Earl McKee To Seek 2nd Term As OC County Commissioner

ORANGE COUNTY – Earl McKee announced this month that he is seeking re-election in 2014 for a seat on the Orange County Board of Commissioners.

McKee, who was first elected in 2010, is a lifelong resident of Orange County and represents District 2. In addition to his duties on the Board, he works on his family’s farm managing crops, hay and cattle.

During his time on the Board, property taxes in the County have not been raised—a fact McKee said he counts as an accomplishment.

“I ran three years ago, and I stated a concern over public safety, schools and our taxes and the impact that economic development could have on residential property,” McKee said. “I feel that I have attempted to address those issues from the perspective of the District 2 residents and would like to continue for a little while longer.”

Serving as Vice Chair of the County/Schools Collaboration Work Group, McKee said he was able to understand the needs of the district more clearly.

During his time in office, McKee said he is proud of the Board’s work to attract new businesses to the Buckhorn Economic Development District in Mebane.

The top-selling Japanese candy company, Morinaga, announced plans in September to build a new $48 million facility in that district, which will create at least 90 new jobs.

To land the project, Orange County survived five rounds of visits from Morinaga consultants since the county first tried to attract the company in February 2012.

AKG, a German-based radiator manufacturer, recently decided to expand it’s enterprises in the area as well.

“This is a continual progression of looking toward companies that are a fit for Orange County, that can provide jobs for our residents, and help with the diversification of our tax base.”

McKee  also served as the Co-Chair of the Emergency Services Work Group.

“We have recommendations that have already cut the response times for ambulance service,” McKee said. “One thing that we are currently working on from that task force is the location of ambulances and fire stations which puts them more into the communities than they were before.”

Concerning the subject of public transportation, McKee said he believes there’s a need for more broad-based bus service in parts of rural Orange County. He added that the proposed Durham-Orange Light Rail plan is “premature.”

“We need to build out our bus service and then progress toward light rail sometime in the future,” McKee said.

If he is re-elected, McKee said he would concentrate on making progress on behalf of the County in the Roger’s Road remediation plan.

Leaders from Chapel Hill, Carrboro and Orange County are currently at an impasse as to how to move forward with a plan to bring sewer service and a community center to the Rogers Road neighborhood, whose residents have lived with the landfill landfill for forty years.

The EPA announced this summer that 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.

Based on the advice of the county attorney, commissioners have held off on endorsing the Rogers Road remediation plan until the investigation is complete.

“I would like for folks to understand that just because it is taking a long time and just because there are roadblocks does not indicate that there is a lack of commitment on our Board for that.”

McKee has been an active member of the community throughout his lifetime. He has held and holds elected positions in various organizations such as the Orange County Farm Bureau; the Caldwell Fire Department, which he helped form; the Orange County Planning Board; and outside organizations such as the Triangle Area Rural Planning Organization and the ABC Board.



Carrboro BoA Member: Rogers Rd Sewer Plans Depend On CH ETJ

CHAPEL HILL – Carrboro Aldermen member Michelle Johnson said to the Board Tuesday that providing sewer services to the Historic Rogers Road community depends on the Town of Chapel Hill taking in parts of the neighborhood as an ETJ, or Extraterritorial jurisdiction.

“You all need to know that if Chapel Hill doesn’t create the ETJ, then they can’t contribute, and we asked for that,” Johnson said.

Johnson and fellow Board Member Sammy Slade represented Carrboro on the Rogers Road Task Force, a group charged with designing a plan to provide much-needed sewer services to the community that has lived next to the landfill for four decades.

Johnson and Slade worked alongside representatives from the Chapel Hill Town Council, the Carrboro Board of Alderman, and the Board of Commissioners, in addition to representatives from the neighborhood.

The task force, which has been working for more than a year and a half, preferenced a $5.8 million plan to extend sewer services at its final meeting in August.

Officials from the municipalities also recommended a cost-sharing plan that would have Carrboro paying 14 percent while Chapel Hill and Orange County would pay 43 percent each.

Carrboro’s share would equal $900,000.

The Board of Alderman heard a presentation of the final report  written by the task force Tuesday night.

Johnson said that she and Slade pushed for the Town of Chapel Hill to follow through on ETJ proposal during the meetings of the task force.

“It’s the only way that they have figured out that they can contribute to the sewer improvements,” Johnson said.

Chapel Hill Town Council will discuss plans to hold a public hearing on the matter this month.

Carrboro Mayor Mark Chilton said that he stands by the Town’s commitment to contribute $900,000. The projected cost of Carrboro’s section of the project is estimated to be $848,919. Chilton criticized those who would have a problem with the cost difference.

“The concept that anyone would have a problem with that is, what is the word I am looking for? Galling. We’re putting in $900,000, and we’ve said from the beginning that we were going to spend $900,000,” Chilton said.  “My intuition told me at that time, and this report confirms that what that would have amounted to is segment 6. The part that is built in for Carrboro costs slightly less than what Carrboro is putting in. Finish your thought, Chapel Hill.”

Another issue which all three municipalities will have to answer will be how to fund the connections from the houses to the sewer systems, if they are ever installed.

Alderman member Lydia Lavelle pointed out that the Board made a commitment in 2005 to address that problem for soon-to-be annexed residents in the Rogers Road community.

“We have an obligation that we made back before the annexation happened in 2006 that whenever any homes in the annexed property did ultimately connect, that the Town would put $2,000 toward any connection fee,” Lavelle said.

Carrboro’s jurisdiction for providing sewer services encompasses about 30 houses. Town Attorney Michael Brough warned that the price tag for that commitment would be of a significant cost.


Rogers Rd Task Force Drafts Report For Sewer Options

ORANGE COUNTY: After more than a year’s worth of work, the Rogers Road Task Force had its final meeting this week and decided to recommend two options for providing sewer service for the area. Though initial steps have been taken, it seems residents will have to keep waiting for actual results.

Carrboro Alderman and task force member, Michelle Johnson, told Aaron Keck on the WCHL Morning News Thursday that she was happy that some progress has been made, but hoped that more would have been accomplished by now.

“I’m saying it is frustrating for me, and then I think about the people who live in Rogers Road,” Johnson said. “They must be way more frustrated than I am with this.”

Johnson said the task force agreed to give preference to one sewer plan that will cost about $5.8 million and will serve 86 properties. The alternative plan will cost $3.7 million, providing sewer service for 67 properties in the historic area of Rogers Road.

The $5.8 option, the original Sewer Concept Plan presented by OWASA in 2012,  will provide service to the entire Historic Rogers Road Neighborhood, but is contingent upon the Town of Chapel Hill taking in that section of Rogers Road as an ETJ, an option still to be determined.

The task force also recommended a cost-sharing plan for the sewer system and also for building the Community Center for the neighborhood, which is set to break ground within the next three months. The plan calls for Chapel Hill to pay 43 percent; Orange County 43 percent; and Carrboro 14 percent.

“It really depends on how much the county allocates and how much Chapel Hill allocates, because Carrboro has voted on an allocation and included it in our budget,” Johnson said.

The task force, made up of representatives from the Carrboro Board of Alderman, the Chapel Hill Town Council, the Orange County Board of Commissioners, and representatives of the Rogers Eubanks Neighborhood Association (RENA), faced another roadblock recently. In July, the Environmental Protection Agency declared it had jurisdiction to launch a federal investigation into allegations that the County Planning Department and OWASA discriminated against the largely African-American community by failing to provide water and sewer service to Rogers Road. This sparked concern that the county would have to halt all plans until the investigation was completed.

County representatives on the task force, Penny Rich and Renee Price, were able to vote on some of the recommendations at Wednesday’s meeting, according to Assistant County Manager Michael Talbert, who has been advising the group in the drafting of sewer plans. Talbert said the county won’t be able to make any final decisions or allocate funds while the EPA investigation is on-going.

“We’ve been advised by council to put the sewer plan on hold at this point with no action and now contemplative action by our board until we here back from the EPA in terms of the results of our investigation,” Talbert explained.

Talbert said the county hasn’t been given a time line for the investigation.

He said that the CountyCommissioners, though, can accept the drafted report from the task force and are set to discuss it on September 17. Carrboro and Chapel Hill will also discuss it in upcoming meetings.

“On November 21st, at the Assembly of Government’s meeting, we can hopefully all talk about what happened on the task force and hopefully take some action that evening,” Johnson said.

Another issue addressed was how to fund the hook-ups from the water meters to the homes. Johnson said some of the residents can’t afford it, so federal grants may be necessary.


RENA Rep: Rogers Rd Plan Must Move On Despite EPA Investigation

CHAPEL HILL- Bethan Eynon is an attorney at the UNC Center for Civil Rights representing the Rogers-Eubanks Neighborhood Association, or RENA. She says the EPA  investigation should not put a stop to the work of the Rogers Road Task Force, which has been working on a sewer plan for the neighborhood for nearly eighteen months.

“We don’t believe that the county is prohibited from even discussing the Rogers Road situation and getting sewer infrastructure to Rogers Road through the task force,” says Eynon.

The task force is made up of elected leaders from Chapel Hill, Carrboro and Orange County as well as representatives from RENA. During the past year and a half, the group has been developing a remediation plan for the neighborhood that’s lived next to the landfill for four decades.

That remediation plan features the extension of OWASA sewer service to the area, at an estimated cost of about $6 million dollars. The task force was in the process of creating a cost-sharing plan to present to the various local governments this fall, when the EPA announced in June it would investigate a complaint filed by RENA years ago.

The complaint alleges that the county planning department intentionally discriminated against residents of the traditionally low-income African American neighborhood by not applying for federal grants to build sewer infrastructure, even as the county sought similar grants for other communities.

In response, County Attorney John Roberts warned commissioners they can’t take action on the remediation plan or allocate funding while the EPA investigation is ongoing.

Eynon worries the county’s stance will bring the work of the task force to a standstill.

“Unfortunately, if their position is that strong on this issue, I don’t think we can change their mind,”says Eynon. “But we can make it clear to the public and the task force and the other elected officials that we don’t believe their position is necessarily correct.”

After filing discrimination complaints in 2007 and 2011, RENA officials received no response from the federal government, leading many to believe the complaints had been forgotten. Though some are concerned that this new complication could delay the work of the task force, Eynon says it’s not clear if RENA has the authority to drop the complaint.

“We’re not sure if RENA has control over withdrawing the complaint because of the way the complaint was filed with the EPA,” says Eynon. “We don’t want to promise to the county that RENA can withdraw the complaint if it possibly can’t, procedurally. I don’t want the task force and the public to think that was the case, then find out later that we can’t withdraw the complaint.”

Eynon says ultimately, the goal of all parties is to find a way to bring sewer infrastructure to the area. She believes progress by the task force could address the issues raised in the original complaint.

“The end goal of the EPA complaint and the task force is the same, which is to get sewer infrastructure to Rogers Road, and that’s RENA’s first priority, whether it’s through the EPA complaint or through the task force, which we believe has been very productive in the last six months,” says Eynon. “So if sewer is no longer an issue in Rogers Road, then the EPA complaint is moot.”

The timeline for the investigation is unclear, but Eynon argues that’s no reason for the group to lose momentum.

“We don’t feel like everyone should assume that it will take a long time and use that to further delay the task force meetings,” says Eynon.

EPA officials declined an interview request from WCHL, writing in an email: “We are committed to processing and resolving complaints as expeditiously as possible. The investigation is currently open, it would be inappropriate to comment further on the details of the investigation.”

Eynon says she’ll be consulting with EPA investigators to clarify RENA’s position moving forward. Meanwhile, the task force is preparing to hold its final meeting on August 21.

At that meeting the town managers will present a report examining the logistics of extending sewer service, but its not clear to what extent county officials plan to participate.


Despite Looming Investigation, Rogers Rd Plan Sees Progress

ORANGE COUNTY – The Rogers Road Community has fought for sewer services for a long time with out seeing any results. The Environmental Protection Agency announced plans recently to investigate claims of racial discrimination by the Orange County Planning Department toward the neighborhood. This has created questions how much the county can do now to help and how all this will affect the work of the Rogers Road Task Force.

“We’ve just heard so much of the same things before. I think that this final document coming in August should clarify a lot of things and get us back on track. That was one of the better parts [of today’s meeting] that there were definite dates and times for our expectations on getting a lot of things accomplished,” said David Caldwell, president of the Rogers Eubanks Neighborhood Association (RENA), following Wednesday’s task force meeting.

Because the neighborhood is stretched over the jurisdictions’ of Chapel Hill, Carrboro and Orange County, decisions on how to provide services to the area have been challenging. That’s why a task force, made up of elected leaders from the three municipalities, was charged with finding a solution. The group plans to compose a final report, detailing plans to help provide the Rogers Rd. neighborhood with the service(s) denied to them for years, and then to present the report to their respective boards.

RENA filed the EPA complaint in 2007 alleging that the county’s failure to apply for federal grants to fund the Rogers Road sewer extension was because of intentional discrimination. After six years, the EPA announced it’s jurisdiction to follow through, complicating an already complex issue.

Orange County Commissioner Penny Rich, who serves on the task force, told WCHL prior to Wednesday’s meeting that she was concerned that county could not move forward with any recommendations due to the investigation. Fellow commissioner Renee Price echoed the same sentiments.

“This is just an investigation; there may be no mediation. Who knows what will happen? Right now it’s just an investigation. We have no idea whether there’s going to be a need for some type of settlement,” Price said to the task force.

Beth Eynon, a community inclusion attorney fellow at the UNC Center for Civil Rights (the office representing RENA in their EPA complaint), said that an investigation does not mean that the county’s action will be halted. Rich disagreed and said the county attorney ordered that they not vote on any final decisions.

However, Rich said the county representatives can move forward with discussions in the task force meetings.

Eynon explained because it is a complaint, and not law suit, it most likely can’t be dropped and a timeline for resolution is unknown.  She said there’s a possible option to seek mediation between the county and RENA through EPA investigators. Eynon additionally added that if the task force were to move forward with a recommendation for sewer infrastructure, investigators would likely work with the county at that point.

Caldwell acknowledged to the task force that the investigation has complicated the process, effectively putting Rogers Road neighbors in a “catch-22.” Still he said it was a necessary action.

“It was something that the organization had to do to get things started. We were in a learning phase. It was one of those things that opened some eyes. I’m surprised it took as long as it did,” Caldwell said.

Despite the looming EPA investigation, the task force did make progress on several measures. The group passed a motion to preference a $5.8 million sewer plan that will serve 86 properties. The group passed then passed a recommendation to move forward with a 43 percent Chapel Hill; 43 percent Orange County; and 14 percent Carrboro cost sharing proposal.

Caldwell said RENA would support the plan as long as there was a definite timeline given and a commitment to follow through.

The proposal, however, is contingent upon Chapel Hill extending extraterritorial jurisdiction to include the neighborhood. Lee Storrow, of the Chapel Hill Town Council, explained the council’s rationale to consider an ETJ extension.

“I don’t want to treat our first step as an immediate endorsement by all nine members of the council of an ETJ process, but we felt that if we didn’t start and get moving, we were going to keep punting the ball and not making decisions,” Storrow said.

The task force agreed to explore a second $3.7 million option providing sewer services for 67 properties in the historic area of Rogers Road if the first plan doesn’t pan out.

Price and Rich noted that BoCC can’t discuss either proposal until their next meeting in September, at the earliest.

Chapel Hill Town Manager Roger Stancil said the various had met with their staffs to discuss an approach to Rogers Road. He wanted to “add meat” to the task force’s report.

“I think there’s way for us to proceed and put this together to compliment what you [the task force] is already doing. I think this will have the potential to speed it up and provide resources to do things in a faster way.” Stancil said.

The task force then passed a motion to hear a report drawn up by the municipalities’ town mangers on their suggestions for the project. That report will be presented to the task force next month.

The group also recommended moving forward with discussions calling for Chapel Hill to annex properties in the Neville Tract, with the hopes of providing water and sewer services to that area. Additionally, Town and County Managers will make suggestions to the task force concerning the entire Greene Tract area.

The task force’s next and final meeting is set for August 21 when they hope to have final draft of the report.

Caldwell said that though decisions are being made he does not feel satisfied. “I haven’t felt good in a long, long time,” he said.