Atlanta City Councilwoman Yolanda Adrean is hoping to reopen the park that's adjacent to Howell Mill Road and 17th Street. She says residents from Berkeley Park and other northwest Atlanta communities have complained to her about the lack of access to nearby parks, which has sparked some grassroots efforts that have called upon the city to restore the grassy knolls surrounding one of its water reservoirs.
Like the city's Fort Peachtree facility, another proposed park in northwest Atlanta that could be reopened next year, the move would likely require Council's approval along with a memorandum of understanding that transfers management responsibilities from the Department of Watershed Management to the city's parks department. The greenspace, Adrean says, also runs adjacent to the Atlanta Beltline's northwest portion. Because of that, she wants to convert the area into a "passive space that people can be used for picnics."
Department of Parks and Recreation Commissioner George Dusenbury confirmed that conversations between officials from the Beltline, DWM, and his department have taken place. He thinks something could happen "sooner rather than later," but noted that few details have been agreed upon so far. Much of that has to do with some facility repairs and security risks, namely the possible water contamination of the city's water supply.
"Mayor Reed is very committed to expanding park accessibility, he says. "[But] we don't know what the reopening of Waterworks will look like. ... There's higher sense of vulnerability. Waterworks literally backs up on some of ponds that holds our drinking water."
Adrean thinks a proposal to reopen Waterworks could happen next January or February. DWM Commissioner Jo Ann Macrina notes, however, that plans are in the early stages.
"We have barely even touched on that topic," Macrina says. "We have started thinking about a concept plan on that but we don't have much on that right now."
NOTE: A small edit was made to this story that clarified Macrina's comments.
Atlanta City Councilwoman Yolanda Adrean has proposed a new measure, which earlier today passed in council's utilities committee, that would open the Fort Peachtree facility to the public. The land has historical ties to the early 19th century military fort, which was built in 1814 following the War of 1812, and next year will mark its 200th birthday.
If passed, the city's parks department would operate and manage the facility that's currently owned by the Department of Watershed Management. DWM Commissioner Jo Ann Macrina tells CL the site's renovations could cost around $500,000 and would mostly be paid from her department's budget with possible help from community groups and historical societies.
The facility, which Macrina thinks has remained closed as far back as the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, would have a passive use - no fields, playgrounds, or courts - and remain open from dawn to dusk.
"This is an area of town that doesn't have access to parks," Department of Parks and Recreation Commissioner George Dusenbury tells CL. "Having a park within a half mile of residents [will] continue Mayor Reed's push for [greenspace] access."
Potential upgrades would include fixing a run-down stone pavilion; repairing a damaged diorama of the original Fort Peachtree; restoring historical markers that recognize the Creek and Cherokee nations; and laying down a half-mile trail that would run parallel along Peachtree Creek. In addition, the park would provide kayakers and canoers with access to the Chattahoochee River.
The DWM still has water intake facilities on part of the site. That's caused DWM officials to have some concerns about potential risks for water contamination. Macrina says surveillance cameras and fences would need to be installed around the facility to give U.S. Department of Homeland Security some peace of mind. "This is a highest-level site," she says.
Adrean's proposal will now head to full Council for a vote. If all goes according to plan, Macrina hopes the Fort Peachtree facility will open in the first half of 2014.
A recent sewage spill at a northwest Atlanta residential complex has polluted Tanyard Creek, a tributary of the Chattahoochee River that runs near a segment of the Atlanta Beltline.
Raw sewage filtered into Tanyard Creek last week after a lift station at the adjacent residential complex shut down. Chattahoochee Riverkeeper executive director Sally Bethea tells CL that Georgia Power shut off the facility's electricity due to unpaid bills. That decision unintentionally caused the development's waste to flow into the creek instead of the city's sewers.
Riverkeeper Watershed Protection Specialist Mike Meyer says that nearly 10,000 gallons of sewage polluted the Collier Hills waterway. He discovered the spill after being contacted by a Neighborhood Water Watch Program volunteer who collected an irregular test sample that showed extremely high e. coli levels.
Once Meyer tracked down the sewage source up the creek channel, he encountered a "putrid" smell, "gray and nasty" waters, and "groups of 30 to 40" dead fish along the waterway's banks.
"There were no live fish," he says. "It'll take a while for the ecosystem to rebound ... the smell is still there and it will take a while before it can be habituated again."
DWM spokeswoman Cameo Garrett confirmed the spill's location, but says the department played a minimal role because the incident took place on private property. "The Department of Watershed Management located the spill source and contacted Georgia Power to have the electricity restored," she tells CL in an email. "In the interest of public health, we posted spill signs near the creek.
According to a Riverkeeper statement, recent bacteria levels were nearly three times higher than normal, but they have substantially dropped since the spill first occurred. Nevertheless, the environmental organization plans to keep close watch over Tanyard Creek in the coming weeks.
We've sent a line to the Georgia Environmental Protection Division, the agency which DWM says is ultimately responsible for enforcement against the complex. If we hear back, we'll post an update.
The White House has released some state-by-state fact sheets about the potential impacts of climate change. What does the Obama administration think we'll see in the Southeast and in Georgia, where federal officials say nearly one-third of the state's coastline is vulnerable to sea level rise? From the Peach State fact sheet, which we nagged thanks to WSB's Jamie Dupree:
Sea level rise, dangerous storm surges and intense hurricanes already pose serious threats to coastal cities in the Southeast, and climate change will intensify these impacts. The Southeast experienced two billion-dollar extreme weather events in 2012. Decreased water availability is very likely to affect the region's economy as well as its natural systems. By the end of this century, much of the Southeast will experience more than 100 days above 90°F, which in the absence of adaptive actions is expected to lead to more heat-stress related illness and deaths, decreased agricultural production, and negative impacts on fish and wildlife. Warmer temperatures accelerate formation of smog in urban areas, exacerbating respiratory problems such as asthma.
On the bright side: maybe this will help the Downtown Connector become a river.
You can read the full memo here. Bring it, skeptics!
On Friday, Mayor Kasim Reed, officials from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and local eco-groups are expected to announce that Proctor Creek will be included in an expansion of the Urban Waters Federal Partnership.
The program aims to "revitalize urban waters and the communities that surround them, transforming overlooked assets into treasured centerpieces and drivers of urban revival." The partnership would bring together multiple federal agencies and their know-how to address various problems, find ways to improve the stream, and revitalize the surrounding areas.
"Projects under the partnership will address a wide range of issues such as improving water quality, restoring ecosystems and enhancing public access to Proctor Creek," the city said in a press release. "Creating a sustainable creekside community in the city will reconnect citizens to open spaces, and have a positive economic impact on local businesses, tourism and property values, as well as spur private investment and job creation in downtown Atlanta."
Proctor Creek could definitely use the help. According to Chattahoochee Riverkeeper Sally Bethea, the stream, in addition to being beautiful in some parts, is "possibly one of the most stressed and polluted tributaries to the Chattahoochee in the Atlanta area." Some sections are marked by illegally dumped tires, high bacteria levels, flooding, and water pollution. Nearby neighborhoods could use a boost.
City, federal officials, nonprofits, and private sector have focused a lot of attention on the creek and surrounding area over the last two years. The EPA has awarded grants to environmental groups such as the Chattahoochee Riverkeeper, the River Network, the West Atlanta Watershed Alliance for clean-ups and water-quality monitoring.
One of the projects under consideration involves something we first reported in December 2011 - buffered greenspace, cleaner water, and possibly a bike trail linking the city and nearby neighborhoods to the river. The linear park could possibly connect with the Atlanta Beltline near Bellwood Quarry and give the long-overlooked part of the city a new amenity, identity, and link to downtown. You can see the project's potential in a Georgia Conservancy study of NPU-G, which encompasses the area.
In addition, Alpharetta-based real-estate firm Emerald Corridor LLC, which owns properties in the Proctor Creek area, recently pitched the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers the idea of creating a "mitigation bank" program along the stream. Such programs usually involve developers paying to restore a wetland in one area to offset the damage of a nearby ecosystem. Judging by our calculations, the public comment period on Emerald Corridor's application is nearing its deadline. Expect more information soon.
Lots of questions remain, some of which might be answered at Friday's presser. For one thing, it's unclear how or when the partnership will take shape. Or exactly what projects would be involved (we asked the EPA for more details and will update once we hear back). Or how the various initiatives, which could stretch out over many years, would be funded. Stay tuned.
NOTE: This post has been altered to correct an error about environmental remediation at Maddox Park. The EPA Brownfields program has agreed to provide the city with technical assistance to expand the use of Maddox Park.
In addition, the South River Watershed Alliance is protesting the city's effort to convince the state to remove the performance requirements from the permit.
The National Pollution Discharge Elimination System permit issued by the Georgia Environmental Protection Division requires Atlanta's combined sewer overflow, or CSO, systems to filter a certain amount of waste before discharging water back into rivers.
Based on late 2011 watershed department reports that the environmental group obtained from the EPD, SRWA President Jackie Echols said, "You can see very clearly that they are missing the mark."
Georgia has become a battleground in the fight against nuclear power in the United States. Last year, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, a federal agency that regulates nuclear power plants, approved Atlanta-based Southern Company's plan to construct new reactors near Augusta at Plant Vogtle. The two proposed reactors, located 175 miles from Atlanta, are the first new power plants to be constructed in the country in 30 years. The last reactors to get the green light were approved shortly before the partial meltdown at Three Mile Island in 1978.
The latest news on the construction is that cost overruns that Georgia Power denied to CL last summer are now a reality. The Associated Press reported in late February that Southern Company is asking regulators to raise its budget by $737 million, bringing the total cost to $6.85 billion. Utility executives have also acknowledged that they will finish construction more than one year later than they anticipated.
The overruns will likely be paid for by Georgia Power ratepayers because of a law approved in 2009 by the Georgia General Assembly that allows the utility to charge customers to help pay for the reactors' financing costs before the units are constructed (on online bills, the charge appears as a "Nuclear Construction Cost Recovery Fee"). The fee appears on Georgia Power ratepayers' monthly bills - currently it's $5.11 for the average customer, a utility spokesman says - and increases each year. Only when the reactors start producing power - whenever that is - will the fee go away.
"If the Public Service Commission rules that the overruns are prudent, and they almost always side with Georgia Power, then they will be allowed to pass the overruns onto customers," said Courtney Hanson of the Stop Plant Vogtle campaign, who helped organize yesterday's protest. "By legislation, Georgia Power is guaranteed an 11.15 percent return on their investment, so all the financial risks are on Georgia Power customers."
So look for your Georgia Power bill to steadily increase to pay for the reactors and overruns. Unless, of course, opponents are able to stop the new reactors' construction, which Hanson thinks is not too late to do.
The dispute over Georgia's northern boundary dates back to 1818, when state surveyors inaccurately determined that the border was 1.1 miles south of where it should actually be located on the 35th Parallel. The disputed area might seem inconsequential, but many state lawmakers over the years have argued that the error has robbed Georgia of a water resource.
Similar plans, which have failed in the past, most recently in 2008, have been criticized as a quick fix to the state's water needs. Now, a bipartisan group of the lower chamber's top lawmakers - including Reps. Jan Jones, Stacey Abrams, and Edward Lindsey - are revisiting the idea and have co-sponsored House Resolution 4.
When House Majority Whip Lindsey, R-Buckhead, spoke to CL last month as part of our legislative preview, he stressed the importance of finding long-term solutions to this issue.
"The fact of the matter is we're still very much a growing region that deals with an inadequate water source," says Lindsey.
Although HR 4 resembles past plans that weren't taken seriously by Tennessean lawmakers, Lindsey says that Georgia should work toward a "win-win" agreement with its northern neighbor.
"Let's go beyond invading Tennessee for the water, the fact of the matter is for reaching out for greater water sources, we need to be thinking outside the box on that level," he says. "What Tennessee needs, which our area has, is economic development. What they have, which we need, is a water source from the Tennessee [River]. They have more than enough water than they'll ever really need."
As part of the resolution, Georgia would agree to accept the flawed boundary as the legal border, provided that:
You don't hear much about the Georgia Public Service Commission. That's a shame.
The five-member, quasi-judicial state agency regulates Georgia's utilities and decides how much you pay to turn on your lights and heat up your stove. It's a full-time job (or is supposed to be) and pays a six-figure salary.
And this year voters will decide whether Chuck Eaton and Stan Wise, two incumbent Republican commissioners, stay in office or get sent home.
Steve Oppenheimer, the Democratic candidate vying to unseat Eaton, is the first candidate in the General Election that we've seen who's released a TV ad.
The campaign says it's made targeted media buys throughout middle and south Georgia — as well as in Athens and metro Atlanta, where Eaton and Oppenheimer live.
Georgia Power says it's getting serious about solar power, a source of clean energy that for years it's called too expensive and risky. (I'll never forget a meeting when one executive told a state committee meeting solar would never work in Georgia because of humidity.)
The utility today told the Georgia Public Service Commission, the state agency that decides how much we pay to turn on our lights and heat up our ovens, that it plans to purchase 210 megawatts of additional solar power over three years.
Georgia Power says that, should the PSC approve the plan — and if the commission didn't, it'd be the most beautiful act of political theater we've seen in a while — the effort would "create the largest voluntarily developed solar portfolio from an investor-owned utility."
Solar energy advocates who have urged the subsidiary of Southern Company for years to boost its portfolio with the clean energy applauded the decision as a good "first step."
“We are glad to see Georgia Power recognize solar as a viable, cost-effective method of delivering electricity to its customers,” Georgia Solar Energy Association Executive Director Jessica Moore said in a statement. "This is a good first step toward increasing Georgia’s solar infrastructure. Solar creates jobs, keeps rising energy rates in check and makes Georgia more self-sufficient when it comes to meeting our energy needs.”
Don't look for Georgia Power to build its own solar farms or install panels on top of downtown's skyscrapers; it plans to contract a mix of small, medium, and large solar projects, which could even mean homes. It will spend the next three years setting up contracts, some of which could be signed as soon as the first quarter of 2013.
Why the (welcome) change of heart? Well, Georgia Power, which for years has scoffed at the idea of a mandated renewable-energy portfolio, now says the price of solar is now competitive. It probably helps that more and more people are realizing the folly of burning coal to power our lives.
Kristi Swartz has a solid round-up of the announcement, and notes that even with the additional 210 megawatts, solar energy would make up about 2 percent of the utility's output. She includes this cutting tidbit:
Kim Kooles, a policy analyst with the Raleigh-based North Carolina Solar Center and the Database of State Incentives for Renewable Energy, noted that Georgia will remain among states without a mandated percentage of power from renewables. The state also should loosen its restrictions on how homeowners and businesses install and use solar panels, she said.
“If it’s not doing those ... things, I wouldn’t say it’s ’cutting edge,’” Kooles said. “I say it’s great for Georgia, but it’s not a game changer.”
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