Tense times in Bingham Township
Airport, transfer station
draw intense interest, ire
by Kirk Ross
CHAPEL HILL —For those living in the roughly 73 square miles that make up southwestern Orange County’s Bingham Township, the next few years seem to promise large and unwelcome changes.
Though sparsely populated compared to central and southeastern Orange, residents of the township, which stretches from the west side of Carrboro, have turned out in numbers at public discussions on a possible new airport and a solid-waste transfer station.
Earlier this month, an airport meeting packed the aging gymnasium at the White Cross Community Center. On Monday, a public hearing at McDougle Middle School on a waste transfer station drew hundreds out to argue against it.
The next night, while some Bingham residents continued to make their case at an Orange County Board of County Commissioners work session on the transfer station, others conveyed their opposition to the airport at a meeting on Carolina North between the UNC-Chapel Hill Board of Trustees and the Chapel Hill Town Council.
Steering some of this dissent are two nascent organizations, Preserve Rural Orange and Orange County Voice. Both organizations, which already have websites and extensive email lists, started by focusing on UNC’s efforts to build a new airport to replace Horace Williams. But since the county narrowed possible sites for a waste transfer station down to three parcels clustered around Orange Grove Road and Hwy. 54, the organizations have helped rally opposition to the station as well.
The latest county discussions on the transfer station came during a work session Tuesday at the Southern Human Services Center held in part to recap Monday’s extension of a public hearing on the site selection and in part to prepare for a potential vote on a final site on Dec. 11.
After reports from consultants Olver, Inc. on the latest public comments, the commissioners looked at the possibility of changing the site criteria, a point raised by several speakers the night before and reiterated during a brief public comment period at the work session.
“We’re boxing ourselves in looking at one solution,” Bingham resident Diane Chandler told the commissioners. The county, she said, is being short sighted and needs to explore new technologies for waste to energy and mandatory recycling at the university and UNC Hospitals.
While the transfer station would take up no more than 10 acres, maintaining a 200-foot buffer around the perimeter of the facility requires a site close to 27 acres.
Those opposed to the facility at the three sites in Bingham Township argued that if the site were to be located in an industrial area, it would not require as extensive buffering and, as a result, would not need to be so large.
Olver representatives said lowering the site size and identifying new sites would likely take 30 days.
In discussions on the idea, several commissioners said that although it seems appealing, many of the sites such a search would yield are likely to be close enough to Hillsborough to trigger a defensive annexation of the site.
Board chair Barry Jacobs noted that Hillsborough leaders have indicated that should the county try to locate a site too close to its borders, the town would annex the property. The result, Jacobs said, could be a protracted permitting process and the possibility of rejection by the town.
Commissioner Moses Carey said making changes now, after a year-long process to narrow sites under the existing criteria, would call into question the transparency of the process.
“If I were a citizen and saw us change that, I would question us,” he said.
Changing the criteria also raised concerns among supporters of the Rogers-Eubanks Road community, which was chosen as the transfer station site last year but later moved far down the list after the county re-opened the search process last year.
“I remind everybody here that the path of least resistance has always led through Rogers Road,” Yoni Chapman, a member of the NAACP and the Coalition to End Environmental Racism, said. “I hope this will not be the case this time.”
The commissioners also looked at the idea of a waste-to-energy facility.
Nelson said he would like to see the county pursue the idea, but that he did not want to see it linked to the transfer station.
Nelson emphasized that the county is on a tight timetable to open a facility by May 2011, the latest estimate of when the landfill would be out of space.
Jacobs asked the county staff to prepare a range of options on the transfer station issue including details on how a site size change would affect the process, the extent of an environmental impact analysis at the sites, a look at how fire protection would be provided and some ideas for a discussion on amenities for the host community should the site selection move forward.