It is unacceptable that residents near a UNC research facility were not notified of an animal wastewater leak for two months.
But the lack of transparency and communication between the University and Orange County residents has hopefully come to an end.
In a letter to residents, Chancellor Holden Thorp attributed the problems at the Research Resource Facility in the rural western part of the county to the lack of a clear chain of command. To remedy this, Thorp appointed Bob Lowman, associate vice chancellor for research, to oversee future facility operations.
The bureaucratic maze that has increased at UNC in recent years surely contributed to the facility’s problems.
But decreeing that the buck stops with Lowman seems like too easy a fix to a complicated situation. It is convenient to point to the bureaucracy as the problem, and appoint Lowman as a quick fix.
This doesn’t get to the root cause of the wastewater leaks or lack of transparency, though.
The first leak, which occurred in November, released 630 gallons of treated animal wastewater into surrounding grounds. There have been subsequent incidents, including a mid-February scare in which rainwater runoff threatened to overflow a tank.
Recently, the wastewater treatment facility was shut down pending review by an outside consulting firm. This is a prudent response by the University. But communication and transparency must still be taken seriously.
UNC officials have pledged to keep all residents informed via e-mail. Tours of the facility and town hall-style forums are set to be offered to inform the community.
Hopefully, the recent move toward openness and transparency is not simply a short-term response to boiling community frustrations. The University must work actively to maintain a cooperative, trusting relationship with residents.
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