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Airport, waste sites top issues at county forum

Photo by Kirk Ross. Democrat Bernadette Pelissier and Republican Kevin Wolff, candidates for the new at-large seat on the Orange County board of county commissioners, debate the issues at a forum at Carol Woods.Kirk Ross
Staff Writer

With an intense and historic presidential election, a highly contested race for governor and a U.S. Senate election that could turn out a well-known incumbent, there seems to be little oxygen left for races further down the ballot, especially local races.

That didn’t stop Democrat Bernadette Pelissier and Republican Kevin Wolff from highlighting their differences Tuesday, as the two candidates for the newly created at-large seat on the Orange County Board of County Commissioners squared off at their one and only election forum at Carol Woods Tuesday.

Pelissier said she has worked hard to learn the ropes, serving in the past as chair of the Orange Water and Sewer Authority board of directors and at present on the county Planning Board and the Commission for the Environment.

If elected, she said, she would focus on implementing the county’s new comprehensive plan and work to make county government more efficient. The comprehensive plan, the county’s first full re-write since the 1980s, is important, she said, because it recognizes that “the environment, the economy and social issues are all interrelated. We need to make sure that our policies recognize that.”

Wolff, who twice ran unsuccessfully for mayor of Chapel Hill and whose wife, Mary, challenged Pelissier in the Democratic primary, said he wants to bring his business experience to the board.

“I would like to bring a balance to the board of commissioners,” Wolff said. “I believe we have plenty of people who will uphold and implement the policies that Bernadette would.”
He said his credentials as a businessman and attorney would bring that balance. He said he does not believe that view is present on the current board of commissioners.

“Since we’re expanding [from] five to seven [seats on the board], this is a great opportunity to open up the view and have a more balanced perspective,” Wolff said.

In a question-and-answer session with Carol Woods residents, the two explained their positions on the siting of a solid-waste transfer station, with both candidates agreeing that the Rogers Eubanks community, which hosts the soon-to-be-closed landfill, should not be on the list of possible sites.

Pelissier said the timing of the selection is important. She said she supports waiting until after the election to make the decision, in part to give the new commission an opportunity to review the process and the choices and in part to give communities where potential sites are located the chance to fully study the issue.

Wolff said he would closely review how the sites were chosen and weighted. He said he’d like to see the county reconsider its decision to not open another landfill. Rather than ship waste out of the county to another community, he said Orange County could create a model landfill that included power generation.

After the initial question-and-answer session, Pelissier and Wolff were joined by District 1 commissioner candidate Pam Hemminger and District 2 commissioner candidate Steve Yuhasz, who, along with incumbent commissioner Valerie Foushee, are running unopposed. Foushee did not attend the Carol Woods forum.

All four candidates were asked what they thought about the moves by the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and UNC Health Care to build a new airport on Orange County.

Yuhasz called it “a difficult opportunity.” He noted that in addition to a new home for the university’s Medical Air operations, it is also being touted as an economic-development engine.

“It can be, but only if it’s properly sited,” he said, adding that land use plans by the county seem to be at odds with plans for the airport.

Pelissier said the airport raises serious concerns because it’s location is likely to violate a long-held agreement on land use between Hillsborough, Chapel Hill, Carrboro and the county. She also said there has not been enough information available to the county.
Hemminger said she expects that siting the airport will be “quite an elaborate process” and that since the county doesn’t own a large parcel of land it will require use of existing land in private hands. She said she hopes that the county and UNC will be able to work together rather than at odds on spin-offs from UNC and other economic-development potential.

Wolff said he agreed that the airport could have an important economic impact. He’d like to see more synergy with UNC. He said he was appalled by the friction between the community and the university over Carolina North.

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