Cooperation between local governments could mean initiatives from a bus to Pittsboro to an OWASA â€˜strawâ€™ in Jordan Lake
By Kirk Ross
Intergovernmental cooperation â€” along with baked chicken and a garden salad â€” was on the table Tuesday evening as representatives of Pittsboro and Chatham County joined counterparts from Carrboro, Chapel Hill, Orange County, UNC and the Orange Water and Sewer Authority for a quick dinner and a long discussion about regional planning.
Items on the agenda included a look at a possible regional water effort, shared use of parks and expanding public transit in the fast-growing region along the U.S. 15-501 corridor from Pittsboro to Chapel Hill.
Chatham officials, including County Commissioner George Lucier, stressed that a burst of growth will require the county to greatly expand its water system. The county is projected to grow by 80,000 people by 2035 and has 16,000 homes approved but as yet unbuilt, most of them in the northern section of the county.
OWASA officials already have a study underway and are in discussions with other water systems to explore ways to add to possible transfer capacity between it and other systems.
Chatham officials want OWASA and governments in Orange County to consider joining with them in an effort to build a possible western intake on Jordan Lake.
OWASA owns roughly 125 acres of land off Pea Ridge Road near a section of the lake. The land was purchased in 1989, and a 1991 study identified an area nearby on the lake as an optimal place for an intake.
Chatham already has a 50-year agreement with the Town of Cary, which has an intake on the eastern side of the lake, for part of its allocation. But Chatham officials say theyâ€™ll need to add additional capacity and are looking to OWASA, which has its own unused allocation of Jordan Lake water, and other local governments to form a regional partnership.
At Tuesdayâ€™s meeting, Lucier and Chatham County Manager Charlie Horne said the corps and the stateâ€™s Division of Water Quality have reiterated that there will only be two intakes allowed on the lake and that a regional partnership would be the preferred way to go.
OWASA executive director Ed Kerwin said the utility has not planned on drawing its 5-million-gallon-per-day allocation, mainly because of the cost of building a facility, which is estimated at $40 million.
â€œWeâ€™ve worked hard to not have to put a straw in Jordan Lake at all,â€ he said. But contributing to a regional effort, he said, may be helpful down the road.
With one park and ride lot just over the line in Chatham County, university officials are already contemplating ways to get more of its employees out of their cars.
Carolyn Elfland, associate vice chancellor for campus services, said the school has seen a steady decline in the number of its employees who live in Orange County. She said that in 2000, about 36 percent of UNC employees lived in Orange. That number has dropped to around 28 percent with many more employees coming in from Chatham and Alamance counties.
â€œWe know weâ€™re losing population in the Chapel Hill Transit service area,â€ she said.
Lucier asked for help in developing park and ride strategies along the 15-501 corridor. He said Briar Chapel, a development not far from Fearrington that will be twice the size of Southern Village, is going to be a likely source of many university employees.
â€œHow do we get them on the bus sooner than later,â€ he asked.
One issue, Efland said, is that Chatham and Alamance counties are not in the Triangle Transit Authority and neither has a well-developed public transit system.
Pittsboro Mayor Randy Voller said he would like to see a bus running from downtown Pittsboro to the university.
Chapel Hill Mayor Kevin Foy said cooperation on park planning makes sense given the dearth of soccer fields and other facilities in the region. Foy said the townâ€™s new Southern Community Park is likely to draw participants from Chatham County, but Chapel Hill has no interest in checking IDs at the gate.
He suggested better coordination with Chatham, which is planning to build two parks in the northern half of the county.
Working to protect land along the Haw River for a greenway with canoe and foot trails is also under discussion.
Moses Carey, chair of the Orange County Board of Commissioners, suggested that the counties might work together to buy prime lands in the area before theyâ€™re snatched up by developers.