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Landfill mitigation approved

By Joshua Lucas
Staff Writer

CHAPEL HILL — The Orange County Board of Commissioners voted unanimously Tuesday night to create a special fund to help pay for community projects in the Rogers Road area, near the county-maintained landfill some residents say has been the cause of noxious fumes, illegal offsite dumping and other community woes.

“We are here to right the wrongs of 40 years,” said Robert Campbell, a Rogers Road community activist, one of several to offer limited support for the proposal. The activists urged the commissioners to pursue extending water and sewer service to the community, and some questioned whether the allocation would be enough.

“We don’t mean to be dismissive,” UNC epidemiologist and activist Chris Heaney said, “[But] this proposal overlooks tipping fees accrued over 40 years.”

The fund would begin with a $750,000 allocation, with monies accrued through a $5 surcharge on every ton of waste that trucks dump at the landfill. The commissioners approved that surcharge Tuesday along with the initial allocation.

The Town of Chapel Hill opened the landfill in 1972, but it is now owned by the county. At the time the site opened, some politicians told community members the site would close within a decade. County leaders have extended the life of the site several times and are considering doing so again.

The board Tuesday opted not to consider the longest-term extension possible for the landfill, effectively setting in place a plan to close the landfill within about three and a half years.

But commissioners rejected a proposal by County Manager Frank Clifton to create an independent panel to set priorities for the new fund’s spending. The board of commissioners, members said, can set those priorities itself based on several decades’ worth of community recommendations.

Throughout the landfill’s life, politicians from the county and towns of Chapel Hill and Carrboro have asked each other to share a greater portion of the responsibility for helping the Rogers Road community. Commissioners didn’t break that pattern Tuesday night.

“The towns have an equal moral authority on this,” Commissioner Barry Jacobs said.

However, Commissioner Valerie Foushee said it’s not the county’s place to tell Chapel Hill and Carrboro what to do.

“If this board does what it believes is right to do, others will do the same,” she said. “The towns have an obligation to step forward and take a position.”

Irrespective of whether or not Chapel Hill or Carrboro do more work to extend services to the Rogers Road community, the problem is ultimately the county’s, since it owns the landfill, Commissioner Earl McKee said.

“Whether or not the towns are on board is their choice to live with,” he said. “We own it now. Let’s move forward with it.”

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