CHAPEL HILL- Despite heated debate at Thursday’s Assembly of Governments, elected officials are still at an impasse when it comes to the Rogers Road remediation plan.
Leaders from Chapel Hill, Carrboro and Orange County met together to discuss how to move forward with a plan to bring sewer service and a community center to the Rogers Road neighborhood, which has lived with the landfill for forty years.
Chapel Hill Town Council member Matt Czajkowski pushed his peers to commit funding to the plan as soon as possible.
“Until we start talking about funding, all we’re doing is talking,” said Czajkowski. “And it is about time we stop talking.”
The Historic Rogers Road Task Force came up with a plan to provide sewer service to all 86 homes in the neighborhood at a cost of $5.8 million dollars. The plan has widespread support among local leaders, but the towns and county face two major obstacles, namely, a pending federal investigation into the county planning department, and no clear method for Chapel Hill to contribute its share of money.
The EPA announced this summer it was investigating claims filed by the Rogers Eubanks Neighborhood Association, or RENA, that the county discriminated against the largely African-American neighborhood by failing to apply for federal grant money to fund sewer service.
At the advice of the county attorney, commissioners have held off on endorsing the Rogers Road remediation plan until the investigation is complete. Commissioner Mark Dorosin said that’s a mistake.
“We’re at the point where we should move forward,” said Dorosin. “I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again, I think it is a disastrous idea to sit back and wait until the EPA makes its decision.”
Carrboro Alderman Damon Seils agreed, suggesting formal approval of the remediation plan could bring the investigation to an end. He said the solution may lie in recent correspondence between the county attorney and the attorney representing RENA.
“It’s right here before us. The county attorney says a commitment can be made if RENA agrees to withdraw the complaint and we now have a letter from RENA saying they will withdraw the complaint [if the plan is adopted],” said Seils. “We’ve got the solution right here in front of us, folks.”
But the question of what to do about the EPA investigation got sidetracked by finger-pointing between town officials about who pays what when.
The task force approved a cost-sharing plan based on the 1972 landfill agreement. According to that plan, Carrboro would pay 14 percent and Chapel Hill and Orange County would each contribute 43 percent of the nearly $6 million dollar sewer project.
To do that, Chapel Hill has to find a way to spend town money outside town boundaries. One solution is to absorb the neighborhood into the town’s Extraterritorial Jurisdiction, a process that’s already underway. Another option might be to create a sewer district that includes Rogers Road and extends into Chapel Hill.
While Chapel Hill is struggling to figure out how to contribute, Carrboro has designated $900,000 to cover its portion of the plan. Mayor Chilton lambasted Chapel Hill Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt over the town council’s failure to commit to funding.
Nonetheless, Council Member Lee Storrow urged the group to put their differences aside and accept the task force’s recommendation as the best solution.
“All of our governments have been at fault and all have done things that we’re not happy about regarding this neighborhood and there’s no perfect magic bullet funding formula that’s going to make everyone happy,” said Storrow. “Maybe the county’s number should be slightly higher, there are concerns about Carrboro and there are concerns about things Chapel Hill has done, but I think this funding formula best gets to the root concerns that we all have about the impact that we’ve have made on this neighborhood by dumping our trash for forty years.”
Town and county managers asked to be granted authority to start planning for the implementation of the sewer plan, if and when the towns and county commit funding. In response, the boards and council asked for the managers to return with a report next spring evaluating all the options.