Local News

Environmental racism charged in New Hill sewage plant fight

Posted April 17, 2009 5:53 p.m. EDT
Updated April 22, 2009 9:47 a.m. EDT

— Residents in the southwestern Wake County crossroads of New Hill have alleged environmental racism in their long-running fight to block a planned sewage plant.

Western Wake Partners, which includes Cary, Apex, Morrisville, Holly Springs and part of Research Triangle Park, have proposed building a $327 million wastewater treatment plant on more than 230 acres in New Hill. The plant would sit between U.S. Highway 1, Old U.S. 1, Shearon Harris Road and New Hill-Holleman Road.

The four towns pull water from Jordan Lake, and state officials said wastewater needs to be returned to the Cape Fear River basin and should no longer be discharged into the Neuse River basin. Environmental regulators have set a January 2011 deadline to halt the inter-basin transfers.

New Hill residents have fought the plan for several years through public hearings and in the courts. Their latest salvo in the battle is a claim of environmental racism.

"First of all, it is right in the center of New Hill. It also borders a lot of (the) minority community and some low-income, elderly people," said Paul Barth, president of the New Hill Community Association.

Poor, minority neighbors are less able to fight the plant, Barth said.

"I think the towns felt that it was a spot that was convenient for them to save them some money, and there wouldn't be much resistance because (residents) didn't have the financial means to do anything," he said.

Steve Brown, director of Cary's Department of Public Works and Utilities, denied the allegation.

"That is not a factor in this decision," Brown said.

Cary is leading the sewage plant venture and plans to assume 60 percent of the plant's costs.

Brown said officials reviewed more than 30 possible sites for the plant, and the New Hill site was the best one they found. Three other sites in or near New Hill remain under consideration.

A new plant also would benefit growth in southwestern Wake County, he said.

Barth said he and other New Hill residents would prefer the plant be moved about a mile away from the proposed location.

"There's a line in the movie 'Network' where the guy opens the window (and) says, 'We are mad as hell, and we are not going to take it anymore.' That's where we are," he said.