What took the Commissioners so long to act on Rogers Road?

The news this week that the Orange County Board of County Commissioners has voted to charge a new tipping fee at the landfill to raise money for remediation in the Rogers Road neighborhood - a move that seemed somewhat ham-fisted to municipal governments (see below about that) - reminded me of a very interesting conversation I had last month. I attended oral history performances by a UNC class that conducted interviews with civil rights activists. Two students had worked closely with David Caldwell and Gertrude Nunn and learned about their neighborhood's 3-decade challenge of trying to get justice for living with the landfill that serves all of Orange County.

One grad student who is very familiar with local politics turned to me afterward and asked the same question that was in my mind: our County Commissioners have to be one of the most liberal boards in the state. How is it that the Rogers Road neighborhood has been stymied by them repeatedly, instead of being championed by the environmental and social justice advocates on the Board?

Having had friends on the BOCC myself, I've often wondered why they have been so resistant to taking responsibility and being proactive about this obvious injustice. I thought back in time to try to find the origin of this attitude. Then I remembered that the County's responsibility for the landfill only dates back about 15 years. When it was built in the 1970's, it was Chapel Hill Mayor Howard Lee that made commitments to the Rogers Road neighbors that would later be forgotten. It was the town, and then a multi-jurisdictional body called the Landfill Owners Group (LOG) that would have been accountable (or not) to the neighbors.

You can imagine how difficult it would be for the LOG - with reps from Chapel Hill, Carrboro and Orange County - to understand or respond to this problem. But when the landfill ownership transferred to the County in the late 1990's, I doubt that Rogers Road was at the forefront of anyone's mind, in spite of some official attempts to compensate the neigbors. The County was already taking on a huge responsibility. I can't imagine that any Commissioners were thinking much about Rogers Road then, and likely not expecting that they would be held accountable for a decades-old promise made by the Town of Chapel Hill.

In the past few years, starting around the time of discussing the site of the waste transfer station, I think the BOCC has been slowly waking up and realizing that no-one else is going to solve these problems. They may not have made the bed, but they're lying in it now. This week's approval of a tipping fee that will charge $5 per ton of garbage dumped at the landfill is a positive, if overdue, step. However, the Commissioners are on shaky ground when they hold themselves up as heros and accuse the towns of not pulling their weight.

Board members also agreed they don’t want to see remediation delayed while waiting for input from Carrboro and Chapel Hill.

I’m really not interested in trying to determine how we’re going to get our partners to become involved, if it that’s going to stop us from moving forward,” said Valerie Foushee. “I do believe that if this board does what it believes is right to do, others will do the same.”

- http://www.chapelboro.com/BoCC-Votes-to-Fund-Rogers-Road-Remediation/9859961 

Chapel Hill and Carrboro have both been working for at least the last 5 years to call attention to the needs of the Rogers Road neighborhoods, but they ultimately found their hands tied since this responsibility clearly lies with the County. It's amazingly hypocritical of the County to suggest that the Towns are dragging their feet or somehow holding solutions back.

In addition, this increased fee will certainly pinch the town's purses since they are the main landfill customers, and this at a time when they have just completed negotiation on what will be very tight budgets for the next year. So while the timing of the new tipping fee is clearly a political misstep, I still call it a step in the right direction.

As a bonus, below are excerpts from e-mails from Chapel Hill Town Manager Roger Stancil and Orange County Manager Frank Clifton about this decision. (All available via Carrboro's public e-mail archive, kudos to them. Thanks to Damon Seils for researching and finding this.)

From: Roger Stancil [mailto:rstancil@townofchapelhill.org]

Sent: Wednesday, May 18, 2011 5:59 PM

To: Donna Bell; Ed Harrison; Gene Pease ; Jim Ward; Jim Ward2; Laurin Easthom ; Mark Kleinschmidt; Mark McCurry; Matt Czajkowski; Penny Rich; Sally Greene

Cc: Lance Norris; Ken Pennoyer; Jeanne Tate; Matthew Brinkley; Frank Clifton (fclif...@co.orange.nc.us); Steven Stewart; Peterson Eric; Amy Harvey; Bruce Heflin; Carol Abernethy; Catherine Lazorko; Dwight Bassett; Flo Miller; John Richardson; Ralph Karpinos; Roger Stancil; Sabrina Oliver; Toni Pendergraph

Subject: Tipping Fee Increase


At this time, I am not certain where these funds could come from.  We have cut everything we can think of.  Our budget is 4% below the current year. One option, which I believe Carrboro will consider, is a tax increase to pass this cost along to all taxpayers as a County-wide initiative.  This approach would result in approximately a 1/10 of one cent increase, from 49.1 cents to 49.2 cents.  I will continue to look for other options.

I would appreciate any feedback you have for me on this topic.


From: Frank Clifton [mailto:fclifton@co.orange.nc.us]

Sent: Thursday, May 19, 2011 9:57 AM

To: Roger Stancil

Cc: Steven Stewart; Eric Peterson; Donna Baker; Clarence Grier; Gwen Harvey; Michael Talbert; Greg Wilder; Gayle Wilson; Alice Gordon 1; Alice Gordon 2; Barry Jacobs; Bernadette Pelissier; Earl McKee; Pam Hemminger; Steve Yuhasz; Valerie Foushee

Subject: RE: Rogers Rd. Mitigation Fund


This issue has been on the table for many years before you, Steve Stewart or I became involved here in Orange County.  Past managers and elected officials from the Towns and County have struggled to address the concerns of the Rogers Road community for years.  Attempts have included some actions, but mostly plans and assumed promises of action.  Since the County assumed responsibility for the landfill’s operation, addressing the issue(s) of Rogers Road have been left to the County.  The Towns continue to address various issues related to the area from a distanced commitment to act.  Several task forces, work groups, studies and other attempts to address the situation have produced limited results and limited action.

We have a joint advisory board (SWAB), we have a organized structure for an Owner’s Group and we have a formal agreement related to responsibilities of the Towns and County.  The agreement spells out the ability to address issues related to the community and it also spells out issues related setting the tipping fees for the landfill including limits on how the fees may be increased at any time (10% max, 30 day notice).  Prior conversations between Town and County staff regarding possible increases in the tipping fee for FY 2011-12 related to operational costs not the Rogers Road Community.

In April 2011, the County Commission instructed me to come back with a plan of action before the end of the fiscal year.  That plan (financial aspects) was delivered to the BOCC on May 17th.  Parts of the proposed plan were accepted by the BOCC, other aspects were not.  My general opinion is the County Commission is frustrated at the lack of interest or response the Towns have provided the Rogers Road Community and that the County Commission has (at least publicly) had to take full responsibility for anything related to the landfill or the Rogers Road Community without much support or interest being shown (in an official manner) by the Towns.  LET it be clear, it is certain there are political leaders and professional staff in both Towns that do care deeply about the Rogers Road community and issues related to the landfill location, but in recent years, except for opposing the location of a potential solid waste transfer station in the general Rogers Road area, the Towns have ‘officially’ taken few actions toward address the longer standing mitigation actions.  THAT does not mean there has been no action taken; it does mean the bigger issues (water/sewer and closing the landfill) remain without much municipal involvement (all issues and financial commitments taken into consideration)!

I want to point out the paragraph (item #6) in a list of requests presented to the BOCC on May 17th by the Rogers Road community for your review:

“6. Advocate on our behalf with the towns – especially for making this community to be in one unifying municipal or government jurisdiction (instead of 3), and for sidewalks, and bike lanes, on Rogers Road, Eubanks Road, Purefoy Road, Edgar Street, and Homestead Road, and to improve connectivity of bus service and other town services.”

I am not sure why the County would need to advocate for residents that may be within one municipality or the other (or within their planning areas).  Some of the area of Rogers Road has been annexed and is now covered by municipal taxation.  Areas around the landfill now house municipal facilities (along with County functions) and rapid development is occurring.  I do not have knowledge of the terms of any agreement between Chapel Hill and Carrboro over annexations in the area.  I do know there are concerns over whether annexed areas are being provide municipal services at the same level of service as other areas of the Towns.  (Professionally, I am not sure it is the role of county government to intervene in annexation issues, except that the NC General Assembly is considering placing additional responsibilities upon counties with regards to annexation issues.)

IF THE TOWNS desire to delay or reduce the current proposal with regards to increasing the landfill tipping fees related to setting aside funding for a Rogers Road mediation plan, THEN some type of official request from the Towns needs to be conveyed to the County Commission.  BOCC action has taken place and any change to that action will require BOCC approval.  We are in the process of implementing the direction of the County Commission on this issue.  The fee, unless otherwise modified will become effective July 1, 2011.

Further, the BOCC has directed staff to inform the Towns of our plans to bring back a full remediation package for the BOCC consideration after the summer break.  That effort will include participation with the neighborhood working group and other interested parties.  If the Towns desire to participate in that process or monitor its progress we will be sure to include your assigned staff or representatives in meeting notices.

DELAYING or reducing the tipping fee set aside toward the Rogers Road mediation effort ONLY reduces the amount of funding available over the remaining life of the landfill.  The tipping fee revenue is directly related to fee amount and total tonnage received by the landfill over its remaining life cycle.  Whether it’s the County or Towns or a combination of both that takes action to address the Rogers Road community infrastructure issues, funding will be required. The tipping fee is the most directly related funding source that I am aware of that is available and within our control (other than property taxes) to address the issue.

IF THE TOWNS desire to delay or reduce the current proposal with regards to increasing the landfill tipping fees, then some alternative proposal should be presented to address the reductions in revenues available for the project. AS I pointed out in a prior email, the initial proposal presented to the BOCC indicated an annual increase in the surcharge of $2 per ton might be appropriate. However, once final numbers are determined for an adopted remediation plan, those projects could increase to maximum 10% annual increase authorized by the agreement between the Towns and County to fund the improvements.

Closing, I sense the County Commission is determined to act.

Years of talk, plans and assumed commitments have brought this issue to its current status.  The time available to address issues through revenues generated by the landfill are running out. With the current plan to extend the life of the landfill, we have five years or less to access a revenue stream that is going away.  Extending the life of the landfill “greatly” reduces the operational cost of transporting solid waste to locations far from Chapel Hill and Carrboro. Those savings can be recognized.

Finally, I sense irritation that this proposal was not vented with the Town Managers prior to its release to the County Commission.  While specifics and the amount of the tipping fee increase were not individually addressed with each of you, I did provide background discussions on how I planned to approach the issue and indicated that each $1 of tipping fee increase generated roughly $48,000 per year.  If you remember we had that discussion a few months ago at the same time we discussed a long overdue formal response from the Towns to a request made by the County with regards to partnering in negotiations for a location to transport solid waste outside of Orange County.  Shortly thereafter each Town did provide an indication of its interest in being included in any negotiations that County might pursue for solid waste disposal.

Hopefully, we can begin to meet more often and have more detailed discussions about the many opportunities we have to address issues in common to the mutual interest of the people we serve.

Let me know quickly if the Towns want to seek a reduction or delay in implementation of the tipping fee surcharge.  Like the Towns, the County has a fairly full meeting schedule through the end of June and then we break for the summer.  Action of the BOCC would have to come prior to the final adoption of the County Budget.

- http://groups.google.com/group/official-correspondence/msg/e5567a4426963442?



1) Why has Howard Lee never stepped up to clarify what he said years ago? 2) The commissioners for the last eighteen years have swept solid waste issues under the rug. Not addressing Rogers Road neighborhood issues was just part of their choosing to delay dealing with the entire solid waste issue.

This is a good time to reread Mark Chilton's post from several weeks ago, "Rogers Road (Before Rogers Road Was Cool)."


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