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Neighbors sue county over environmental concerns
Suit alleges landfill puts community at risk
 
Published Thursday, June 16, 2011 8:59 am
by Sommer Brokaw

A historically black community in southeastern N.C. bears the brunt of Brunswick County’s waste but is not allowed the benefit of hooking onto its water and sewer service, a lawsuit alleges.

The Royal Oak Concerned Citizens Association, Curtis McMillian and Dennis McMillian filed suit June 3, challenging the county’s rezoning, denial of water and sewer, and landfill expansion.

The lawsuit alleges the county’s decision to rezone land in Royal Oak from rural residential to industrial general so it could double the size of a landfill was illegal “spot” zoning because it was conducted without considering other possible uses. The complaint challenges this zoning under N.C.’s Declaratory Judgment Act, the N.C. Fair Housing Act and the Equal Protection Clause of the N.C. Constitution. The University of North Carolina Center for Civil Rights and the law firm of K&L Gates, LLP, are representing the plaintiffs, who live in Supply, about 45 minutes south of Wilmington.

The suit also alleges that the rezoning decision stems from a long-time racially discriminatory pattern and practice of burdening the county’s black communities with hazardous and unwanted land uses. These environmental hazards include the county’s only landfill, a sewage treatment center, a waste transfer station, an animal shelter and many sand mines already located in Royal Oaks.

“They moved the animal shelter from where more affluent communities are built to our community,” ROCCA President Lewis Dozier said. “Then, we got the first sewage processing plants, and they also issued permits for sand mining. They kept proliferating to the point we felt like we had to seek help from the courts.”

The complaint states that the hazards, when combined with a high water table and shallow wells, place the community’s drinking water at risk.

“We’re in the process of sampling the water, so we have no definite proof of contamination at this point, but based on diseases and hazards that follow this type of [animal] facility, we might have potential danger for us including Ecoli and other things,” Dozier said.

In 1981, the ROCCA supported a bond referendum for the extension of water and sewer to an area that included Royal Oak. The referendum passed in large part due to efforts by black residents, but Brunswick County never used the bond money to provide water and sewer to the Royal Oak community. Furthermore, resident James Hardy said in the complaint that water and sewer lines have been extended to St. James, a new, majority white housing development community.

Curtis McMillian, who has resided in Supply since 1964, has never received water or sewer services, the suit states. And Dennis McMillian, another Royal Oak resident, has to purchase bottled water for drinking and cooking because of the well water’s foul taste, color and odor.

Plaintiffs are seeking declaratory and injunctive relief to remedy defendant’s illegal rezoning and violation of the rights of blacks and other residents of the community. They allege there are sufficient lands in the county that would be more appropriate for a landfill and industrial zoning. 

Only 11 percent of the county’s residents are black, but 98 percent of the residents living within 2500 feet of the landfill are black.

Elizabeth Haddix, a staff attorney for the UNC Center for Civil Rights, said the expansion of existing construction and demolition landfill is located adjacent to the original unlined municipal landfill.

“Despite regulation on using unlined municipal landfills, this landfill was unlined so everything in that landfill is seeping down in the ground water so people who live around the landfill are affected by that,” she said.

The N.C. Environmental Justice Network works in partnership with majority-communities of color across the state to address environmental justice issues. “We just think that the community is being dumped on as many poor and black and other communities of color are being done who are basically receiving the waste from what we would say gated communities,” NCEJN Director Gary Grant said. “It is a racial and socioeconomic pattern. It’s a racist pattern here in North Carolina.”

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