Category Archives: Environment

The Story of Charlotte’s Little Sugar Creek

In 2014, the previous Mayor and Council adopted a new zoning code that governs real estate development in the 200-acre Ephesus-Fordham district. Among the flaws in this code is the lack of any vision for creating a central community amenity that will attract people to the district and help spur commercial revitalization at the Franklin Street and 15 -501 gateway to Chapel Hill.

The new Mayor and Council are seeking ways to fix the Code.  One aspect which has not yet been tackled is the concept of a community amenity.  The city of Charlotte’s recent restoration of Little Sugar Creek inspires us to create these public spaces which draw people to our town.

Join us 5:30 pm, Wednesday October 26, to learn how Charlotte, North Carolina, turned an eyesore into a community treasure.

Microsoft Word - LittleSugarCreekEventFlier.docx

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Clean Up the Coal Ash Dump

Chapel Hill Police station, 828 Martin Luther King Jr Blvd, Chapel Hill

In May 2014, the Town of Chapel Hill informed the public that a coal ash landfill was found to be located on the site of the Chapel Hill Police Building. For more than a decade in the 1960s and ’70s, this property was used as a burial pit for coal ash. The coal ash in this unlined landfill contains known hazardous substances, including heavy metals that have leached out into the environment and will continue to do so.

The discovery of the coal ash deposit was likely made during a 2013-14 review of town property launched by the staff when considering the sale of town assets. The presence of the coal ash waste undoubtedly complicates the decision to sell the property. Whatever the town decides to do about the location of a new police station, we would expect that our Town will clean up the site. Chapel Hill residents deserve no less.

In a May 2014 letter to Mayor Kleinschmidt, Friends of Bolin Creek urged the Town to clean up the large coal ash dump and not to allow the coal ash to remain in an unlined pit in the center of town. Here is topographical map showing the location of the coal deposit.

The Town hired a consultant Falcon Engineering to make tests and to report to the North Carolina Department of the Environmental Quality (DEQ). Soil samples taken on the site by Falcon in early 2014 identified elevated levels of coal ash metals in the ground water such as arsenic, mercury, chromium, lead, thallium, and other dangerous pollutants. Well test results have been mixed at a new set of well locations, where the counsultant used filtered samples without finding high levels of dissolved coal ash pollutants.

Friends of Bolin Creek has raised questions about the procedures used and the choice of location for the tests, and we have communicated our concerns to the Town and Department of Environmental Quality.

The Town has posted a Web page called “Chapel Hill Coal Ash Disposal Site Remediation Project” containing relevant documents here. In mid 2015, Friends of Bolin Creek requested help from the Southern Environmental Law Center for legal and support services.

Clean up makes a difference.  According to a January 29, 2016 report, groundwater contamination dramatically declined along the Catawba-Wateree River after a South Carolina utility removed the coal ash under a settlement negotiated by the Southern Environmental Law Center. See article.

“These results confirm that when you remove the polluting coal ash, you also eliminate pollution of groundwater,” said Frank Holleman, senior attorney for the Southern Environmental Law Center. “Duke Energy and North Carolina’s Department of Environmental Quality must wake up to this reality, learn from South Carolina, and move all of Duke Energy’s polluting coal ash from unlined waterfront pits to safe dry lined storage.  Otherwise, North Carolina’s groundwater will be polluted for years to come.”

North Carolina has more than 30 such sites in 14 different locations across the state. A pipe running under one of the ponds run by Duke Energy in Eden NC ruptured in February of 2014. The coal ash spilled, largely affecting the Dan River which flows into Virginia. The spill is the third largest of its kind in U.S. history.

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Coal Ash Landfill Found in Chapel Hill

IMG_0942In May 2014, the Town of Chapel Hill informed the public that a coal ash landfill was found to be located on the site of the Chapel Hill Police Building. For more than a decade in the 1960s and ’70s, this property was used as a burial pit for coal ash. The coal ash in this unlined landfill contains known hazardous substances, including heavy metals that have leached out into the environment and will continue to do so.

The discovery of the coal ash deposit was likely made during a 2013-14 town review of assets, that the staff  launched to consider the sale of town assets. The presence of the coal ash waste undoubtedly complicates the  decision to sell the property. Whatever the town decides to do about the location of a new police station, we would expect that our Town would  clean up the site. Chapel Hill residents deserve no less.

In a May 2014 letter to Mayor Kleinschmidt, Friends of Bolin Creek urged the Town to clean up the large coal ash dump and not to allow the coal ash to remain in an unlined pit in the center of town. Here is topographical map showing the location of the coal deposit.

The Town hired a consultant Falcon Engineering to make tests and to report to the North Carolina Department of the Environmental Quality.  Soil samples taken on the site by Falcon in early 2014 identified elevated levels of some coal ash related metals and pollution of ground water.

The Town has posted a Web page called “Chapel Hill Coal Ash Disposal Site Remediation Project”,  containing relevant documents here.

Over the past several years, the Town has installed different sets of monitoring wells to sample the groundwater. The results have been mixed, with some samples showing high levels of dangerous pollutants like arsenic, lead, and thallium. Recently the consultant took filtered samples from a new set of wells without finding high levels of dissolved coal ash pollutants.

Friends of Bolin Creek has raised questions about the procedures used and the choice of location for the tests, and we have communicated our concerns to the Town and DEQ. The Town has not agreed so far to our request that the  creek sediments be tested.

In mid 2015, Friends of Bolin Creek requested help from the Southern Environmental Law Center for legal and support services.

Unlined coal ash waste sites like the one in Chapel Hill are a national problem. WUNC reports that North Carolina has more than 30 such sites in 14 different locations across the state. A pipe running under one of the ponds run by Duke Energy in Eden NC ruptured in February of 2014. The coal ash spilled, largely affecting the Dan River which flows into Virginia. The spill is the third largest of its kind in U.S. history.

 

Other stories about the Chapel Hill coal ash waste dump

“The Silent Threat in Our Back Yards” , Hannah Petersen
Letter to Mayor Kleinschmit, Friends of Bolin Creek, May 2014
“Activists Call for Council Action”, Chapelboro, May 2014

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An Open Letter to Sierra Club Members

An Open Letter to Sierra Club Members:

Managing development in a sustainable manner is a major goal of the Chapel Hill Alliance for a Livable Town (CHALT).  From our platform: “Protect and enhance the quality of our streams, natural landscapes, parks, recreational trails and wildlife habitats.”

Because of our strong shared interest in protecting the health and beauty of Chapel Hill’s environment, we encourage our fellow Sierra Club members to cast their votes for the candidates that C.H.A.L.T. has endorsed.

The candidates’ background and environmental qualifications follow:

 Mayor candidate Pam Hemminger has demonstrated long experience in the environmental field through her long service to the Sierra Club and the Triangle Land Conservancy.  Most recently, Orange County appointed Hemminger to the Upper Neuse River Basin Association (UNRBA) where she serves as Board Chair of an organization consisting of 5 municipalities, 6 counties, and local Soil and Water Conservation Districts.  The watershed board’s mission is to preserve the water quality of the river basin and to provide an ongoing forum for cooperation on water quality protection and water resource planning and management within the 770-square-mile watershed. Hemminger’s job is to establish the policies with her board members that will guide the technical work. She has skillfully brought together the differing interests of each city and jurisdiction involved in this effort.  Read more about Pam’s work here.

 Council candidate Jessica Anderson has demonstrated her commitment to the environment by advocating for density bonuses tied energy efficiency and other incentives that allow our town to meet the American Institute of Architects’ challenge for all new buildings, developments and renovations to be carbon neutral by 2030; promising to push for Chapel Hill to be declared a solar community and encouraging homeowners, businesses and UNC to begin to utilize solar energy systems on their buildings; working toward expanding sensible public transit options for those who live and those who work in Chapel Hill; and looking at ways our town can support more environmentally-friendly forms of transportation, such as charging stations for electric buses and cars.

Council candidate Nancy Oates has repeatedly urged council to manage growth so it doesn’t flood out existing neighborhoods and drive out local businesses. She understands that having some accessible “green” in our lives is essential to a good quality of life and a reason many of us stay in Chapel Hill rather than move to more affordable cities.

Council candidate David Schwartz holds a Master’s degree in Natural Resource Policy and an PhD in Environmental Psychology. He has long-standing interests in identifying ways to manage our environmental impacts so as to protect landscape values and promote human health and well-being. In addition to conducting research and teaching at both Duke and UNC, he lectures at the NC Botanical Garden and the Sarah P Duke Gardens on how access to urban green space promotes human health. His home in Chapel Hill abuts the lower Booker Creek floodplain, so he is understands well the Town’s stormwater management challenges. David will be a forceful advocate for protecting woodland, streams, and other natural landscapes within the Town’s boundaries and the agricultural and low-density landscapes that compose the rural buffer.

Fortunately our endorsed council candidates do not have a poor environmental record to deny.  Their strong stance on holistic planning that stresses action on stormwater and flooding, smart growth that balances vertical density with green space, and most importantly, their advocacy for sustainable green building methods make them the preferred environmental candidates.

Incumbents Mayor Kleinschmidt, Donna Bell, Lee Storrow, and Jim Ward do not have a progressive record of votes. Jim Ward is the only one of your endorsees who has an interest in making environmental and sustainable decisions which he demonstrated in forcefully opposing the Ephesus Fordham redistricting and pressing for a high level of stormwater management for Obey Creek. Under the incumbents’ tenure they made policy and/or adopted in formal votes the following measures harmful to our environment:

The Town Council:

  • Directed town staff to prepare text language to reduce stream buffers to 50 feet.
  • Approved over 4 million square feet (net) in additional impervious surface.
  • Approved over 15,000 new parking spaces associated with development.
  • Voted to allow paving up to 50% for a single family lot.
  • Approved Charterwood located at the headwaters of Booker Creek with the result that Lake Ellen and Eastwood Lake are again filling with sediment.
  • Wasted thousands of dollars on worthless engineering studies on Ephesus Fordham; studies commissioned by the Town’s economic development officer who lacked stormwater training and experience.
  • Voted for a new road to be built at taxpayer expense through a flood way in Ephesus Fordham.
  • Gave away its planning authority to the Town Manager who approved a building footprint on top of an existing greenway resulting in rebuilding the greenway closer to Booker Creek.
  • Upzoned nearly 200 acres at the bottom of a watershed without upstream volume controls in place to reduce flooding, after approving 2.8 million square feet impervious surface upstream.
  • Actively considered allowing the Edge developer to build a hotel on top of a stream (currently pending).

We’ve reached out to your leadership on several occasions to inform them of the decline of the care of the environment in Chapel Hill.  It is distressing that the above facts were overlooked in your endorsements.

Sincerely,

Julie McClintock

Former Air Quality Professional, US EPA
Former Town Council member (3 terms)
Former Chair OWASA Board
Chapel Hill, NC  27514

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