Bolin Creek Paving Up for Discussion Again

At the June 14th Carrboro Board of Aldermen the Board voted to proceed with a community discussion about paving along Bolin Creek.  The Board resolution is here.

Where did the idea for a creekside paved route come from?

The concept for paving first came about in a Town-commissioned consultant’s study, conducted in 2009. The Greenways Commission had became convinced that only with paving, despite difficult terrain, could it provide wheel-chair accessibility. Friends of Bolin Creek learned about the plan for the paved “greenway” just before the Board of Aldermen were set to approve all the routes in the consultant’s concept plan in December 2009. We were, however, able to raise a number of concerns including the redundancy of providing a north-south route along the creek, when UNC had already agreed to build bike paths along Seawell School Road. In addition, we discussed the strong community preference for keeping natural surfaces for recreation. Friends of Bolin Creek discussed the environment degradation that would occur with pavement so close to the stream banks, harming stream ecology and the stream buffers upon which wildlife depend.  As a result, subsequently the Board tabled phases 3 and 4.

In 2009, the Board voted to charge the staff to come up with a process for public engagement around the issue. Given the tremendous controversy at the time, staff action was not taken for seven years — until the vote taken last Tuesday night.

30-Foot Clear-Cutting for Road in Bolin Forest

Technically, the paved roadway is called a “greenway”, but to receive the funds for this, it must meet Department of Transportation standards and be at least 10 feet wide and graded for ADA accessibility, creating a cleared area of at least 30 feet. The new Morgan Creek trail largely stay 50 feet from the waterway, but illustrates the amount of clearing pavement would requires in order to meet federal standards.

The amount of grading required, particularly in the forest’s southern portions, will destroy hundreds of trees adjacent to the creek, thus raising water temperatures, eroding stream banks, and damaging water quality and forest ecology, turning the creek into something resembling a man-made channel. Blasting most likely will be required in some places due to the area’s bedrock.

What happens now?

Over the summer the Town staff will put together a draft process for receiving input from the community.  We expect the proposed process to return to the Board of Aldermen this fall.  Despite all the Board discussion so far, there seems not agreement on the goal of the community discussion.  Several board members mentioned the need for a north- south route, one said there were a number of options, and another member mentioned Seawell School Road.  It’s not clear if doing nothing in the forest is an option.

Several Complicating Factors You Should Know

OWASA’s plan to replace the sewer line in two to four years no doubt will cause disruption along the creek. The pro-paving folks say, “Why not a roadway then?” But OWASA can do the construction with far less damage than a road clearing. If paving were to occur, the construction would need to be a width required for a roadway and deep enough to handle heavy-duty OWASA trucks. In several places, the “greenway” would be right next to the creek. This means removing trees holding up the bank. (It will be interesting to get a cost estimate of what Chapel Hill is spending on Umstead Drive and to document the problems they are having.) Interestingly, the consultant’s report recommended that this section be delayed until the OWASA sewer line is replaced, and then at that time place the “greenway” on top of the new sewer 50 feet away from the creek.  Given the topography of the lower part of the valley near Estes, one can only imagine the leveling and blasting that would be needed to accomplish this recommendation.

Jordan Lake rules say paved greenways are an allowable use next to a creek but only if there is no practical alternative. We have a map with many alternatives.

What can you do?

Ask people to sign our petition at the Save Bolin Creek website.

Tell your friends and neighbors that this is decision time for what happens to their forest.