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Posted Tuesday, February 22, 2011
Pittsboro, NC - Like most decisions that the board of commissioners has to make, this one was not as straight forward as it might first appear. The decision to allow the Western Wake Partnerships to route the pipeline that will carry clean water from the New Hill treatment facility was made after careful consideration and deliberation. I realize many disagree with my vote. The answer for me came down to the fact that I believe this is best for the affected landowners and Chatham County as a whole. I further believe that this is compatible with two of my key goals as a commissioner; 1) Aggressively Protect property rights, and 2) Create an environment that will foster job growth in Chatham County. I'll explain in detail below but first I would like to address the question of whether or not there were other possible routes for the pipeline.
I, along with others, met with the Chairman of the Environmental Management Commission (EMC), Progress Energy, The Asst. Secretary of the Department of Environmental & Natural resources, the Division of Water Quality, the Division of Water Resources, the Chair of the EMC water allocation committee, and others. Based on these discussions, I'm convinced that other routes and other discharge points were explored but rejected by one state agency/department or another. It's important that I make decisions based on the world we live in rather than the world we would like to live in. In other words, I wish there were another viable discharge point that would lead to a different route for the pipeline. Unfortunately, the reality is the State has mandated this discharge point and endorsed the route.
We listened to the citizens and negotiated for those items that were most valued by the largest number of citizens. While some expressed that we should just say no, most made it clear that if we said yes we needed to protect the interest of Chatham citizens. A careful review of the comments and suggestions I received boil down to just a few concerns; 1) No involuntary annexation by Cary or Apex, 2) Protect property rights, 3) Ensure the affected landowners are treated fairly, and 4) Ensure the Moncure community is treated fairly.
By saying Yes we were able to obtain very important concessions from the partners to address these concerns. The first is the long sought after agreement to introduce a bill into the legislature preventing Cary or Apex from ever annexing into Chatham County without a property owner requesting it. To strengthen this position, we also required each of the towns to pass a local agreement restricting their ability to annex into Chatham that will be binding for a 20 year period (Under NC statute 160A-58.21). That may be like wearing a belt with suspenders but we wanted to ensure that involuntary annexation can't happen. The bill and agreements aggressively protect property rights of every landowner in eastern Chatham County. Nobody will ever have to worry about becoming part of Cary or Apex against their will. These requirements also address the concerns of other residents about losing control of the land within our county.
The next major point is fair compensation to the Moncure community. The partners will compensate the county in the amount of $500,000 to offset the negative impacts of routing the pipeline through Chatham. We plan to use this money to renovate the existing youth center in Moncure or build a separate building for use as a community center. The goal is to have a facility that can be enjoyed by everyone. The $500,000 has no restrictions so if the community and the county prefer we could use it for other items such as; paying for additional services that may be cut from the school curriculum. Additionally, the affected property owners will be in a better position to negotiate fair compensation for the easements on their land than would have been the case if we had said no and forced the partners to expend more time and money to get approval from the State legislature.
Longer term benefits include future economic develop possibilities as we finalize our land use plan on the eastern side of Jordan Lake. The economic develop corporation passed a resolution supporting the pipeline as an economic benefit to all of Chatham. This agreement and a sound land use plan east of the Jordan lake will further our goal of creating an environment that will create jobs in Chatham County. Finally, and very importantly, we have strengthened our working relationship with two important neighbors. Everyone acknowledges the critical need to work cooperatively in a regional way with surrounding counties and municipalities. These relationships will benefit Chatham County as we struggle with regional issues such as; water quality, water usage, transportation, infrastructure needs, and economic development. A yes vote means that we will continue to work with the Partners on these issues as well as others that might arise to ensure the least amount of disruption to the property owners.
If we had said no, the WWP would have had to go to plan B. They would have needed to get a bill introduced into the State Legislature requesting that the statute be changed in such a way that would not require our approval to run the pipeline through Chatham. The statute in question is 153A and does not include all NC counties. It was originally passed as a way to prevent a municipality from buying land in another county for the purpose of building a landfill. The legislature could remove Chatham County from the list of counties in NC 153A without vacating the entire statute.
Many will disagree with me, but I strongly believe they would have been able to get this bill passed quickly. Even if they could not have done it quickly, eventually they would have gotten approval. I say that because of the number of North Carolina citizens who would have been negatively impacted by not having a waste water treatment facility. Cary, Apex, Morrisville, New Hill, Durham, several research triangle businesses, and Fayetteville are all on record as supporting the need for the plant. The state agencies have dictated the discharge point and said the proposed route is the best path. These communities can demonstrate that over 400,000 residents are directly affected and they can make a public health argument in support. The partners have already spent over $100 million on the project and the 8 miles of pipeline routed through Chatham was not going to stop the project. Our odds of stopping decreased drastically when New Hill dropped it's opposition to building the plant in their community. During the public hearing in Moncure, the Secretary of Commerce sent a representative to tell us that they support the pipeline. That sent a pretty clear message that the rest of the State will support the partners if needed.
The UNC School of Government recently pointed out to me that while we look at a map of NC with county lines, state agencies dealing with water quality and water allocation do not. The chart above shows how we look at the state and the the other chart on the shows how these agencies look at the map. When you take that, as well as these other considerations into account, you can see why I believe we would have ended up with a pipeline regardless of our vote.
The difference would have been a hostile working environment with our neighbors for the foreseeable future, our landowners in a weakened negotiated position, no protection from Cary annexing into Chatham unfettered, and no community center in Moncure.
Brian Bock is chairman of the Chatham County Commissioners.
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