Published: Aug 22, 2012 10:17 AM
Modified: Aug 22, 2012 10:19 AM
On Wednesday Aug. 22, residents will have a chance to share concerns with state regulators from the N.C. Division of Water Quality (DWQ) about the University of North Carolina’s application for a permit modification to expand its failed wastewater system at the 56-acre UNC Animal Research Facility at 1907 Orange Chapel Clover Garden Road in southwest Orange County.
The university proposes to spray 1.2 million gallons of research waste per year on Haw River Watershed land, doubling the acreage of spray fields and spraying research waste onto open fields next to neighboring pastures where cattle graze. The DWQ has scheduled a public hearing at the White Cross Recreation Center to receive public comments before deciding “whether to issue, revise or deny the draft permit modification.” The hearing will be the first opportunity for community members to comment publicly on a permit application in the facility’s 40 years of operations.
In 2010, the citizen nonprofit Preserve Rural Orange (PRO) exposed a series of animal wastewater spills and equipment failures and violations of county, state and federal regulations at the UNC facility. University leaders returned a $14.5 million construction grant to the NIH after acknowledging undisclosed wetlands and improperly built infrastructure on site, and committed to sharing plans and permit documents with PRO and neighbors as well as testing neighbors’ well water Now, UNC leaders propose spending an additional $14.7 million to expand the failed wastewater system and have ceased communications with PRO and neighbors. More than two years after multiple illegal wastewater spills and toxic solvents contaminating the wastewater, UNC has not yet developed protocols for testing neighboring wells.
At the Aug. 22 public hearing, neighbors and PRO leaders plan to request an Environmental Impact Statement, requiring UNC to disclose past and future impacts and to explore environmentally responsible, sustainable alternatives to the proposed expansion In locations where where tens of thousands of gallons of research and animal waste spilled onto the ground and into tributaries of Collins Creek, there were no studies to determine impacts on soil, sediment or water Collins Creek feeds into the Haw River, winding up in Jordan Lake’s regional drinking water supply. Downstream from the UNC property, the EPA has listed Collins Creek as "impaired waters."
UNC has operated the research facility for four decades, and according to a 2009 UNC handout to neighbors, the facility initially discharged waste directly into the creek for an undisclosed period of time. Five years ago, UNC constructed new wastewater spray fields and a road on wetlands, in violation of the federal Clean Water Act. The facility property is located in the southwest corner of Orange County, a rural and agricultural zone far from water or sewer service. Without municipal infrastructure to support a research campus, the UNC Animal Research Facility’s costs are mounting. Since 2010 when failed wastewater systems were shut down, UNC has pumped and hauled research waste from the facility twice weekly to OWASA, paying both tanker truck and disposal fees, and contracting with consultant McKim & Creed to redesign and replace the unused, faulty system that cost millions to install five years ago.
The DWQ Public Hearing will take place at 7 pm, with registration beginning at 6:30 p.m. The White Cross Recreation Center is located at 1800 White Cross Road, Chapel Hill. For more information contact Nathaniel Thornburg, DWQ Aquifer Protection Section (email@example.com) at 919-807-6453, and Preserve Rural Orange (firstname.lastname@example.org). Comments on UNC’s permit application may be sent until Sept. 4 to Nathaniel Thornburg, Division of Water Quality, Aquifer Protection Section, 1636 Mail Service Center, Raleigh, NC 27699-1636.
This column was written by the Preserve Rural Orange board of directors: Alex Castro, R.M. Gallagher, Cliff Leath, Jack Pless, Tom Schopler and Laura Streitfeld.