This story appeared in the Sept 11th Chapel Hill News.
We are not out of the recession yet, but with a Corps of Engineers permit in hand, UNC is busy getting the utilities in the ground for a new campus, Carolina North. Judging from the University’s announcement released last week, a great deal of land could potentially be cleared outside the airport footprint, affecting forests on the large 1000 acre tract in northern Chapel Hill and Carrboro. A large area up to 40 feet wide extending between Homestead Road to UNC Facilities south of Estes Drive has begun to be cleared to install utilities including electricity, and a pipe pumping methane gas from the landfill.
How is the public to comment on these plans? Normally local elected officials are the last resort for raising local concerns. However, the Carolina North Development Agreement, a contract Chapel Hill between the University, set the specific development terms for the new campus, including a compact building footprint and the preservation for many acres if forests and creeks in the Bolin Creek watershed in Carrboro and Chapel Hill. Ten years of community input led up to these final negotiations, but no part of the agreement provides for public hearings. When the contract was signed in June 2009, the Chapel Hill Town Council agreed with Neighbors for Responsible Growth and committed to a participation plan for how public input would be gained as the campus is built out.
The University is facing renewed budget cuts and there’s no guarantee that anything will be built for a long time. A 40 foot wide duct bank isn’t going to grow jobs, but it is going to cut down a lot of trees.
Now that the site is active again, it’s time for the Town Council to put in place a vehicle for the public to review and comment on the information that the Town Manager receives from the University and give that input to our elected officials in our Towns.
I encourage all those who care about stream and forest protection of this 1000 acre resource to attend the University’s information session on September 13 at 5:15 pm at Town Hall and to ask questions and learn more. At UNC, contact Diane Gillis, (919) 962-9047, Diane.Gillis@facilities.unc.edu.