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As the 40-year struggle for sewer service in the Rogers Road community continues, local officials are exploring a new option that would give the community more independence.

Nathan Wangusi, a technical assistance provider working with Rogers Road through the Southeast Rural Community Assistance Project, said the latest idea is to incorporate the area as a utility district.

If the plan is approved, Rogers Road’s water and sewer services would be independent of Orange County, and the neighborhood would apply directly to the state and federal governments for funding.

Wangusi said the project is ambitious for such a small area.

“Utility districts have autonomy, but with autonomy comes a great deal of responsibility,” Wangusi said.

He said the neighborhood — which has housed the county’s landfill since 1972 — would have to show that it has the infrastructure to sustain a sewer district.

“The benefit of having the county in charge now is that they have the capital and technical expertise,” he said. “And you can blame them when things go wrong — you can’t do that when you’re independent.”

Chapel Hill, Carrboro and Orange County officials have discussed how to provide sewer service for years, but the discussion has often splintered over cost.

Orange County Commissioner Bernadette Pelissier said she is hopeful about the proposal to incorporate.

“Our goal is just for current community members who are low-income to not have to shell out much money, if any,” Pelissier said.

She said if incorporating as a utility district is not viable, the county will continue helping Rogers Road look for alternatives.

She said the county could also choose to fund the sewer system — an estimated $5.8 million project.

County Manager Frank Clifton said he hopes the sewer service will draw developers to the area.

“If that land develops, the cost of sewer would be shared by the developers,” he said.

Rev. Robert Campbell, president of the Rogers-Eubanks Neighborhood Association, said he hopes the community will be able to incorporate and eventually turn management back to the county.

“Rogers Road does not have the expertise to operate a sewer district,” he said.

Campbell said he supports the idea but wants more information.

“My main hope is that no matter what we end up doing, it’s affordable for everyone,” he said. “No one should be denied sewer service.”

Commissioner Penny Rich stressed the preliminary nature of the concept.

She said the Historic Rogers Road Neighborhood Task Force is scheduled to deliver a final report to the commissioners on Sept. 17 about the community’s resources.

“If we approve the project, we probably wouldn’t break ground for at least another six months to a year,” Rich said.

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And she said keeping an open mind will be key.

“We need to really weigh out all of our options,” she said. “It seems like we’re getting great information so far, so I’m really excited.”

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