The New Hill Community Association announced this morning it has dropped its lawsuit against Western Wake Partners in exchange for amenities including a $500,000 New Hill community center.

For the past five years the association has fought the Western Wake Partners’ plan to build a $327 million wastewater treatment plant in New Hill’s historical and predominantly African-American neighborhood.

The settlement agreement (newhill_settlement.pdf) comes after the two court-ordered mediation sessions with the association, the N.C. Department of Environmental and Natural Resources and the partners—the towns of Cary, Apex, Morrisville and RTP South.

The agreement states, “the parties recognize that [the] Project will impact the New Hill Community, and Partners have minimized and mitigated potential negative impacts.”
Terms of the agreement include the partners constructing two 4-foot-by-8-foot glass-and-steel bus shelters for the community’s school children, and placing $500,000 in an escrow fund for the construction of a community center.

If the community center is built close to the wastewater treatment plant, the partners will provide water and sewer lines and other infrastructure. The agreement also stipulates that the partners will run water and sewer to 36 homes near the plant.

But the agreement has a hitch: The association must not make any negative comments about the project or openly oppose it. If the association violates this or other terms of the agreement, the escrow fund for the community center will be revoked and disbursed to the Town of Cary, the lead agency for the partners.

“This has been a vigorous, robust debate in which the parties made a concerted effort to mitigate impacts to New Hill,” New Hill Community Association President Paul Barth said in a press release. “We, the officers of the NHCA, encourage all of our association’s members and community’s advocates to accept the Western Wake Regional Wastewater Management Facilities. We end all protests to the project. In addition, we will not oppose the Chatham County pipeline and will not encourage other groups to use NHCA’s name in opposing it.”

The partners want to build an 8.1-mile pipeline from the plant to the Haw Cape Fear River through parts of Chatham County. A public hearing is scheduled for Feb. 7. at at 6 p.m., at Moncure School, 600 Moncure School Road in Chatham County.

Apex Mayor Kevin Weatherly released the following statement, “The New Hill Community Association has been a strong advocate for the interests of their community. We are pleased that our negotiations have reached a successful conclusion and that the New Hill Community Center will serve New Hill residents well for many years. Because of this agreement, we can now be assured that one of the most important projects of its kind in the state is able to proceed in an efficient and economical manner.”

Weatherly said the treatment plant project is crucial to economic growth in Western Wake County. “Continued economic vitality is necessary to provide jobs for families in our region,” he said.

Last September, the association and the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, a nonprofit advocacy group, filed a petition for contested jearing, in an attempt to stop the partners from receiving preliminary permits from DENR to begin construction of the plant.

The petition contended that the site “has larger human and environmental justice impacts than other, more suitable alternatives, including land previously condemned by Progress Energy in the same general vicinity. Noise, odor, traffic, and light spill from the sewage treatment plant will impact the New Hill Historic District, including the predominantly African-American First Baptist Church and cemetery.”

The plant, which was scheduled to begin construction this year, will not be built in Apex or Cary or any of the partners’ towns. Instead it will loom across the street from the New Hill Baptist Church and playground, and a half-mile from the First Baptist Church of New Hill. The plant will sit within 1,000 feet of 23 homes. But who lives in those homes is as important: 87 percent of those approximately 230 residents immediately affected by the sewage treatment plant are African-American, on fixed incomes, elderly or retired.

Chris Brook, attorney with the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, says the settlement could ultimately benefit New Hill.

“Over the last five years, the New Hill community has come together as never before,” said Barth. “The bus shelters, community center, and extension of services to those closest to the plant will help to mitigate the impacts to our community and will go a long way in moving our community forward.”