CHAPEL HILL – Orange County Commissioner Mike Nelson wants the county to reconsider its controversial location for a trash transfer station.

“You asked the County Board of Commissioners to reconsider our decision to site the transfer station at the Eubanks Road location,” Nelson wrote on his blog this week. “I support your request.”

Nelson was responding to the Orange County Democratic Party, which asked the board to reconsider the location. He said Friday that he’d been struggling with the issue for months, but comments from the party and public had in large part changed his mind.

The board voted unanimously in March to put the station at the county’s current landfill on Eubanks Road. Garbage trucks would haul trash to the enclosed facility, where it would be loaded onto tractor-trailers and taken to dumps outside the county.

That decision drew a storm of criticism from area residents and others, who say the area has borne the burden of the community’s garbage for 35 years.

Rogers Road is a predominantly black community of modest homes. Some residents have said decisions to locate the original landfill and transfer station there were motivated by environmental racism, a term used to describe locating undesirable facilities in poor or minority communities.

Nelson acknowledged those feelings, saying, “I think there’s a difference of opinion amongst the commissioners about whether siting the transfer station there was a social injustice or not.

“But what is clear to me is there’s a deep-seated perception of an injustice. … That perception has become the reality, and we have a responsibility to deal with it.”

The Environmental Protection Agency says low-income, often culturally diverse communities are more likely to be near landfills and hazardous waste facilities.

In his blog post, Nelson wrote that there had been problems with the county’s search process.

“If the matter is reconsidered, there should be a search that’s transparent, with a clear set of criteria, and we should look at all options that meet those criteria,” he said Friday.

Nelson said he did not plan to make a motion to reconsider the site until it was clear there was enough support from other commissioners. He said he didn’t think that was the case at the moment.

Robert Campbell, a Rogers Road-area resident who has been outspoken at government meetings, called Nelson’s blog comments promising. “It’s good that they’re beginning to think that the right things have not been done,” Campbell said.

At the time of the board’s vote, Nelson said, he and others made their decision with reluctance. In March, the board said the location needed to be decided quickly because the landfill was expected to fill up by mid-2010. That estimate has been revised to 2011.

Community members have been vociferous in their complaints to area governments, speaking up at county commissioners’ meetings and Chapel Hill Town Council meetings.

Commissioners Chairman Moses Carey Jr. has said the board will take residents’ complaints under advisement.

Commissioner Barry Jacobs has said the location was not motivated by race or economic status but that he also has been thinking about the possibility of other sites.

 

samuel.spies@newsobserver.com or (919) 932-2014

 

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