A new blog post and “alerts” from Friends of Bolin Creek and Keep Bolin Wild (which claim to be separate organizations but share the same web server) are wildly misleading regarding a standard regulatory review of the Town of Carrboro’s Bolin Creek Greenway concept plan. They say the town hasn’t done its due diligence and that new barriers were raised in a recent consultant report, when that’s simply not true.

First, some background:

  • On March 28, 2023, the Carrboro Town Council directed the town staff to conduct a public engagement process regarding the proposed greenway alignments from the concept plan. In parallel, the staff also engaged an outside consulting firm to review the conceptual greenway alignments for any technical or regulatory challenges to completing the project.
  • On October 17, 2023, Planning Director Trish McGuire presented a summary of findings of the technical and regulatory reports. As McGuire noted, the consultant report commissioned by town staff summarizes various challenges to both the creekside and upland forest conceptual alignments of Bolin Creek Greenway Phases 3 and 4. Town staff were already familiar with and understood these challenges well. Thus, the staff’s conclusion, as shared with the Town Council during the October 17 council meeting, was that they identified no new regulatory or technical challenges and that the review “did not identify regulatory roadblocks to any of the conceptual alternative trail alignments.”

You can read the report here. Some notable points:

The Town’s water quality buffer regulations and the Jordan Lake rules aren’t new.

Friends of Bolin Creek would like you to believe that much has changed since Carrboro adopted its Bolin Creek Greenway concept plan in 2009, from understanding of the ecology of the creek to the federal, state, and local rules that protect water quality. Yet, the Carrboro Town Council adopted a comprehensive revision of the water quality buffer section of the town’s Land Use Ordinance (LUO) in March 2009, in part to incorporate the “Jordan Lake rules,” which are the state’s strategy for restoring water quality in Jordan Lake. This section of the LUO (as well as the Jordan Lake rules themselves) designates greenway/hiking trails as an allowable activity within stream buffers with a permit. This LUO provision on greenway/hiking trails has remained unchanged since March 2009. (A minor amendment in 2014 addressed other provisions of the ordinance.)

In other words, contrary to the Friends of Bolin Creek’s claims, the Jordan Lake rules and other water quality and stormwater regulations have been well understood by the town staff since the adoption of the Bolin Creek Greenway Conceptual Master Plan in December 2009.

For further discussion of this issue, see the October 12, 2009, letter to then Mayor Mark Chilton from Greenways Incorporated, the consultants who prepared the Bolin Creek Greenway concept plan, as well as this Town of Carrboro staff memo which reached the same conclusions.

Will construction of portions of the Bolin Creek Greenway within the stream buffer require permitting in accordance with the Jordan Lake rules and other requirements? 

Yes, of course. The town went through the same permitting process for Phase 1B of the Bolin Creek Greenway (also called the Homestead Road-Chapel Hill High School Multi-use Path). The town is going through the same process for the Jones Creek Greenway and the Morgan Creek Greenway. The Town of Chapel Hill meets the same requirements for its greenway trails—including the most recently completed portion of its Bolin Creek Trail just a half-mile downstream from Carrboro’s planned greenway.

Will additional studies need to be completed to develop the plan and understand impacts of specific trail and crossing locations? 

Yes, of course. The town went through the same process for Phase 1B of the Bolin Creek Greenway. The town is going through the same process for the Jones Creek Greenway and the Morgan Creek Greenway. The Town of Chapel Hill meets the same requirements for its greenway trails.

Are there places where the trail location may need to be moved to minimize impacts because there might be better alternatives? 

Yes, of course. (Same as above.)

Does the report mention needing to work with the railroad and affected landowners early?

Yes. But that, too, is expected and is always done in projects like these. (We hope you now understand that the “red flags” that were pulled out of the consultant report are normal and were noted in the report because this was a report created for the purpose of flagging potential challenges to be addressed).

Again, this is all a normal part of the process of moving from conceptual planning into design and engineering for a project of this kind. None of it is new.

Red herrings in the creek

In the November 29 meeting of the Town Council, Council Member Randee Haven-O’Donnell (who has long opposed the creekside greenway alignment) stated that she had just received the Sungate report the day before. That is inaccurate. Through a public records request, we learned that all versions of all drafts of the Sungate report were requested immediately after the October 17 meeting by Haven-O’Donnell and Friends of Bolin Creek members Diane Robertson and Julie McClintock. It was sent to all three on October 31 by town clerk Wesley Barker.

The accusation that the Town “paid for and didn’t widely share” a report that the staff commissioned is a red herring. Town staff frequently seek out professional assessments from consultants to broaden or update their understanding of a topic. In this case, the town certainly didn’t “ignore a professional assessment.” The town staff literally reported their conclusions from that assessment during the October 17 council meeting. The original report was created for staff so that they could summarize it for council, which they accurately did. This happens all of the time.

Back to the greenway

When it looked like the Carrboro Town Council was ready to pick the greenway issue back up in early 2023, after years of delay, Friends of Bolin Creek initially tried to stop the public engagement process from even starting. When the public engagement process then started, they claimed there was something wrong with the process. When it became clear that the process was really comprehensive and well-run, and that people in Carrboro overwhelmingly support a greenway that was accessible and connected, they switched gears and requested the report from Sungate. And now they’re cherry-picking pieces of it to make it look like there are new factors that the town wasn’t aware of. There aren’t.

Simultaneously, they’re trying to stop the project’s potential funding. They’ve also entered Chapel Hill to try to stop greenways there: members of Friends of Bolin Creek recently have started trying to stop Chapel Hill’s Morgan Creek Greenway, as well as the extension of Chapel Hill’s Bolin Creek Trail to Estes Drive. They have contacted the Durham-Chapel Hill-Carrboro MPO (the regional transportation planning agency) and the state’s Department of Environmental Quality (which implements the Jordan Lake rules). They’re gearing up to try to block Chapel Hill’s planned extensive network of greenways that are designed to connect neighborhoods with other neighborhoods, jobs, services, and other amenities.

Friends of Bolin Creek shares a PO Box and an IP address with CHALT, an organization with a PAC that is heavily involved in Chapel Hill politics. The Daily Tar Heel recently reported that Friends of Bolin Creek likely held a partisan campaign event and broke federal law last fall. Emails to both organizations go to Julie McClintock, who lives in Chatham County.

Greenways have obvious benefits, which we’ve detailed numerous times in the past. We encourage residents, journalists, and town staff in both Carrboro and Chapel Hill to see this for what it is: another attempt by the same people to derail, stall, and stop projects that make our towns more accessible, connected, and sustainable.

We thank former Carrboro Mayor Damon Seils for his assistance providing background information for this piece.

In the last municipal election cycle, we helped increase turnout by over 20 percent. We're all volunteers who care deeply about Chapel Hill and Carrboro, and we're working to make Chapel Hill and Carrboro more vibrant, accessible, fun, and sustainable.  Please consider a small donation to help us keep our digital lights on, host events, and hire students to do data deep-dives.

Melody Kramer is a Peabody-award winning journalist whose work has appeared on NPR and member stations around the country, as well as in publications ranging from National Geographic to Esquire Magazine....