The Orange County Landfill

CONSTRUCTION

The years leading up to the construction of the Orange County Landfill were some of great population growth in the region. As more houses popped up in the Rogers-Eubanks Neighborhood and all over Orange County, the solid waste being generated became an issue. This population growth, along with stricter regulations on waste disposal, from the newly-formed Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) meant that Orange County needed somewhere to put their trash. The story of the Orange County Landfill began in 1972, when  newly-elected mayor, Howard Lee recognized the need for a waste disposal site, and paid a visit to the Rogers Road Community.

Reverend Robert Campbell, on Howard Lee’s visit:

“It was not acceptable. There were controversies with the landfill. At the time Howard Lee was the mayor of Chapel Hill. Some of the residents was a friend of Howard Lee and they voiced their concern to Howard Lee. And so Howard Lee decided that he wanted to come out and meet with the residents. And he did so, and he persuaded through promises that were made, that the landfill would open up, and it would stay in existence for 10 years, and then they would close it. But in the meantime, they would bring the basic amenities into the community: municipal, clean, drinking water, and sanitation services, transportation through the transit system, lights alongside the road and sidewalks, but it never happened. Also in that promise was that once the landfill was closed, it would be turned into a recreation facility for the community. It did not happen.”

The Board of Orange County Commissioners had been searching for a landfill site in the area for about a year, before settling on the parcel of land at the intersection of Rogers and Eubanks Roads. Initially the Board of Commissioners expressed interest in placing a landfill near Camp Chestnut Ridge, and were met with great opposition. Despite the fact that the site was approved for a landfill, the Commissioners continued their search. Meanwhile existing landfills in Chapel Hill and Hillsborough were overflowing, to the point where trash was being dumped along the roads, or illegally burned.

When the landfill was proposed, the New Hope Improvement Association, headed by B.B. Olive fought the landfill through legal means. They sued the County based on concerns about placing a landfill on the Rogers-Eubanks site. Even before the case was brought before a judge, the Board of Orange County Commissioners decided to proceed with zoning of the site. It was at this time that Mayor Howard Lee paid his infamous visit to Rogers Road. David Caldwell recalls,

“In the early 70s he stood in my father’s backyard and said, ‘We want to put a landfill out here. To do it, if you’ll allow us to do it, we’re going to pave your road. When the landfill is full, we’re going to turn it into a recreation center for you.'”

The promises made that day have been debated heavily ever since. Orange County Solid Waste officials claim that there is no evidence that any promises were made, while residents of the Rogers-Eubanks neighborhood have relied on these alleged promises in their fights against the landfill.

David Caldwell on Howard Lee’s Promises:

” This thing that was done in 1972, was done in my father’s backyard.  And that’s where all the promises were made.  So, you know its not like I’m saying something that I heard.  I was there and I saw it, and I saw all the politicians that were there and we’ve got documents on all the promises they made. So when they say it didn’t happen, that’s not true, it did happen.”

Thus, the Orange County Municipal Landfill was constructed. Because construction began in 1972, there were few regulations for liners, what sorts of waste could be dumped, and how much an individual could dump. As a result, the landfill was constructed with no liner, and any individual could dump any waste, including hazardous waste, in any amount.

EXPANSION

Rather than closing the landfill in 1982, as promised, the Board of Orange County Commissioners announced that they were planning to expand the landfill. Although a formal search for an appropriate site was conducted, it seemed that the Landfill Owners Group (LOG) had already decided where the new landfill would be placed. In the late 1970s, they encouraged the purchase of a plot of land known as the Greene Tract, adjacent to the existing landfill. Nonetheless, an engineering firm, Joyce Engineering, was hired to conduct a search. 17 sites were evaluated, although some were eliminated almost immediately, because they were historic, ecologically unsound, or owned by individuals who may not be willing to sell. The search was narrowed down to two sites, one on either side of the original landfill. At this point, officials from Orange County, Hillsborough and Carrboro made clear that they would not honor Mayor Lee’s promises, because he only represented Chapel Hill and he was no longer in office.

It was at this point that community members began to organize.

CONCERNS

Upon construction of the initial landfill, complaints arose from those who lived nearby.

Reverend Campbell on the negative impacts of the landfill:

“You have a large volume of trucks coming down Eubanks Road. You have volumes of trucks coming down Rogers Road. The speed limit on Rogers Road is at 40 mph. some of these vehicles that come down Rogers Road is in excess of 60 mph at times. We have been trying to get this speed limit lowered, and get police presence in the community. It has not happened. We asked for sidewalks, it has not happened. We asked that, on a regular routine, that someone from Orange County Solid Waste, or they hire someone from the community, to pick up trash alongside the road that blows off these garbage trucks and these private hauler trucks. By law they’re supposed to have a covering over these trucks. They wait until they get just at the landfill and they they’ll pull to the side of the road and then they’ll cover it up. Because if they come into the landfill with it uncovered they would have to pay. They’ll have to pay an additional fine. An additional fee.  And so that is one of the issues. We do know that there is a malodor that is coming from that landfill. And through our research we have found out that the indicator is methane gas. And it impacts the community. The odor impacts the community. Sometimes you don’t want to be outside when this odor is at its highest level. You don’t want to hang your clothes out on the line to dry, because the odor ends up in your clothes. If you are in the path of the prevailing wind that is coming from the North, you don’t want your windows open on hot days, so you have to run your air conditioning nearly all the time, and you have to make sure your air conditioning is on the back side that your house blocks the main influx of the odor. Then we are swamped with buzzards, we are swamped sometimes (it’s seasonal) with pigeons and seagulls. We have a large issue with rodents and vermin. Buzzards that are roosting on neighbors’ houses, roosting on the power lines. We had to destroy one of the community gardens because of the feces that were falling from these buzzards. We do know that we have contaminated water: surface water, ground water, and the well water that the community is drinking. Some of the community is still not connected to public drinking water. These are some of the impacts that is caused by this landfill. We are not trying to prove that the contaminated water is the result of the landfill, because it costs too much to try and prove that. But, we do prove that the water in our community is out of compliance with the Clean Water Act and that the malodor that is coming from the landfill is out of compliance with the Clean Act Law.”

PROPOSED WASTE TRANSFER STATION

Next: Community Organizing