CARRBORO – Tuesday night, the Carrboro Board of Aldermen voted to enter into a $130,000 preliminary engineering project to extend sewer service to the Historic Rogers Road area.
“It is time for us to do the moral, right, and justified thing, and let’s move forward with this.”
That’s Minister Robert Campbell, president of Rogers Eubanks Neighborhood Association and Co-Chair of the Coalition to End Environmental Racism.
He spoke to Carrboro Aldermen at their Tuesday meeting about the Rogers Road Sewer Project, a sometimes rocky collaboration between Carrboro, Chapel Hill and Orange County.
Tuesday night’s discussion started on a bit of a skeptical note.
Planning Director Trish McGuire talked about costs for two projects related to the proposed extension of sewer service to Rogers Road, a historically African-American neighborhood with homes in all three jurisdictions, and close proximity to a landfill.
Residents have long complained about water contamination.
Orange Water and Sewer Authority has estimated that preliminary engineering would cost $130,000, of which Carrboro would pay 14 percent.
That percentage is in keeping with a 1972 landfill agreement between Carrboro, Chapel Hill and Orange County. Those other two jurisdictions would pay 43 percent each.
The engineering figure wasn’t the problem. But when McGuire mentioned that a related outreach program aimed at residents was estimated to cost between $30,000 and $50,000, Alderperson Jackie Gist reacted this way:
“I don’t understand – fifty thousand dollars to pay for outreach to identify action steps to provide sewer service in the neighborhood,” said Gist. “I mean, there’s 80-some homes at the most. What would somebody do for fifty thousand dollars to identify action steps?”
Then she added, to laughter from some of her colleagues: “I don’t get it. I’ll identify action steps for a hundred and fifty dollars.”
The outreach effort would identify steps to be taken, as well as communicating with residents about surveying plans for the area.
But nobody at Carrboro Town Hall seemed to know for sure on Tuesday night who would get paid, and who would administer the project.
Alderperson Michelle Johnson expressed concern about the lack of communication between the three jurisdictions on the issue.
Her colleague Sammy Slade echoed that concern.
“One jurisdiction proposes something with another jurisdiction, and then the third jurisdiction hears about it,” said Slade. “And then we’re trying to catch up. And there’s no coordination.”
When it was time for public comments, Minister Campbell expressed his frustration over decades of feet-dragging on the issue.
And he talked about his fear for the future of his neighborhood.
“We talk about sustainable and affordable housing,” said Campbell. “Without the sewer service and clean drinking water, it will not happen. But just as soon as the people die out, someone will come out and buy the property, and we will have another Northside.”
After Campbell spoke, Alderperson Damon Seils said the Board should move forward, at least on the preliminary engineering component, regardless of what funding mechanism – sewer district, extraterritorial jurisdiction, for instance – the jurisdictions ultimately decide they can use.
Alderperson Johnson seconded, and the matter passed unanimously.
Next, the Orange County Board of Commissioners takes up the Rogers Road sewer issue on Thursday night.