The one constant in Orange County’s handling of solid waste over the past 25 years is that at every major turn we have somehow found a way to dig a deeper hole.
In the early 1990s, county leaders attempted to site a landfill on one of 15 gargantuan sites. Astoundingly, the commissioners refused to allow smaller site sizes by considering future waste reduction. In 1992, they claimed there was no time to waste because the Eubanks Road landfill would be full by 1997. (It actually closed 16 years later with a couple of years capacity still available.) In 1994, the commissioners gave up and called off the landfill search.
Considering the solid waste issue to be a political sticker bush, commissioners avoided dealing with the fundamental question of where to dispose of our garbage for the next seven election cycles. The injustice to the Rogers Road community and their responsibility to the county’s citizens were ignored as they vainly hoped that a new board would deal with it after the next election.
With each passing year, the callous disregard for the Rogers Road community became more apparent and politically painful until 2009 when the commissioners voted to close the landfill in summer of 2013.
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This required finding a place for the trash to go. So the commissioners tried to site a transfer station, which is not a big deal if it’s sited in a logical place. In the great Orange County tradition of dealing with solid waste, the commissioners took two fundamentally flawed actions.
Instead of identifying workable sites using local knowledge, they hired an out-of-town consultant as a political shield. To make matters worse, they put little effort into educating citizens about the actual minor impacts of a transfer station. This ill-fated blend of unworkable sites and exaggerated fears predictably resulted in yet another failure and self-inflicted wound by county leadership.
All the procrastination and failures of the 12 sets of county commissioners stretching over 25 years led us to where we are today. We are wasting over $1 million a year shipping our waste to two transfer stations in Durham County, where our trash changes trucks and heads out to two different landfills, each about 100 miles away.
And it’s not just the real money bleeding out of our coffers. All the local governments and UNC have expressed a commitment to reduce our carbon footprint, yet we have garbage trucks driving all over central North Carolina polluting the air and unnecessarily contributing to climate disruption.
We’ve dug a hole so deep that we cannot get out of it with one over-arching solution. But we can take the first obvious, logical step and site our own transfer station. There is a perfect site next to the Chapel Hill Operations Center on Millhouse Road. It’s next to the urban area that generates the lion’s share of the waste and it’s next to the interstate.
This site is a mile from the Rogers Road neighborhood and clearly beyond the impact zone for what is, in reality, a low-impact facility. I visited the transfer station in Durham. Beyond a third of a mile, you don’t even know it’s there. Traffic can be diverted from Millhouse Road by building an access road on the edge of the Eubanks Park and Ride lot. This first step toward controlling our solid waste future would save those million-plus dollars a year and eliminate a huge percentage of highway time spent shuttling our trash to out-of-county transfer stations.
Local governments need to get this done. It’s too important to procrastinate on solid waste yet again.