The season for campaign speculation

Chapel Hill Herald, Saturday June 11, 2005

With the filing period now just a few weeks away, speculation is rampant about the upcoming municipal elections in Carrboro and Chapel Hill. Rarely have we gotten this late in the pre-election season and known so little about the prospective field.

The mayoral races are the easiest to handicap. In Chapel Hill, the position will again be Kevin Foy's if he wants it. If not, Bill Strom, a tough campaigner, looks unbeatable and might even run without opposition.

In Carrboro, Mayor Mike Nelson has said he won't be running for another term and the only affirmative steps toward a mayoral candidacy have come from Alderman Mark Chilton. This week Chilton mailed out a questionnaire to gauge voters' priorities for the town.

Should Chilton choose to run, he would be an odds-on favorite to win. He came in first among alderman candidates in 2003 with 1,709 votes, a big number for Carrboro. Chilton seems to relish an active grassroots campaign and can be expected to again be knocking on doors throughout Carrboro.

After that it gets tough, particularly given that none of the incumbents has formally announced any plans.

In Chapel Hill, Mark Kleinschmidt has indicated that he will run and no one will be surprised when he is re-elected.

Edith Wiggins has said she will probably retire. That will help black challengers with Chapel Hill voters who are committed to having racial diversity on the council. Possible candidate Bill Thorpe is a veteran of two separate stints on the council and could garner broad support, but he'll have to run a much stronger campaign than he did in a losing effort back in 1991.

Neither Ed Harrison nor Dorothy Verkerk has announced plans for seeking a second term. Both will have the advantages of incumbency. For Harrison or Verkerk to lose, there need to be some strong challengers. So far, only Laurin Easthom and Robin Cutson have publicly indicated an intention of running.

Easthom, a transportation board member, has been outspoken on a wide range of issues and appears poised for the kind of strong campaign that Sally Greene ran two years ago.

Cutson also has been outspoken on a wide range of issues, and has run a highly critical precampaign that has included attacks on funding for the Women's Center and her campaign against the Carbon Reduction Initiative of Douglas Crawford-Brown, director of the Carolina Environmental Program.

In Carrboro, Diana McDuffee says she is "98 percent sure" she will retire. Many expect both Jacquie Gist and John Herrera to seek another term as aldermen. Granting re-election to these two incumbents, one seat would be available to a challenger.

So far, only Catherine Devine has committed to running. Devine is well-known for her work on the Carrboro Music Festival and has served on several town advisory boards.

Randee Haven-O'Donnell and James Carnahan are also considering a run. Carnahan chairs the planning board. Haven-O'Donnell serves on the Horace Williams committee (along with Devine) and is active in Bolin Creek preservation efforts.

Carnahan is an ardent proponent of high-density development. Haven-O'Donnell is deeply involved with environmental preservation. These values collided not long ago with the Winmore project.

A key question for the campaign could be which candidate can articulate a vision that convincingly incorporates both.

Jeff Vanke, a 2003 write-in mayoral candidate, announced recently that he will not be running this year. That leaves the constituency identified with Vanke, Steve Rose and Jim Porto without even a speculative candidate at this time.

Similarly, the Chapel Hill constituency that rallied around fifth-place finishers Dianne Bachman in 2003 and D.R. Bryan in 2001 has not yet been heard from.

The real fun begins when filing opens at noon on July 1 with the slates finalized at noon on Aug. 5.



Dan, you stayed away from hearsay and gossip. That's good. Unfortunately, you told me nothing new. I learned nothing that alleviates my anxiety about who might be running and making important community decisions for me.

Since rumors serve little purpose, perhaps the potential candidates who understand the angst of those who care, will drop us a line here and let us know where they are at with running.

I'm really hoping that the progressive candidates who think most deeply and care most sincerely about our community run.

Mary, I agree with your assessment. The Herald limits what columnists can write about potential candidates making such a topic perhaps a bit less interesting to readers than it might be otherwise.

I agree Mary, but all I know is who else isn't running.

I must say I like the idea of Mayors Strom and Chilton very much...

The only thing I remember about Strom is that he vocally opposed the "Woe to our enemies banner" that Top of the Hill hung in the wake of 9/11. Whil I did not agree with the sentiment expressed in the banner, I was troubled that a government official would comment on the content of private speech in a manner that suggested he would favor suppressing it.

Chris, thanks for reminding me about that. Who else on the council sided with Strom about that banner?

Chris--don't you think that a banner flying over downtown Chapel Hill could be perceived as representing the sentiments of the Town as a whole? There's such a fine line these days between protecting free speech and opposing hate(ful) speech. Do you think it is better to tacitly endorse such macho language by keeping quiet? I'm glad he spoke out. I also think he would make an excellent mayor.

and that banner was hate speech? oh, please. i guess its true--if a leftie doesn't like it, its hate speech. if a leftie likes it, its free speech. compare and contrast the reaction to the american flag as swastika in carrboro and a private citizen's banner on his place of business. in carrboro, the flag was "art" and protected free speech, in chapel hill, a private citizen's banner is hate speech worthy of condmenation by elected officials. i won't be voting for him or anyone else on the town council who spoke out against it.

Bill--I didn't say it was hate speech. I said there's a fine line between hate(ful) speech and free speech. The banner was offensive to me, and if I was a Muslim, given all the other offensive and aggressive speech at that time, I feel that the banner would have felt like a condemnation of myself and my faith. I don't know if that is hate speech in the legal sense, but its definitely hateful.

Ah, the great sign flap! As Ray Gronberg reported in the CHH on Wednesday September 19, 2001:

Council members at the heart of the Top of the Hill incident defended their actions Tuesday, though Foy, like Maitland, signaled a desire to move on.

"Now is not the time for squabbles over minor things like this," Foy said. "We should be focusing on humanitarianism and patience and courage in the face of this, and not on the size of signs."

Strom wasn't so quick to back off.

"I believe firmly that Chapel Hill and Carrboro are the conscience of the state of North Carolina, and it's our role to express our opinions," he said. "Violence begets violence, and I hope we find other ways to respond to this horrible tragedy."


Later, on September 05, 2002, the CHH ran an editorial, saying:

It's taken nearly a year, but we can finally sign-off on Chapel Hill's sign flap. The Town Council at last has decided to loosen the restrictions on noncommercial signs, allowing them to be any size at all, as long as they are posted on private property.

And so what began as a bombastic issue of freedom of speech, of political correctness, of patriotism and politicians, ends with the whimper of ordinance-tweaking.
It was, perhaps, a fitting end to a controversy that shouldn't have happened.

It began in the wake of Sept. 11, when local restaurant owner Scott Maitland decided to hang a banner from the balcony of Top of the Hill, the establishment he owns at the corner of Franklin and Columbia streets. The banner read, "God Bless America, Woe to Our Enemies," and at least one local resident thought the sign was too large.

The resident called Town Hall to complain about the sign's dimensions when the issue took on political overtones. Council members Kevin Foy, Bill Strom and Jim Ward chimed in at this point with complaints of their own -- not about the banner's size, but about the content of its message. They felt it was too bellicose and might be seen as offensive by some members of the community.
Many locals as well as folks who read about the flap over the Internet saw it as a case of attempted political censorship. They deluged Town Hall with more than 1,000 e-mails of protest.

The council then did what councils do: it decided to look again at its ordinance, review the relevant literature, send long memos back and forth, have the staff check if the ordinance was being selectively enforced. The wheels of government finally determined that there was no need for restricting the size of signs that were on private property.
Council member Dorothy Verkerk insisted that the controversy over Maitland's banner was not the precipitating cause for the ordinance change. It just offered the council an opportunity to look at the ordinance, she said.

Well, maybe. More likely, the civic embarrassment engendered by the controversy did cause the Town to think twice about trying to exercise political control over citizens' opinions, and a good thing that was. Woe to the enemies of free expression.


I fully agreed with the CHH position. Also, many may not be aware that Scott Maitland is a graduate of the United States Military Academy Class of 1988 and a Gulf War veteran.

Maitland may have a flair for pithy banners but I still prefer Gandhi: "an eye for an eye leaves the whole world blind" (of course Gandhi did not have the benefit of a West Point education)

Chilton Yes.

Banners No.

Are you all seriously talking about making your voting decision based on a minor incident that happened almost 4 years ago? Don't you think there are more important things going on than supposed threats to bar owners saber-rattling-rights?

For that matter do you even know the background or repercussions of that discussion? The many objections that were riased were over the sign's location and size being in clear violation of the law, not the unfortunate content of it. The Town's sign ordinance was amended as a result of "the great sign flap." (And by the way the sign's content was in fact offensive to many, many local residents.)

I hope other Chapel Hill voters have more meaningful matters on their minds in November! I really can't believ you all are seriously talking about this with everything else at stake.


Re-read the CHH story and editorial. The content was the issue for some on the Council.


I apologize for sidetracking this discussion for a bit. I love this site and it really keeps me informed about OP politics. My only point, as someone who follows town events casually, is that my word association response to the name "Bill Strom" is "sign flap".

I guess I was also a little extra sensitive because I had read an article earlier in the day about the increasing likliehood that a flag burning amendment is going to pass the US House and Senate and it got me thinking about I how I loathe government impinging on free expression.

Just as there are misguided folks who want to "protect" our flag from those exercising free expression, there are others who will certainly be offended by asking God to bless our great nation. The Gandhi "eye for an eye" example doesn't quite seem to fit the "woe to our enemies" sentiment. Those who attacked us should feel the full impact of the economic, diplomatic, political, and military tools available to us, in short, our woe. But most disturbing is that there are those who want to limit someone's freedom of speech, except when they are in favor of the speech. Because someone believes words are offensive, it doesn't mean that they can limit someone using them.

Aren't values and personal perspectives on public issues legitimate qualities to use to evaluate candidates? I supported Kevin Foy and Jim Ward in the last election; it didn't mean that I agreed with them on "the great sign flap."

Ruby, that's a bit too Howard Dean-ish of you for my tastes--lecturing people that elections shouldn't be about "God, guns and gays". What a condescending attitude! "The only important issues are the issues that I think are important, you little people!"

So who's the Woodrow Barfield this year? No speculation on Bachmann backfill (BC maybe)? No darkhorses, stalking horses, jumping horses?

I thought this thread was about the election.

Chris, you raise good points about censorship, but I really don't think that was the issue in this case. Regardless, there are MANY more important issues on which to be voting. I hope you'll catch up on some of those before November.

Fred, I read the story and I was there throughout the issue. Some Counilcmembers made the mistake of talking about both the content and the sign at the same time, but the Town's action was clearly directed at the obvious violation of the sign ordinance. No-one suggested that the content should be censored, simply that it was distasteful to many of us.

Bill, feel free to ignore anything I say if it does not accommodate your political tastes. In fact, you needn't feel compelled to read OrangePolitics at all since it does not appear to please you in general.

Thanks for getting us back on track Will. I'm also wondering if are there any young people stepping up to the plate? I know that students Tom Jensen, Jason Baker, and Tom Cisek have all considered it, but all declined. Anyone else?

But Ruby, you are always pleading that other voices need to be heard! I think that you and others on the hard left are living in a vacuum of ideas where your bad plans are never challenged and when they are, you have nothing left except name-calling and demonization.

Ruby, I guess we remember the sequence differently. PRIOR to the inspectors ordering the sign down because it was too large, the three Council members were going to go to the mayor and ask that the inflamatory words on the sign be changed. They admitted this; the size was not their original compaint, the words were.

Why do you think talking about what elected officials do is off-track when they may also be candidates in this election?

Gosh, for me this is WAY too tempting to get into, but I'll resist the temptation this time! It's too early for as I know NOTHING about any of this. July 1st will tell. Then, it's off to the races!

> I know that students Tom Jensen, Jason Baker, and Tom Cisek have all considered it, but all declined. Anyone else?

Actually Ruby...


My blog is currently down as I move to a new server. But when it reappears, you might check some recent posts.

Since your blog is down why don't you share some info (!) with us here, Jason?

Fair enough...

I've been looking over my options over the past few months and am strongly considering a council run. I believe that the current council makeup could benefit from someone of my position - a student, primarily, but also someone who knows what it's like to have to deal with trying to get by on a minimal income in one of the most expensive parts of the state.

But I hate to fuel the fire of speculation. =)

You wouldn't be the only one on the Council with that kind of experience.

Good point, Mark. But the Council is still disproportionately old, affluent, white, married, homeowners, etc ... compared to the people y'all represent. There's certainly room for different perspectives.

I think Jason's points are right on target. (In fact I felt the same way when I ran.) The question is whether he's the guy to change those things. We shall see...

Granted Mark, but do you honestly feel that the majority of your colleagues are representative of the Chapel Hill population at large? I definitely feel that there are several groups of folks in this town who make up a larger portion of the town than the council would seem to indicate.

That said, I appreciate the point of view you've brought to the council, and you're the one member up for re-election this cycle who has my vote to continue with it.

Today I announced that I will file on July for re-election to the Carrboro Board.
Jacquie Gist

to add to my previous message..
I had long thought that this would be my last term.But when it became clear that the board would be experincing a significant turn over at a time when several dynamic changes are about to occur I felt that my remaining on the board to provide continuity might be a good thing.The board members who are not up for re-election this term are all good hard working members but depending on how the mayors race plays out only two of them may be there as board members come December.I want to be there to help make sure that as the planned changes in our community occur they happen in a way that enhances rather then detracts from our quality of life. Aside from my family Carrboro is the heart of my life and I want to offer the experince that comes of 16 years on the board and 29 of living here to help lead the town through these next four years.So after lots of though and talking with my family I decided to run for a 5th term-besides my husband would miss having the house to himself a couple of nights each week!
JAcquie Gist

Jacquie, good luck with the campaign and thanks for
all the years of service.

Jason, you wrote " I definitely feel that there are several groups of folks in this town who make up a larger portion of the town than the council would seem to indicate." I fully
agree with you. Assuming that you include UNC students
as one of those groups that is not represented, what can you do to get more
students to turn out for town elections? With the
Morehead Planeterium polling place open for voting
for two full weeks, the state election system has made it
extremely easy for students to vote, and in spite of
successful student registration drives, the student
turnout remains extremely low. The diversity of
town council members will reflect that of the

The Herald has an article this morning on Jacquie's announcement and on John Herrera's announcement that he too will seek another term. Their reporter "could not reach Diana McDuffee for comment" but I did and the "98% sure" figure above is a direct quote. Based on that conversation, I believe that, with Jacquie and John running, it has gone up to 99.9% that she will not run.

Hi all,
Forgive me, but could someone list ALL the offices that are up for election this year?

Good question, Robert. Basically our municipal elections are in odd years. The mayors have 2-year terms. Everyone else has 4-year terms, staggered so that half of the seats are open every 2 years. There are no primaries and no official political parties.

Chapel Hill Mayor
Chapel Hill Town Council
Carrboro Mayor
Carrboro Board of Aldermen
Hillsborough Mayor
Hillsborough Board of Town Commissioners
Chapel Hill-Carrboro Board of Education
The Orange Board of Education is elected in even years because they have a partisan primary.

The Orange County Board of Elections website is helpful for reference, but they don't have this year's info yet.

Robert--I think this is the full list for Chapel Hill and Carrboro with the exception of the Board of Ed.

Chapel Hill Town Council seats up for election:
Mark Kleinschmidt
Dorothy Verkerk
Edith Wiggins
Ed Harrison
Mayor: Kevin Foy

Carrboro Board of Aldermen seats up for election:
John Herrera
Jacqueline Gist
Diana McDuffee
Mayor: Mike Nelson

If any of the council members or aldermen who are not up for re-election run for mayor, their seats will be appointed by the council/aldermen but I'm not sure whether it would be the old council (before election) or the new council (after election).


The Orange County Board of Education election is non-partisan. Despite that fact, the OC School Board election is always held on primary election day. I have no idea why. It seems like those positions should be elected on odd numbered years with all of the other non-partisan elections.

Also, Orange County Schools or all of Orange County may have a referendum on a Special District Tax for Orange County Schools or all of Orange County. It depends on what the commissioners come up with.

Thanks for the correction, Paul. I never understood why the county school board was elected in even years and the city school board is in odd years. It seems to make it more difficult to talk about county-wide issues.


After some thought, if I were to speculate, I would guess that it might a matter of money. It may be more cost effective for the OC Board of Elections to have the OC School Board election during the primary because they would already have to setup and man the polling places for the primary.

In an odd year election, unless there was a special referendum or something of that nature, the OC Board of Elections doesn't have to setup polling places all throughout the county. The only elections in odd numbered years are municipal. Hillsborough only has three and a half polling precincts for its municipal races and they usually re-direct the 19-20 voters from Cameron Park to another precinct's polling place.

So the city schools district can have their elections in odd numbered years because just about all of the polling places in that region would be open anyway (for the Chapel Hill and Carrboro municipal elections).

This all just speculation on my part.

Thanks everyone.

They also get a higher turnout by linking with state/federal elections. Turnout for all elections is low but for municipal elections it is just downright abysmal.

The Orange County School Board had partisan elections until sometime in the mid 1970s. Since it was a partisan county office, it was held at the same time as county commissioner elections.

Until the mid 1960s, everyone in the county could vote for county school board, until a federal court struck down a similar arrangement in Robeson County where city school voters could also vote in the county. That is my understanding. Yes, that meant city voters voted for both school boards. To stop Chapel Hill fro dominating, there was a (probably unconstitutional) local act forbidding more than two school board members from any one township in Orangte County. That law was repealed in 1969.

The Chapel Hill-Carrboro Board of Educations is elected in the odd numbered year because as a special charter city school administrative unit, it (and most other city school boards) are elected on a municipal election schedule. The Durham city school board prior to merger in 1992 was elected along with the city council, for example.

Just a couple of points on the topic of Chapel Hill election issues. Dan Coleman, in writing that “Robin Cutson has run a highly critical pre-campaign,” neglects to point out that I have expressed strong support for protecting neighborhoods; strong support for the protecting the environment; and strong support for rank and file Town workers.

He also neglects to point out that I have a history of fighting against the use of red light cameras in Chapel Hill and a history of fighting to reign in UNC development that caters to corporate interests and not education.

Coleman is correct that I have criticized wasteful spending as well as funding for nonprofits that cater to the wealthy or that seem to be so flush with funds that they host programs that may be lots of fun but don't really fulfill a “charitable” cause.

Coleman is also correct that I have criticized the carbon reduction project being pushed by UNC's Douglas Crawford-Brown. Carbon reduction programs are being used to justify the buying and selling of carbon credits; which some environmentalists have criticized as a simply a ruse enabling coal-burning power plants and corporations to make money “out of thin air” or to justify carbon taxes to increase their profits.

Carbon reduction programs are also a way for the logging and timber industry to justify the logging of mature trees for their wood products industry. Carbon reduction advocates claim, IN SPITE OF RESEARCH TO THE CONTRARY, that cutting mature trees and replacing them with faster growing younger trees will remove more carbon from the air. They also claim that the mature trees that have been cut down cannot be left to decay since this will result in the release of the carbon dioxide stored in the trunk and branches. And so carbon reduction advocates suggest the carbon in the wood should be “permanently stored or sequestered away” by turning the wood into lumber, furniture or other wood products. Needless to say the timber industry is a huge supporter of carbon reduction programs. ” The Alberta Forest Products Association's website states that “harvesting mature trees helps reduce greenhouse gas emissions” and also states turning the mature trees into wood products “locks in the carbon dioxide.” And in a letter to the editor in the Chapel Hill News, Crawford-Brown echoed the timber industy's position when he stated his position was, “cutting old trees to replace them with new ones makes sense only if the carbon in the old trees is sequestered and not allowed to degrade to carbon dioxide.” In 2002, the President of the National Parks Association questioned whether carbon reduction was about air quality or “backyard timber mills.”

And last, but not least, carbon reduction programs are also used to justify the planting of genetically modified (GM) trees. Carbon reduction advocates claim that trees can be genetically altered to grow faster, thus enabling them to remove even more carbon dioxide from the air. Terri has started a thread on the bills pending in the General Assembly that will prevent local governments from passing ordinances to prohibit the planting of GM trees or crops. Carbon reduction agreements facilitate the push for this controversial and potentially harmful biotechnology. I have a post on my website that addresses this issue in more detail with supporting research.

Thanks for posting here.
I want to understand more about your “if you don't build it, they won't come” philosophy espoused in your recent CHN letter:
It wasn't clear to me what you were trying to say.
You seemed to be saying that Chapel Hill had reached its growth limit because we have maxed out on our limited land and water supplies.
You also seemed to be saying that growth can never pay for itself, and growth must always raise everyone's taxes.
You seemed to equate sustainable growth in Chapel Hill with no-growth.
Did I read you right?


The common-sense principle of sustainable growth is that growth in any geographical area is limited by the availability of natural resources such as land and water. When the population increases to the point where resources can no longer support it, residents will experience water shortages (resulting in water restrictions and rising prices), natural waterways will become polluted, air quality will deteriorate (due to industry and traffic congestion) and there will be a shortage of land for waste disposal and garbage will need to be shipped out to outlying areas or even other states. At this point, advocates of sustainable growth feel further development and population increases will lead to a decrease in quality of life, irreparable harm to the environment, and escalating taxes and fees in order to pay for damage control programs. In short, sustainable growth advocates feel there is a point where cities or towns have to utilize zoning laws to prohibit further growth thereby encouraging future development in areas where natural resources aren't as overburdened.

Advocates of “smart growth” say you don't have to limit or stop development and population increase, you just have to develop new ways to minimize the environmental damage and conserve or stretch resources. Does it work? Not really. Resources can be stretched but generally the conservation methods revolve around penalizing people for using the resources. For example, water can be stretched by restricting use or by charging higher prices; land available for solid waste disposal can be stretched through increased recycling or by penalizing people for having garbage by charging them a fee per bag on top of taxes; automobile pollution can be reduced by imposing more and more fees for road use on top of taxes or fining people for not car pooling. But, obviously, punitive methods of stretching limited resources aren't attractive options and won't work forever. Eventually population will outstrip resources and, once again, the only solution will be to prohibit growth unless the plan is simply to deny people water, cars and garbage pickup altogether. Sustainable growth advocates say since prohibiting growth is inevitable, why not do it once maximum population density is reached instead of using “smart growth” to stretch resources even more, degrade quality of life, and cause even more harm to the environment before finally deciding to “hold the fort”?

Planning Magazine, published by the American Planning Association, is one of the leading proponents of smart growth. An article in the May, 2001 issue admitted that the evidence presented by opponents of “smart growth” was compelling and stated that it may be time to admit that smart growth policies may be increasing environmental harm and could lead to an urban-renewal disaster. The article “A Citizen's Guide to Low Impact Development” in Conservation and Ecology News also stated that frequently, “low impact” development was simply “high-impact development in disguise.”

So what does this mean? For any Town to be a thriving community it requires a balance of residential development and commercial businesses. In general residential development entails more costs for services such as schools than is collected in property taxes. Commercial businesses generate property taxes and sales taxes that help keep taxes lower for everyone and provide revenue for services. Chapel Hill is currently considered a “bedroom community” since it consists of mostly residential development and it needs more commercial businesses for a healthy fiscal balance and to provide interest and vitality. So in the land remaining than is not yet “built out” we need to encourage commercial development when and if appropriate. A limited use of higher density commercial development could also be utilized in current business locations such as downtown or in shopping areas with the provision that adequate parking is provided. But since we are limited we need to stop the “magical thinking” that we can just continue growth and development endlessly as long as we utilize public transit and penalize people for using resources. The continued push for high density residential development and infilling is a recipe for disaster—and so is Carolina North—it is doubtful that our geographic area can accommodate this massive development without severe repercussions.

Water availability will be one of the biggest issues.
In 2002 the Chapel Hill News reported that water consumption in our area was outstripping supplies and that UNC consumes about 30% of all of water supplied by OWASA. Shortly after this was published the Board of OWASA voted not to release information on customer water usage to the public. Because of our area is developing and overpopulating beyond our water supply capacity OWASA is engaged in an aggressive campaign to stretch shrinking water supplies.

In order to stretch water supplies OWASA has in place permanent year-round water use restrictions on businesses and individual customers. In order to further stretch the shrinking water supplies OWASA sought and received State approval to add process water back into the water treated and used for drinking and bathing (The Blue Thumb April 2005). Process water is water that is used “to carry solid particles that are separated from water during treatment processes and to periodically wash the filters.” The State currently limits the amount of process water that can be added back in to drinking water supplies to 10% of the raw water used. Of course, this could change as water becomes even scarcer with population growth.

In order to stretch shrinking water supplies, OWASA has also agreed to implement a new program where they will provide UNC with reclaimed water (highly treated wastewater not safe for drinking or bathing) for uses such as irrigation and chiller plants. However, OWASA plans to provide UNC with reclaimed water at a cheaper price than regular water. And this means that individuals and businesses will have to pay higher prices to make up for the loss of revenue OWASA incurs by selling UNC the cheaper water. And just recently it was reported that OWASA water and sewage rates would increase this year.

And in May, 2005 the Chapel Hill News reported that out of concern for dwindling water supplies OWASA's new strategy would involve “limiting how many millions of gallons of water the agency will provide per day.” In a meeting with Mark Marcoplos, I asked if this meant that sometime in the future citizens could be subject to periods of water “outages” similar to the rolling brownouts of electricity suffered by California citizens during the Enron debacle and he replied, yes it could. He also pointed out—correctly-- that it was the Town Council's responsibility to reign in growth and development to ensure the needs of the Town's citizens.

There's more but I'm probably taking up too much space.

Robin, you are sounding a lot like Ronald Reagan here: "Conservation means hot in the summer and cold in the winter."

OWASA has plans for supplying this community water. Those plans may not be perfect, but I think the argument that "generally the conservation methods revolve around penalizing people for using the resources" is both alarmist and self-centered.

OWASA's planning time horizon is through 2050 - hardly myopic. The plan involves the expansion of OWASA's water storage capabilities through the future use of the American Stone Quarry once the quarry is abandoned (in another 20 years or so as I recall). Here's a link to OWASA's plan:

The water re-use program is really quite visionary and helps reduce our entire community's impact on our local environment. Before the re-use program, we were spending millions of dollars per year on producing some of the finest drinking water in the USA and then pouring it onto the ground at the golf course and for other irrigation purposes. This was a profligate use of energy, chemicals and money.

Under North Carolina law utilities (including OWASA) have very little flexibility in how they set prices on their services. The price of the service MUST be the cost of creating and delivering the product/service being provided. There have been many, many lawsuits about this issue across North Carolina.

Ultimately, Robin, you make some important points about the limits of growth. I agree that there must be limits. But in fairness you should acknowledge that this community has been facing up to that reality for a long time. In the late 1980's elected officials on the Board of Aldermen, Town Council and County Commission recognized the need to define some ultimate boundaries for growth and adopted an Urban Services Boundary (USB) and a Rural Buffer (RB).

Chapel Hill and Carrboro will not grow beyond the limits of the USB. Sewer lines are excluded from the RB (except where mandated by state law) and that severely limits the potential for growth beyond the USB.

So there is already a growth cap in Chapel Hill and Carrboro. And what OWASA is doing in its 50 year plan is preparing to supply water to the size of community that Chapel Hill and Carrboro will be as we approach build-out within the USB. That is good planning. It may not make for great headlines (the way using OWASA as a punching bag does), but it does make for good, smart planning and wise and conservative management of our natural resources.

Would that the rest of the world were paying attention.


One could read your diatribe and never know that the implementation of process water and the institution of year-round water conservation measures were in response to a drought of historic proportions. Your citing of the CH News article about demand outstripping supply is also misleading because in 2002 we were in the midst of that drought.

You "forgot" to fill in the details of our discussion where you have me saying that rolling brownouts of water could be a possibility. I said that this could happen in an extreme situation where we might experience a more prolonged drought or series of droughts than the 2001-2002 drought. I also told you that if we did not follow through on the re-use project that the chances of something like this would be increased.

I also talked at length with you about the complexities of the various cost factors for the re-use water project. I explained how, in the long-term, that this new source of supply is the least-cost option for ensuring adequate and clean future supply. None of this apparently merits mention and you prefer a one-line toss-off that supports your original contentions.

I appreciate your involvement in these issues and your willingness to meet with me to learn more, but it makes me a little hesitant to continue the dialogue when my words are taken out of context and information that I shared is ignored.

Robin--like Mark I think you make some good points although I disagree with your cynicism toward smart growth principles. But you also leave out some very important ones. This community is not the only one in the area, the state, or the country that has a limited water supply. Water is a natural resource that must be protected and conserved--regardless of any other factors. That said, OWASAs efforts to incorporate conservation as part of their long range planning is a very wise decision in my opinion. By conserving our local--high quality water supply, we can postpone if not eliminate any need to draw from the polluted waters of Jordan Reservoir. Our local raw water supply is much cleaner than the raw water from Jordan so it doesn't need as much processing (costs savings, health protection). Our local raw water supply is close by and requires less infrastructure (pipes) for moving it to the water treatment site (cost savings). The reuse agreement with UNC reduces the use of processed water (cost savings, resource conservation) and the costs associated with the reuse program have been borne by UNC. Win-win situation as far as I can see.

I do agree with your ideas that this community needs to focus more on economic development though.

Mark and Terri, what are OWASA's thoughts on the high chlorophyll a levels found in the three 2003 University Lake water samples?
What's the likelihood of the lake being declared an impaired waterway under the Clean Water Act?

Robin discusses the end game of smart growth.
In this vein, one of the recommendations, perhaps the most important one, of the Horace Williams Citizens' Committee was that Carolina North could be so large that no amount of mitigation will render it environmentally- and

Mark M or someone else who knows water stuff: What is
the cost per 1000 gals to provide drinking water and what
is the cost per 1000 to provide reclaimed water? If
reclaimed water is more expensive, why would OWASA
charge less for it, especially in light of Mark C's comment
about the illegality of using revenue from one type of water
to subsidize the sales of another type.

Finally, about the cost of growth. Yes it costs, especially
for schools. Look at what our county and to a lesser
extent city taxes have done in the last two decades.
But before Aaron Nelson (Aaron are you there?) promotes
the solution to this problem as commercial growth,
please remember that we have almost no unemployment
here in CH. That means that you really can't separate
commercial and residential growth. If we provide good jobs, we need to provide housing for the new people who come here to fill them.

A brief response to the algal growth in University Lake issue:

The Division of Water Quality discovered that they had made a mistake in their data analysis, so the story was an unfortunate goof.

As for algal growth, many experts consider the use of algal blooms as an indicator of poor water quality to be a gross & flawed approach.

Mark Chilton: You have stated:

"Chapel Hill and Carrboro will not grow beyond the limits of the USB. Sewer lines are excluded from the RB (except where mandated by state law) and that severely limits the potential for growth beyond the USB. So there is already a growth cap in Chapel Hill and Carrboro."

Okay, a couple of points. Sustainable growth advocates have pointed out that in other areas that pursued smart growth (i.e. setting an urban boundary and then pushing high density and infilling within the boundary) eventually the growth did begin extending into the areas outside the urban services boundary—and so the areas exchanged low density sprawl (i.e. suburban sprawl) for high density sprawl (which is much more harmful to the environment and results in higher taxes).

This, in fact, happened in Portland, Oregon, the area that was one of the first to embrace smart growth and that formerly was hailed as a successful example of smart growth. As land within the urban boundary became built out there was a push for infilling and increased high density development which led to higher taxes, a lack of affordable housing, congestion, and widespread dissatisfaction among citizens.

And those outside the urban services boundary also complained about how the land use policies that limited their growth was unfair and had negative impacts such as a lack of adequate funding for schools. So as a result, after implementing high density development and infilling within the urban services boundary (and in neighborhoods that didn't want it), in 2002 voters passed a measure that extended growth into areas outside the urban services boundary anyway. Approval was granted to add 18,624 acres of previously protected land to the area inside the urban service boundary to accommodate more growth.
• 2002 UGB expansion history
• Map of 2002 Council UGB Decision •

So all I have suggested is that protecting the area outside the urban services boundary will work only if people are happy within the urban services boundary—because if they aren't, then there eventually will be a successful push to extend growth to the protected areas. And to making people happy generally means limiting the push for increased high density and infilling in residential neighborhoods. Those outside the urban services boundary will also have to be kept content if the plan is to work; which means compensating them for property when new zoning restricts formerly allowed uses and providing funding for schools.

The basic principle here is that whenever governments impose strict laws infringing upon individual citizens' choices of where and how to live that impact on their happiness and well-being, the citizens usually end up revolting against oppressive government control through the voting process or other means—history is full of these examples. In the past, those who considered themselves liberals used to applaud these actions.

In response to your statements: “Robin, you are sounding a lot like Ronald Reagan here: “Conservation means hot in the summer and cold in the winter” and, “I think the argument that “generally the conservation methods revolve around penalizing people for using the resources” is both alarmist and self-centered.”----I question whether these types of statements are helpful in promoting open discussion of issues. It would seem more appropriate to supply facts, research or logic to refute something you disagree with.



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