In 2011 a conservative faction of the Greensboro City Council moved to expand their White Street Landfill, located in the overwhelmingly African-American northeast portion of the city.
As the attorney for community members opposing this expansion as well as a long-term resident of Orange County, it was endlessly frustrating to me when expansion supporters pointed to our own Rogers Road to justify their decision.
“The trash has got to go somewhere and we need to save money above all else. Even Orange County handles things the same way,” the argument went.
The Rogers Road story is a long, twisting saga. Long home to many African-American families, in the 1970s our community began sending waste to a landfill in the neighborhood. In exchange for accepting our garbage Rogers Road was promised investments in their community. But, as the trash piled up, the promises remained unfulfilled.
In 2013 investments in Rogers Road remain few and far between. Having accepted two generations of our community’s garbage, residents of Rogers Road still do not have sewer service. Instead the residents depend upon unreliable or broken septic systems prone to backing up in their yards, filling homes with the stench of raw sewage.
During the past year and a half the Historic Rogers Road task force has begun an effort to re-write this story. The task force has brought together stakeholders from Rogers Road, Chapel Hill, Carrboro, and Orange County. Residents of Rogers Road and the broader community, working with governmental attorneys, staff members, and elected officials, have thought long and hard about the particulars of where to provide sewer infrastructure and how to pay for it.
Our local governments meet again at 7 p.m. Thursday to consider a proposal that reflects the best of Orange County’s progressive traditions while beginning to repay our debt to the Rogers Road community.
The town of Carrboro has already done its part, allocating $900,000 towards the provision of sewer infrastructure and the construction of a community center. This represents 14 percent of the estimated project cost and corresponds to the percentage of solid waste Carrboro contributed to the landfill during its lifetime. Based on the same logic, the task force recommended that Chapel Hill and Orange County, respectively, pay 43 percent of the project cost. Pay out for what you put in; it’s a common-sense solution.
The residents of northeast Greensboro, joining with concerned residents from throughout the city, won their fight to stop the White Street landfill from expanding in 2011. We can take a page from their playbook this Thursday by putting the good of our entire community first. By adopting the task force’s sensible proposal for the provision of services to Rogers Road we can not only keep the promises we have made but also provide a model for equitable, progressive governance. Now more than ever, our state needs such examples.
Christopher Brook has lived in Orange County since 1998. He is a civil rights attorney, formerly practicing in areas including environmental justice.