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The Daily Tar Heel

7 years in, Rogers Road waits on EPA action

Minister Robert Campbell, President of the Chapel Hill/ Carrboro Branch of the NAACP, poses at Faith Tabernacle Oasis of Love. Campbell says his church's faith based organization motivates him to reach out into the community.
Minister Robert Campbell, President of the Chapel Hill/ Carrboro Branch of the NAACP, poses at Faith Tabernacle Oasis of Love. Campbell says his church's faith based organization motivates him to reach out into the community.

These problems are what the Rev. Robert Campbell , president of the Rogers Eubanks Neighborhood Association , said led the organization to complain to the Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of Civil Rights .

The Rogers Road neighborhood was promised sewer and water hookups and a community center more than 40 years ago in exchange for housing the county landfill. Residents have yet to see the promises kept.

The neighborhood association alleged in its complaint that the Orange County Planning and Inspections Department and the Orange Water and Sewer Authority worked together to discriminate by denying water and sewer service to the historically black community.

“In order to get the attention, we used the laws that were already on the books,” Campbell said. “Because the quality of life has been impacted, something needs to be done.”

In a letter sent to the EPA, Orange County attorney John Roberts said the accusations were baseless.

Friday marked seven and a half years since the complaint was filed, and nearly five years since an investigation was launched, said Carissa Cyran, spokeswoman for the EPA . Still, no report has been released.

Some officials believe the investigation slowed discussion between Carrboro, Chapel Hill and the county for neighborhood improvements.

“While we are not directly implicated, I think the board has always approached this as something that needs to be resolved before we make any big-time financial commitments,” said Carrboro Town Attorney Michael Brough .

“We’re ready to move on it,” Orange County Commissioner Penny Rich added. “But because of the investigation we’re not allowed to talk about any financial commitment.”

Cyran said in an email that the EPA cannot comment because it is an ongoing investigation.

Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits intentional discrimination and the EPA’s implementing regulations also cover unintentional actions that have discriminatory effects, according to a publication by the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights .

The EPA has jurisdiction in the case because Orange County was awarded federal grant money to provide sewer service to the Efland and Buckhorn communities in 2010, according to a June letter from the former acting director of the EPA to the director of the county Planning and Inspections Department .

Similar grants were not sought for Rogers Road, though OWASA spokesman Greg Feller confirmed the agency services the neighborhood.

OWASA’s attorney Robert Epting said in an email he expects the racial discrimination claims to be dismissed.

Although Rich said the County reached out to RENA and asked them to withdraw their complaint, she agreed that it did some good.

“The one good outcome is that we separated the community center from the sewer project,” she said. “Because now we’re able to move forward with the community center.”

city@dailytarheel.com

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