Rogers Road Remediation: Challenges Remain

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Rogers Road citizens rally for their community

The Center for Civil Rights continues to advocate for the Rogers Road Neighborhood, a 150-year-old, majority African American community divided between Chapel Hill and Carrboro that has hosted Orange County’s landfills for over 40 years.

In 1972, the county sited an unlined landfill near the community upon a promise to residents that it would close the landfill within 10 years. In 1982, the county instead extended the life of the landfill and has since expanded it to include two municipal waste landfills, two construction and demolition debris landfills, a leachate pond, a hazardous waste collection site, a materials recovery facility, facilities for mulching yard and clean wood waste, and facilities for managing scrap tires, old appliances, scrap metal, and salvaged construction materials.

The Center has partnered extensively with the Rogers Road Neighborhood Association (RENA) for several years in its efforts to address the continuing impacts of the landfill. It has represented RENA in filing Title VI discrimination claims with the U.S. Department of Transportation, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. In 2009, the Center worked with RENA to successfully stop Orange County’s attempt to site a Waste Transfer Station near Rogers Road.

Currently, the Center closely monitors the work of Orange County, Chapel Hill, and Carrboro as they discuss remediation of the effects of the landfill on the community. Below is an opinion piece by Community Inclusion fellow Bethan Eynon printed in the Chapel Hill News on December 4, 2012.

The Historic Rogers Road Neighborhood Task Force was formed to coordinate the efforts of Chapel Hill, Carrboro, and Orange County in fulfilling their affirmative obligation to remedy the burdensome effects of the county landfill on the Rogers Road community. The Task Force was charged with making recommendations on both the scope of and the means to finance necessary reparations, including the community-identified priorities of public water and sewer, and a community center. The Center for Civil Rights has worked closely with the leadership and the members of the Rogers-Eubanks Neighborhood Association (RENA). As the Assembly of Governments prepares to meet on December 6 to review the Task Force’s final recommendations, local representatives must consider several critical issues regarding the provision of sewer to ensure that remedial efforts are meaningful and effective for the community.

First, the local governments should clarify what “the provision of sewer” actually means. There are three stages in connecting a residence to public sewer: the installation of the main infrastructure lines accessible to the residence, the connection of the main line to the meter in front of the residence, and the connection of the meter to the house. While the Task Force and the local governments have generally agreed to provide some level of sewer service, whether homeowners will be required to pay for the meter-to-house connection remains unresolved. Although the community has been encouraged by discussions embracing this issue at the last Task Force meeting, cost estimates discussed thus far specifically exclude meter-to-house connections, which can cost thousands of dollars per residence and therefore inaccessible for many in the community. “Providing” sewer infrastructure that residents are unable to use is in fact not to provide it all.

Further evidence of this problem exists. In October 2011, Orange County established a $288,000 fund to subsidize main-to-meter water connections for low-wealth residents in Rogers Road. To date, few if any residents have applied for funds, because this assistance still burdens residents with the significant costs of the meter-to-house connection. A similar fund established by the Town of Carrboro also contains restrictions that limit its actual utility to residents and remains untouched.

The county also maintains a well repair program to assist property owners within a certain radius of the landfill if it determines that the well is failing. Ironically, the fund cannot be used to connect these same homes to the public water infrastructure, which according to OWASA, runs throughout the community although several homes remain unconnected. These funds, reserved for remediation in Rogers Road but ineffectively designed and largely unusable, should be reallocated so they actually meet the needs of the community. Although installation of sewer infrastructure is months away, funding is available today to provide meter-to-house connections to residents who live close to already-installed water and sewer mains but who remain unconnected.

Reverend Campbell speaking on behalf of RENA at an EPA Town Hall Meeting

There are two additional issues that the local governments should take into account. First, any remedial efforts must benefit the entire community. The Rogers Road neighborhood is already divided between the extraterritorial jurisdiction (ETJ) of Chapel Hill and the Town of Carrboro. This arbitrary jurisdictional division of an established community—which the towns ordinarily try to avoid-- ignores the neighborhood’s rich history and undermines its efforts to work together to address the needs of residents. Chapel Hill, Carrboro, and Orange County should be vigilant that future actions involving the community will not do the same. For example, the Task Force has suggested that only some residents should be eligible for no-cost meter-to-house connection to sewer, based on whether they lived in the neighborhood when the original landfill was built in 1972. Providing sewer to only a portion of the neighborhood fails to address the stated goal of improving the quality of life of the entire community and the reality that all residents are burdened by the adverse impacts of the landfill. Additionally, to imply that only some residents “deserve” mitigation does not address the scope of liability our broader community has incurred and dismisses the neighborhood’s extraordinary collective effort and unity in the face of these ongoing challenges.

Finally, the local governments must begin to consider steps to preserve the character and integrity of this historic community. The long overdue infrastructure improvements, combined with the closing of the landfill, raise the specter of gentrification and push-out of longtime residents and families. With direct input and guidance from the community, forward-looking protections must be discussed and established now to ensure that the quality and character of this diverse neighborhood are honored and sustained.

Posted by Bethan R. Eynon on Mon. December 3, 2012 2:14 PM
Categories: Community Inclusion, Environmental Justice, Orange County, Race Discrimination, Segregation
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