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WWP: Chatham Settled Too Cheap

March 17, 2011

To the Editor: The Chatham News/Record

While County Commissioner Chairman Brian Bock is to be commended for explaining his vote in favor of the WWP pipeline through Chatham County, his explanation raises more questions than it answers. Most importantly, it raises the question of whether our Board was snookered by the Wake forces of Cary, Apex and Morrisville, aka the WWP.

As Chairman Bock acknowledges, the WWP needed to appeal to our Board because the state statute (N.C.G.S. § 153A-15) prevents WWP from acquiring Chatham County property without Chatham’s consent. Bock says this statute “does not include all NC counties.” That’s technically true but a bit misleading; it actually includes 84 of NC’s 100 counties. Bock claims that if Chatham had said “No,” the WWP would have gotten the General Assembly to delete Chatham from the statute and he believes “they would have been able to get this bill passed quickly.” But — if WWP would have been able to get such quick help in the General Assembly, why did they agree to pay Chatham County $1/2 million for its consent? This amount may not be mega-bucks at least in Wake County, but WWP’s pain would be greater since it had already agreed to pay the same amount, another $1/2 million, to settle the lawsuit brought by New Hill. Moreover, since the statute applies both to the acquiring county, here Wake, and the victim county, here Chatham, the legislative fix might have required dropping Wake from the statute as well. That’s an outcome Wake might not want.

All of these factors suggest Chatham had the WWP much more over a barrel than Chairman Bock is willing to admit and that Chatham settled too cheap. In addition to the money, Chatham got a commitment from Cary and Apex not to annex into Chatham involuntarily and to seek legislation providing the same. But that doesn’t fix the problem. Past annexations have not been involuntary; they have been voluntary. It’s the developer who voluntarily seeks annexation by acquiring land on the condition that annexation will occur. Such voluntary annexation strips Chatham residents involuntarily of the rural lifestyle they sought and it puts all Chatham taxpayers involuntarily at risk to provide schools for these new Cary and Apex neighborhoods that lie in Chatham County.

Chairman Bock himself refers to the “negative impacts of routing the pipeline through Chatham.” But the deal he (and the other two new commissioners) cut with WWP allows it not only to acquire Chatham property but to exercise eminent domain against the Chatham landowners in the pipeline’s path. Yet, he tries to defend this action as being in line with his goal of “aggressively protect[ing] property rights.”

Chairman Bock notes the merit in “work[ing] cooperatively” with our neighbors and strengthening those relationships. Fine, but for the Chatham Board aggressively to protect its citizens and insist on fair bargains in its dealings with its neighbors won’t impair those goals. Unfortunately, Chatham did not get a fair bargain this time. The Chatham Commissioners had more cards in their hands than they played in cutting the pipeline deal.

John Graybeal

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