Looking back at a North Carolina landfill, and who got dumped on

I have finally compiled my graduate thesis on environmental racism into a more easy to read PDF format. This document dates from July 1993, when I completed my MA in journalism at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Journalism and Mass Communication. For my research project, I examined how a then-small, historically African American and poor community, Holly Springs, was chosen to become the site of Wake County’s new mega municipal landfill. Holly Springs, N.C., already had multiple open and closed landfills, and the rest of the county had not equitably assumed the same burden for waste generated in the most populous county in North Carolina, which is also home to the state capital, Raleigh.

The Raleigh News & Observer published this photo of the South Wake County landfill, in Holly Springs, in March 2012, found here: http://www.newsobserver.com/2012/03/15/1931937/wake-county-plans-future-development.html.

My efforts to publish an investigative series for a regional alternative weekly serving Chapel Hill and Durham, N.C., were nixed by a number of forces, including pressure from senior Wake County officials who communicated with the weekly I had approached and successfully led that paper to disassociate itself from me and this project before it was published. (That is my version of events.) However, I did publish the thesis online in 1998. The articles were found by residents of Holly Springs in 1998, who contacted me, and my research became part of a major legal dispute that went to the North Carolina Supreme Court and federal courts, where litigants eventually lost and then finally settled with the county for remediation work to lessen the impact. Many of the legal issues raised in the case were cited first in my thesis. After years of legal wrangling, the Wake County Commissioners finally voted to approve a major municipal landfill in 2006.

I am proud of this work. It is factually sound, rigorously investigated, fair to all parties, and written in the spirit of good enterprise journalism on behalf of persons who had the least power and resources to advocate for themselves against much more powerful and organized interests (in this case Wake County’s government).

Here is the abstract to my original 1993 thesis titled: Environmental Racism in Our Own Backyard: Solid Waste Disposal in Holly Springs, N.C.

For more than two decades, the historically black and poor township of Holly Springs in Wake County, N.C., has been targeted for landfills.  The pattern continues with Wake County’s proposed 471-acre landfill, scheduled to open in Holly Springs by 1998.  Each facility was sited adjacent to existing black communities, whose residents never participated in the siting process.  The first story of this thesis’ three-article series examines the inequitable pattern for distributing these dumps countywide and how their placement fits a national pattern.  The second article and Appendix A discuss the new “environmental justice” movement, whose grassroots and minority activists are protesting unwanted pollution and alleged environmental discrimination.  The movement’s members have coined the term “environmental racism” to describe the unfair apportionment of environmentally noxious facilities.  Article three discusses whether municipal solid waste landfills can cause ground water contamination.  Federally mandated landfill technology to be installed at the planned landfill may not provide pollution protection for ground water, used by Holly Springs for its municipal water source.

(Find a map of the then-planned South Wake Landfill here.)


One thought on “Looking back at a North Carolina landfill, and who got dumped on

  1. Chris Dickson July 21, 2013 / 6:02 am

    You are still our hero! Thanks so much. There are not many of us left in Holly Springs who remember the fight against this landfill. I am happy to report that just recently the town approved plans to develop an athletic facility in the adjacent borrow area. Those of us who fought this fight are pleased. If we have to house this landfill (which, by the way, STINKS to high heaven on these hot, muggy days) at least we are getting some thing “happy and fun” out of living with it. Unfortunately, not all residents see it that way and are not pleased with the prospects of a collegiate level baseball team stadium in town. I guess they missed the part that they are living in a town with two landfills. Ugh. We thank you again for your work and all it did to lead us into battle.

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