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Dumpsites pose liability issues

By Rose Laudicina
Staff Writer

Facing possible liability issues that could cost Orange County millions of dollars, the Orange County Board of Commissioners voted unanimously to avoid disturbing two illegal dumpsites that have been identified as possibly containing hazardous waste along Rogers Road.

“It is an unfortunate situation that we find ourselves here with a desire to help the Rogers Road neighborhood and then being faced with this situation,” Commissioner Valerie Foushee said at Tuesday night’s meeting.

The two sites drawing concern are located on either side of Rogers Road near the intersection with Purefoy Drive and have been used as illegal dumpsites for more than 30 years. The county is cleaning up illegal dumpsites in the Rogers Road neighborhood as part of a plan to mitigate the effects of the county landfill on the neighborhood.

Although both sites are currently believed to be inactive, both County Attorney John Roberts and County Manager Frank Clifton said they believe the sites once were being run for profit.

Roberts said he thought the operators of the sites enticed commercial industries to dump at a lower cost than the nearby county landfill and allowed people to dump items not permitted in the landfill, such as hazardous waste.

Preliminary reports from staff said the two sites appeared to contain construction and demolition debris, land-clearing debris and municipal and commercial waste material, although much of the waste is buried.

“The problem is that you don’t know what’s buried there,” Clifton said.

“If you look … on one side you can see trees growing through tires that have been there for 30 years, and on the other side you can’t see the creek, because it has been buried by trash.”

To discover what’s underneath the surface, the county would have to disturb the soil, meaning that if any hazardous waste were uncovered the county would be legally responsible for the pricey cleanup.

“You don’t want to touch this because the potential is there for state and federal liability acts that the county cannot afford and taxpayers cannot afford,” Roberts said.

While the county health department reported that no contamination in surrounding wells could likely be attributed to the dump sites, Robert Campbell, Rogers-Eubanks Neighborhood Association representative, warned commissioners of contamination to Bolin Creek since the two sites are at the creek’s headwaters.

“Cleaning up 40 years of illegal dumping will be difficult,” Campbell said, “but if these sites are so hazardous to give liability to the county, then the county will be facing much larger health-quality problems.”

At a previous board meeting, residents of Tallyho Trail, a neighborhood behind one of the two sites, presented the board with tests indicating their well water was contaminated. This raised questions for Commissioner Barry Jacobs.

“We had determined that it wasn’t from the landfill, but it certainly could be from one of these illegal dump sites,” Jacobs said Tuesday.

The commissioners voted to continue with plans to hire a contractor to clean up the other illegal dumpsites in the area and directed staff to return with a proposal about public-health measures that could be taken to protect people from what could be buried in the two dumpsites.

  1. David Bellin

    LETTER: Dumpsite vote rushed
    By Staff
    March 22, 2012 |

    Decades of disrespect of a historic community were continued in the rushed vote by the Orange County Commissioners to avoid cleanup of debris in the Rogers Road community.

    On Tuesday, March 13, 2012, with little advance notice to the community, the county commissioners voted not to clean up the largest legacy dump sites. Owners of multiple parcels freely granted access and were told they would be “kept in the loop.” They received no notice that a vote would take place at the March 13 meeting.

    The “research” used as the basis of the decision was superficial. County staff walked property and took photos. The county did no further investigation. No testing was done, no excavation, no digging, no soil sampling. There is no basis for any assumption that there are “toxic” materials, no documented basis for concern about liability. Previous visits by the State Department of Environmental Resources and the Town of Carrboro indicated that the waste consists only of “inert materials,” mainly old construction and demolition debris such as concrete. There are state funds available to assist in the cleanup where it impacts streams. It is not apparent that the county looked into this option.

    After the initial visit, promised information was not provided; owners were never contacted again, never invited to meetings on the topic and not informed there would be discussion or voting on the use of cleanup funds. They were not invited to discuss the situation with the commissioners.

    It is too early to close this discussion. The topic should be reopened by the commissioners after the next elections. There are many more decisions to be made about how we address the needs of the Rogers Road community, foremost among them, sewer service to the whole community, coming up from the Carrboro side and available to serve other neighborhoods as well.

    Lip service should stop, and social service should begin.

    David Bellin