appreciate seeing the history in a single piece, and I appreciate the efforts of everyone, I agree with James that intent/effort isn't the same thing as achievement, a sentiment that Mark seems to agree also.There has been plenty of time to get the Rogers Road neighbors along both sides of the municipal dividing line hooked up to clean water and sewer. Yes, it would have cost the taxpayers, but we should have paid it. Look at the cost of the municipal center the town of Chapel Hill built a few years ago, including a very high cost art project. Just 1/2 of the cost of the art project would have paid a big portion of water and sewer connection fees for the Rogers Road neighbors. Or look at the investment in the NCDs. There was funding for other projects, just not for Rogers Road.I cannot point to specific Carrboro projects in that area  that could have been extended to help the Carrboro residents along Rogers Road, although I seem to recall that the water main could have been extended farther instead of stopping 2 miles away from the neighborhood by pushing OWASA to partner in the project. We could also rezone Eubanks Road to industrial and/or commercial to bring development out to where it could begin developing the infrastructure needed to make the necessary improvements to those homeowners. There has been a lot of talk about a Good Neighbor Contract for IFC. At the very least, I think the residents of Rogers Road should ask for a similar contract, with specific items and timelines. It shouldn't even be a bargaining chip. The county should offer it up with the towns as co-signers.  

There are some details I could quibble about here, but your point is fundamentally sound, Terri.  I think one reality we all need to face is this: Regardless of whether the sewers are government sponsored and development follows them or the sewers are private-sector driven and the government leverages them into service for the historic residents of Rogers Road, sewers will equal development.  Sometimes I wonder how happy folks on Rogers Road will be when sewers (finally) arrive?  I'm not going to assume what the answer is, but we should at least be clear about what sewer service on Rogers Road will really mean. 

During the misguided and fumbled landfill search of 1991-92, the BOCC was continually requested to alter the approach to solid waste. The suggestions centered around suspending the ill-defined siting process for a mega-landfill, using that moratorium to craft an aggressive waste reduction program (this seed finally sprouted many years later), look at another smaller landfill in central to northern Orange County, dramatically improve landfill design to decrease community impact, and work democratically with landfill neighbors. The honchos at the time (many are still ensconced) told us that there was no time for a moratorium because the Eubanks landfill would be full around 1997. Furthermore - and this was the most damaging position to real progress - the site search committee was told that they could not consider potential waste reduction & so could not look at much smaller landfill sites than the huge ones on the menu provided. It was a process that seemed designed for failure. No commissioners stepped up at that point to call for a saner process.At that time, I did some research based on upcoming state legislation that would require waste reduction, population projections, and general trends in order to determine how long the Eubanks landfill would serve us. I was hoping to make the case that we in fact did have time to pause and devise a process that made sense.Well, my projections were incredibly wrong. I predicted that the landfill would last until around 2002-2004. Looks like I was off by maybe fifteen years. At the time, the projection was dismissed by staff & BOCC as pie-in-the-sky and unrealistic. So the County solid waste plan was a wreck. The landfill search very predictably went into a ditch. Waste reduction started gaining momentum. The projected life of the landfill  was extended. The Commissioners for the next several terms procrastinated and avoided the issue. They were handed the time to relax and solve the problem and all they could do was say that the issue was too political, in a way blaming the dumb citizens for not understanding the issue properly. This all relates to the Rogers Rd. community. Any good solution would have involved extra tip fees to fund community needs, changes in landfill design, more aggressive waste reduction, and institutionalized community input & oversight. I have no doubt that, had the BOCC shown leadership and a commitment to solve the problems, this could have been largely resolved years ago. They failed the landfill neighbors & they failed Orange County citizens. And now we're painted into a corner in which shipping our waste to a "Rogers Rd." in rural Virginia or paying for a risky high-cost incineration technology is what we've been reduced to.   

As someone who lives off of Rogers Rd. I appreciate the history lesson offered here.  However the most pressing issue is closing the landfill on Eubanks.   Justice delayed is justice denied.  We need to close Eubanks ASAP.  We need decisions to be made as to how and when.  The Eubanks Rd area will become a commecial and residential mecca in the coming years.  That process has already begun.  Closing the landfill will hasten that process.  I want the leaders of this county to state when the landfill will close and what option they support for handling our waste as a result.  15  

I was a volunteer appointee to the citizens' committee that sought to find an alternative site for the landfill just prior to the 1996-67 effort that Mark cites in his history.  And I was a volunteer appointee to the OWASA Board for 6 years and its chair for one.  Mark and his several of his elected colleagues from both Carrboro and Chapel Hill were consistent in their efforts to bring environmental justice and (perhaps more inportantly environmental health protection) to the Rogers Road community.  I would like to add to his post a note of praise to the town staff and OWASA staff whose commitment to finding remedies came from within themselves and were supported by the elected bodies.  Unfortunately these problems linger and perhaps they could have been handled better.  But it was not for a lack of concern, commitment, or effort from elected officials and professional local government staff in my experience.Dan VanderMeer,  St Petersburg, FL 

There is a no master plan for solid waste. At least one everyone agrees and works toward. When I say everyone it is the elected bodies in this county. Back when the County took over the landfill from Chapel Hill everyone was happy, Chapel Hill mostly likely dancing back to town hall becasue they unloaded a big burden.I have attended several recent BOCC meetings where they appear wanting to include the towns in the discussion and decisions. The towns don't seem interested and if they are not then be bold enough to step up and say so. If they are interested then engage the County, set a course and stick to it. I just don't see leadership coming from anywhere.

The Carrboro Board of Aldermen voted tonight to spend up to $900,000 to extend sewer lines to Rogers Road.

Better late than never.

Good for Carrboro!My understanding is that public monies can only be used to build the main sewer lines and that residents then have to invest their own funds to connect. Has there been any attempt to determine how many residents are able to pay the connection costs? How much of the total cost to run the main line will be covered by the $900,000? 

Re: $900,000 $900,000 is just over 14% of the estimated cost.  Carrboro once owned 14% of the landfill, which is basically why we settled on that figure.Re: Tap Fees & Private Plumbing Costs Quite apart from the Rogers Road issue, Carrboro pays up to $2000 to assist anyone in town who is switching from septic to sewer. I understand that OWASA tap fees and private plumbing costs will likely be about $4,300 per house, depending on the exact house size and lot configuration. The BOA discussed providing some add'l help with tap fees & plumbing costs for those who are low income.  Those additional dollars might come from the General Fund or perhaps from the Carrboro Affordable Housing Trust Fund.  Regardless, any tap fee/plumbing assistance would be in addition to the $900,000. Re: Public MoneyYou are correct that, generally speaking, public money cannot be spent for private purposes.  However 1) our current $2,000 subsidy is considered (by the Town of Carrboro) to be a public purpose in that there are public health benefits to eliminating septic tanks, and 2) assisting low-income families with housing costs is considered a public purpose under NC law.  In this context, providing for safe disposal of wastewater is considered part of the cost of housing.  For example, the Chapel Hill Housing Trust Fund has been used in exactly that way (assisting low-income families in eliminating septic tanks) on many occasions over the last 20 years.

Let me say it again....good for Carrboro. Glad to hear you've covered the sticky issue of the connection fee. I wonder if there is grant money that can help cover everything over $2,000.

I heard $5.5 mil a couple of weeks ago.

Estimate Cost of Community Center
 $500,000.00

Estimate Cost of Sewer Project
 $5,788,215.00

Is that the cost for both sides (Carrboro and Chapel Hill) or just Carrboro? Can you separate out the costs by municipality?

Those are the total estimated costs. 

$5.8M is the estimate for the entire sewer project.Because of the topography in the area, there are basically two major sewer line extensions involved in serving Rogers Road. I don't have separate estimates for each of the two lines, though I think the separate estimates do exist.  One of the lines is partly in Carrboro and the other is entirely in Chapel Hill.Carrboro's $900,000 commitment was to the entire compensation package regardless of jurisdictional lines.  However, we did decide that if Carrboro did not get cooperation from other local governments, then we would spend our sewer money on extending the line in a manner that best serves Rogers Road residents who are in the Town of Carrboro (ie we would proceed to build only the line that is partly in Carrboro, not the line that is entirely in Chapel Hill).  But this is probably a moot point, as I expect that other local governments will be cooperating to get both sewer lines built.

 

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