Published: Dec 04, 2012 07:00 PM
Modified: Dec 04, 2012 06:51 PM
The Historic Rogers Road Neighborhood Task Force was formed to coordinate the efforts of Chapel Hill, Carrboro and Orange County in fulfilling their obligation to remedy the burdensome effects of the county landfill on the Rogers Road community.
The Task Force was charged with making recommendations on the scope and potential funding of necessary reparations, including the priorities of public water and sewer, and a community center.
As the Assembly of Governments prepares to review the Task Forces final recommendations on Dec. 6, representatives must consider several key issues regarding the provision of sewer to ensure that remediation is meaningful and effective.
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 lines, 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. Cost estimates discussed thus far specifically exclude meter-to-house connections, which can be prohibitively expensive. Providing sewer service that residents are unable to use is in fact not to provide it all.
Last year, Orange County established a $288,000 fund to subsidize main-to-meter water connections for low-wealth residents on 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.
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.
The local governments should also ensure that any remedial efforts must benefit the entire community. The Rogers Road neighborhood is divided between the extraterritorial jurisdiction of Chapel Hill and Carrboro.
This arbitrary jurisdictional division of an established community which the towns ordinarily try to avoid ignores the neighborhoods 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 sewer connection, based on whether they lived in the neighborhood when the 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 impacts of the landfill.
Implying that only some residents deserve mitigation fails to address the scope of liability our broader community has incurred and dismisses the neighborhoods extraordinary effort and unity in the face of these challenges.
Finally, the local governments must consider steps to preserve the character and integrity of this historic community. The long overdue infrastructure improvements and the closing of the landfill raise the specter of gentrification and push-out of longtime residents and families. With input and guidance from the community, protections must be discussed and established to ensure that the quality and character of this diverse neighborhood are honored and sustained.
Bethan Eynon is a Community Inclusion Attorney-Fellow at the UNC Center for Civil Rights.