Published: Dec 18, 2012 07:00 PM
Modified: Dec 18, 2012 06:35 PM
CHAPEL HILL - Neighbors of UNC’s animal research facility in Bingham Township will get much of the information they want after state regulators asked the university for more details about its wastewater.
UNC is seeking state approval to modify and resume using its wastewater treatment system at the Bingham Facility, three buildings west of Carrboro that currently house about 150 dogs used to study hemophilia and other blood disorders.
Last month the Orange County Board of Adjustment denied neighbors’ request for a public hearing on a new permit when it determined the university’s plans fell outside the county’s jurisdiction and required only state approval.
In a Dec. 6 letter, however, the state Division of Water Quality has now asked the university for much more information about its plans.
The state wants to know what pollutants are in the wastewater, the effectiveness of proposed treatment of any carcinogens and isotope, and a list of surfactants (detergents) used in washing down cages and throughout the facility.
The letter from environmental engineer Nathaniel Thornburg also asks UNC to reconsider how much wastewater it expects to generate and possibly scale back the irrigation field where it plans to spray the treated wastewater.
“It’s more than what we would usually ask an applicant to provide,” Thornburg said. “We want to address the public’s concern and get the information on the record.”
The state’s request, especially its suggestion that UNC consider downsizing its spray field, addresses neighbors’ major fear. They worry that a bigger field, plus the university’s purchase of three nearby properties, signals plans for a bigger facility.
“We are very pleased,” said Laura Streitfeld , director of the grassroots watchdog group Preserve Rural Orange. “I consider it great progress and a victory for all of the neighbors who expressed the concerns. I think it’s terrific.”
More than 100 neighbors attended a meeting in the White Cross community last summer. At the meeting and again last week, Associate Vice Chancellor Bob Lowman stressed the university has no plans to expand at Bingham.
In an interview, Lowman said he understands the state’s request, which also asks for more wells to detect any contamination before it flows off the property, as well as a monitoring plan for all surface waters on the site.
“That doesn’t surprise me,” Lowman said. “They’re wanting to make sure every t is crossed and i dotted. The more we can do to be transparent to the public is probably a very good thing.”
The state has given UNC a Jan. 5 deadline to respond but says the university can request an extension.
Lowman was not ready to say whether the university would ask for more time.
The university has been spending about $3,500 a month pumping and hauling the Bingham Facility’s waste to the Orange Water and Sewer Authority treatment plant since it shut its system down two and half years ago, he said. A three-month delay could cost about $10,000.