The Rogers-Eubanks Coalition is an environmental justice group formed in 2007 in response to a proposed solid waste transfer station in the Rogers-Eubanks community of North Carolina. The founding of the Coalition marked an effort to expand the membership and focus area of the Rogers-Eubanks Neighborhood Association (RENA), which formed in 1972 when the Town of Chapel Hill established a landfill in the Rogers-Eubanks community. The Coalition’s membership includes residents of Orange County, North Carolina; students and faculty from the University of North Carolina; and local faith-based organizations. The Coalition is led by Minister Robert Campbell.
Roger-Eubanks (in Chapel Hill/Carrboro, NC) has been a low-income, African-American, socially and culturally rich community for the past 150 years. In 1972, when Chapel Hill wanted to establish a landfill in the the Rogers-Eubanks neighborhood, the community at first resisted. However, after being promised a finite 10 year run with water/sewer systems, storm drains, curbs, gutters, sidewalks, a recreation center and greenspaces in return, the community agreed to temporarily host the dump. None of those promised services, however, ever materialized. In addition, although the local government originally agreed not to locate another landfill in the area, 2 municipal solid waste landfills, 2 industrial waste landfills, yard & hazardous waste collection sites, recycling & garbage drop-off centers and a Material Recovery landfill have all been implemented in the community since the Orange County Landfill’s opening.
The Coalition fights for affordable, safe drinking water, healthy communities, and environmental justice throughout North Carolina. Because parts of Rogers-Eubanks are not on a public water line, they are at greater risk for water contamination from leaked landfill toxins that can enter groundwater. In fact, a March 2010 study found that only 2 of 11 wells studied supplied drinking water that met EPA standards (the other 9 wells were contaminated). While the water contamination was found to be a result of mass septic system failures, the Coalition argues that were the community on public service lines like the rest of Chapel Hill, there wouldn’t be contamination problems.
In the United States, waste transfer sites are predominantly located in low-income and minority communities. Because of their disproportionate burden on these communities, they are often considered environmental injustices. In the Orange County Landfill case, the county has reaped profits at the expense of the health and quality of life of the Roger-Eubanks community. Effects of the landfill include regularly putrid air (known to smell like rotting animals) as well as illegal dumping in the hours when the landfill is closed. Although the current landfill contract ends in 2013, the county considered extending it to 2018 to incur further revenue. The Rogers-Eubanks Coalition, however, wants their landfills and waste sites permanently closed. At the very least, they want a percentage of the landfill’s tipping fees to go toward remediating its negative effects.
In 2009, the Rogers-Eubanks Coalition finally succeeded in getting their community off the table in future waste center sitings. Through their efforts organizing against the proposed solid waste transfer station, noting that it would bring more air pollution and traffic congestion into the area from commuting trucks (thus placing further burden upon the community that had already borne more than its fair share for the county), the Coalition successfully persuaded the county’s board of commissioners to search for an alternate waste transfer site. The commissioners agreed to delay choosing a permanent waste transfer station location until completing a 3-5 year thorough assessment on long-term waste strategies, including increased waste reduction. The commissioners also agreed that once the Orange County Landfill is full, the Rogers-Eubanks community will not be subjected to another dump.
After 38 years of local activism, the Rogers-Eubanks community finally won in its fight to lessen its exposure to trash sites. What I think can be learned from their process is that fighting against politics is an arduous endeavor. However, there are real potential wins. It took a long time, but the Coalition was tenacious and eventually they created enough momentum to change viewpoints. The Rogers-Eubanks Coalition definitely deserves our support and admiration.