Orange County Works With Historic Black Community To Pay For Sewer

Jul 5, 2019

Ila McMillan is bishop of Faith Tabernacle on Rogers Road in Chapel Hill. She is not sure how much it will cost to connect her home and church to sewer service.
Credit Leoneda Inge / WUNC

Orange County officials are reaching out to residents in the historic Rogers Road community to expedite sewer service. The historically African-American Rogers Road community has waited more than 40 years for water and sewer.

Now that sewer lines are in, residents have to figure out how to pay for it. Ila McMillan is the bishop of Faith Tabernacle Oasis of Love International Church, which sits on Rogers Road in Chapel Hill.

“This church is on the yellow code. We are yellow code, Heritage Line," said McMillan, referring to a color-coded map outlining all the properties elegible for sewer connection. "As soon as we fill out the papers the correct way, they will tell us where we stand on this property."

McMillan says she and her late husband built their Rogers Road home in 1980, and the church was constructed the following year. Those properties, and approximately 80 others are considered "Heritage Lots." A jointly-funded public assistance program could cover 100% of costs for some homeowners in the "Heritage Lots."

Craig Benedict, director of planning and inspections in Orange County, says his staff, and others in the towns of Chapel Hill and Carrboro, are trying to meet with residents to help them get connected to the new sewer service.

"We are trying to encourage people to connect sooner than later," said Benedict at a recent informational meeting at Faith Tabernacle. "There is a two year period we will have 100% coverage of all the costs, if you are low to moderate income."

But all connection costs will not be paid for "Heritage" properties marked in green on the Historic Rogers Road Sewer Extension map. Zero interest loans will be offered to those property owners. No structures were on those properties as of 2013.

This 'Historic Rogers Road Sewer Expansion' map shows residents where their property is located and if it qualifies for possible financial assistance as a "Heritage Lot."
Credit Orange County Planning and Inspections

Larry Reid Sr. attended the meeting to find out how much he would have to pay. He thinks his price tag could be as high as $15,000 to connect his properties to the new sewer service.

“This lot actually was established in the 1960s so the septic tanks are that old, they’re in good condition but the fields are what’s failing," said Reid, pointing to the map. "So the tanks don’t drain. So yes, I’m pressured, that’s why I was pressured to be at this meeting.”

McMillan says he and his wife won't likely qualify for financial assistance to get connected.

The Rogers Road community has waited for four decades to finally get water, sewer and other infrastructure. The services were promised by the surrounding towns in the 1970s, in exchange for housing two landfills. The landfills are shut down, but on certain days, there is still an odor of methane and failed septic tanks in the air.