Next Generation Series: Orange County Landfill Closing Is A Victory for the Rogers-Eubanks Commmunity

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Each year, the Center hosts law student interns for the summer, fall, and spring semesters, as part of its mission to train the next generation of civil rights lawyers. This blog post is part of the Next Generation Series, which include reflections from our interns on their assigned casework. Read more about our current and past interns.

The historic Rogers-Eubanks community claimed a long overdue victory when the Orange County Landfill closed on Saturday, June 29, 2013, forty-one years after it opened. With a slow click of the master lock held by three community members – David Caldwell, Gertrude Nunn and the Reverend Robert Campbell – the landfill gates were secured.

The Rogers-Eubanks (or “Rogers Road”) community is a historically African American community established in the early 1700s. Mr. Caldwell and Rev. Campbell lead the Rogers-Eubanks Neighborhood Association (RENA), the non-profit organization, of which many neighbors are members, that advocates for the health and quality of life in the community. Two of RENA’s priorities over the past 40 years have been addressing the impacts of the landfill and the community’s lack public water and sewer.

Community members prepare to lock the landfill gates. The signs they hold read, "Thanks Orange County for Closing This Landfill, Let's Keep It Closed Forever. Reject NC Senate Bill 328."

The landfill closing is a testament to the community’s fortitude and persistence. Since the 1980s, the neighbors have fought to close the landfill and gain access to public water and sewer, both of which would fulfill a promise made by the local governments to the community in the 1970s when the original landfill opened. Mr. Caldwell moved to the area roughly 30 years ago to join RENA’s struggle for justice. Rev. Campbell moved to Rogers Road in 1973, a year after the landfill’s construction. Ms. Nunn, at 91, has waited the longest, and embodies the spirit and determination of the community.

In the past year, Chapel Hill, Carrboro and Orange County have pledged to provide a community center and public sewer to the community in remediation for the burden of hosting the landfill for so long. To that end, the County Board of Commissioners has created the Historic Rogers Road Task Force, which meets monthly at the Solid Waste Management Administrative Building on Eubanks Road. The Task Force comprises two representatives from each municipality’s governing boards, including two RENA representatives (Mr. Caldwell and Rev. Campbell). Last December, the Task Force recommended building a new community center, and that project has been fully funded by Orange County with construction plans underway. Task Force meetings now focus on the provision of sewer, which includes installing sewer mains and hooking up each resident's house. The Task Force is expected to make a recommendation on sewer by late summer. Its next meeting is at 4 p.m. on Wednesday, July 17, 2013.

Although the landfill has closed, RENA's struggle is far from over. The landfill itself will no longer accept household waste (“municipal solid waste”), but still active are other waste facilities in the vicinity, including a construction and demolition debris landfill, as well as an old household waste landfill that has been closed for decades but remains unlined. Also, the community still struggles to gain access to sewer, and some community members still rely on wells and do not have access to public water. But during a weekend of torrential rains in Orange County, the skies let up and seemed to pause for this great and humble celebration. It is a wonderful lesson for us all to keep fighting for justice and the rights duly owed to every individual. Even when the light of hope is dimmest, keep fighting and we will surely have the prize.

Allen Buansi

This post was written by Allen Buansi. Allen is a rising second-year law student at UNC. He graduated from Dartmouth College in 2009 with a Bachelor of Arts in History. He has worked in grassroots environmental justice activism since his teen years. Allen is interested pursuing a career addressing the issue of racial discrimination in law enforcement.

Posted by Bethan R. Eynon on Wed. July 10, 2013 4:36 PM
Categories: Community Inclusion, Environmental Justice, Next Generation Series, Orange County
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