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Friday, May 22, 2015

GDOT denies Palmetto Pipeline application, company likely to appeal

Posted By on Fri, May 22, 2015 at 1:19 PM

pipeline-palmetto.jpeg
  • Kinder Morgan
The Georgia Department of Transportation cut Kinder Morgan Inc.'s pipeline dreams short this week, putting a temporary halt to a project that has prompted pushback from environmentalists and some communities along the proposed Southeast Georgia route.

Kinder Morgan Inc., which bills itself as North America's largest energy infrastructure company, applied for a Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity in February. The certificate is required to move ahead with the construction of the firm’s 210-mile petroleum pipeline dubbed the “Palmetto Pipeline.” The proposal has been met with staunch opposition from some communities, environmentalists, and elected officials.

GDOT Commissioner Russell McMurry rejected Kinder Morgan's proposal to move ahead with the petroleum-pumping pipeline that would run through Southeast Georgia near the coast and into South Carolina. McMurry says Kinder Morgan had not proven its Palmetto Pipeline proposal to be a necessary or efficient. He added the company did not provide evidence of any inadequacy with the current system.

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Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Center for hard-to-recycle materials set to open, so c'mon already get rid of that old TV

Posted By on Wed, Apr 15, 2015 at 12:21 PM

Just in time for Earth Day, Atlanta’s first permanent drop-off facility for hard-to-recycle materials will launch on April 18.

The Center for Hard to Recycle Materials, or CHaRM, at 1110 Hill St. in Chosewood Park will take just about any material you can think of, and some you might not have guessed were recyclable. A far-from-complete list includes batteries, electronics, paint, tires, mattresses, Styrofoam, even old toilets and tennis shoes.

CHaRM is a program of Live Thrive Atlanta, a five-year-old nonprofit that has partnered with Atlanta City Council members on popular one-day hazardous material recycling events around town. In fact, CHaRM’s opening day will double as Councilwoman Carla Smith’s annual “EcoDepot” recycling event, formerly held at Turner Field.

“I’m thrilled we can properly dispose [of] our recyclable waste on our schedule instead of just once a year, which will provide more stable sustainability for Atlanta,” says Smith, who joined Councilman Alex Wan in sponsoring city backing for CHaRM.

The city isn’t funding the facility, but is offering the land for a dollar a year. Mayor Kasim Reed praised CHaRM in a written statement to Creative Loafing.

“As the City of Atlanta strives to become a more sustainable city, part of that charge includes increasing our residential recycling rates,” the mayor says. “The CHaRM center handles materials that cannot be recycled by traditional processers and is an excellent resource for residents and business. By diverting all recyclable materials from our landfills and promoting the reuse of durable goods, we are growing the local economy and protecting our environment for years to come.”

Many other cities have one or more CHaRM-like centers. Live Thrive board president Nicholas Niespodziani says the hope is the facility will multiply around Atlanta as people see its benefits.

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Friday, January 23, 2015

Soil conservation agency on state chopping block under Deal's budget

Posted By on Fri, Jan 23, 2015 at 11:04 AM

Stephanie Stuckey Benfield, a former state rep turned eco attorney at GreenLaw, says commissions work is vital to protecting waterways from major pollutant
  • Joeff Davis/CL File
  • Stephanie Stuckey Benfield, a former state rep turned eco attorney at GreenLaw, says commission's work is vital to protecting waterways from major pollutant
Of all the moves in Gov. Nathan Deal’s proposed budget for next year, one that environmentalists are watching closely is the proposed end of independence for a conservation agency that has recently tried to toughen rules on a dirty pollutant.

The Georgia Soil and Water Conservation Commission came from Dust Bowl-era efforts to help farmers keep their soil rich, and later, to keep water clean. Its officials also write the so-called “Green Book,” the erosion rules that developers across the state must follow if they’re going to start digging and moving dirt.

“It sounds wonky but it’s a big issue,” says state representative-turned-environmental attorney Stephanie Stuckey Benfield of GreenLaw. “I don’t think a lot of people realize that the number one pollutant in our waterways … is runoff … dirt from construction sites.”

One of the key tools to keeping dirt out of streams are silt fences: the orange or black fabric fences or booms that criss-cross construction sites to keep soil in place. The Green Book sets technical standards that products must meet to be legal in Georgia.

In 2010, funded by a federal grant, SWCC began what turned out to be a three-year process of research for updating the circa-2000 Green Book.

Some local SWCC supervisors in metro Atlanta looked forward to starting use of the new Green Book, the sixth edition, right about now. But something put the brakes on it.

The updated rules on silt fence standards in the sixth edition touched some nerves and began about a year of industry-led pushback. A bare quorum of the commission voted late last year to let the old book stand — and make the new book optional. It wasn't necessarily death for the sixth edition, but it was not the best outcome, in Benfield's opinion.

“If the sixth edition is followed, the technology that is being used on these sites is going to be best practices, it’s going to be the most protective of our waterways,” Benfield says. She wants the new book to become the sole standard.

Just weeks after the commission announced its sort-of non-decision, Deal's office released the governor's draft budget. The spending plan showed SWCC’s $2.6 million budget line cut down to zero and most of its staff, functions,and funding moved to the Georgia Department of Agriculture.

In case of that move, it's not clear how Green Book decisions would be made, or if there would still be a five-seat commission to make that decision in public as is done now. Or even what would happen to the sixth edition.

A request for comment to Gov. Deal’s office was not returned. The state agriculture department has yet to announce its opinion. The SWCC’s current executive director, Brent Dykes, said that he’s not going to voice an opinion on the proposal.

“It needs to go through the legislative process," Dykes says. "If that’s the will of the legislative body then it gets signed by the governor, that’s the way it works."

Last year, Deal’s budget started out with the same proposal to put SWCC under the agriculture department, but it did not survive the General Assembly's vetting.

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Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Atlantans will finally have a place to haul hard-to-recycle materials throughout the year

Posted By on Tue, Dec 2, 2014 at 1:55 PM

Rendering of the proposed CHaRM facility on Hill Street
  • Live Thrive Atlanta
  • Rendering of the proposed CHaRM facility on Hill Street
Where do used light bulbs, old tires, and expired medications go? In the trash? Your curbside-recycling bin? Do you wrestle with these questions? Don’t worry. A Center for Hard to Recycle Materials, or CHaRM, is coming to Chosewood Park.

CHaRM is an initiative by Live Thrive Atlanta, a nonprofit that aims to promote environmental sustainability through community service and civic engagement. For the past four years, LTA has held hazardous waste collections that gave community members an opportunity to drop off their hard to recycle items. These events have diverted more than 300,000 pounds of waste from landfills, according to LTA.

But what happens during the rest of the year when there’s no place to drop the waste? LTA officials saw a need and demand for an alternative.

“[A]fter seeing the response and understanding the cost of these [pop-up] events…to have a permanent facility only made good sense,” LTA Executive Director, Peggy Whitlow Ratcliffe says.

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Friday, November 7, 2014

Georgia: Corps' lake plan holds too much water

Posted By on Fri, Nov 7, 2014 at 5:44 PM

It's been more than two years since Georgia last litigated over Lake Allatoona water. But hallelujah, the drought ended Friday.

The state today told a federal court that it is going to be driven to build pricey reservoirs unless the judge makes the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers come up with a plan for more Atlanta-area use of Lake Allatoona water.

That’s according to a suit just filed in the U.S. District Court in Atlanta by the state, the Atlanta Regional Commission and the Cobb County-Marietta Water Authority.

“It's frustrating to find the Corps unwilling to do what it has committed to do in the adjoining Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint basin - namely addressing the issue of additional water supply need at the same time the water control manual is being updated,” said Gov. Nathan Deal in a press release from his office.

Georgia’s Etowah River fills the Corps-built Lake Allatoona before proceeding through the dam, into Alabama’s Coosa River, and on toward the Gulf of Mexico. The two states started their court battle over the water in 1990.

Today, some 915,000 Georgia customers use Allatoona water, according to Georgia’s lawsuit, including some people in Fulton.

The problem is, according to Georgia, that the CCMWA’s water quota is set by a contract with the Corps from 1963. The suit says the engineers were wrong in 2013 when they decided that Allatoona management would remain unchanged, despite Georgia’s requests for more water and a court demand that the Corps think about it.

“One of the key questions that we need to answer is how much water can we use from Lake Allatoona but still send enough water downstream,” said Joe Cook, advocacy and communications coordinator for the Coosa River Basin Initiative, a Rome-based nonprofit.

Indeed, the Corps has not answered that question, said Cook.

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Friday, October 3, 2014

Marvel moves magnolia trees for movie shoot; ex-arborist questions permits

Posted By on Fri, Oct 3, 2014 at 5:20 PM

Crews needed to move magnolias for shot of old Georgia Archives building, former city arborist Tom Coffin says
  • Tom Coffin
  • Crews needed to move magnolias for shot of old Georgia Archives building, former city arborist Tom Coffin says
A superhero-movie crew is in the process of moving eight magnolia trees from the front of the old Georgia Archives building to a back street. The city calls it part of a tree-saving good deal that includes cash for more plantings. But former city arborist Tom Coffin worries it’s an end-run around the tree ordinance process.

Marvel Studios is reportedly moving the trees so it can get a clear shot of the building for its movie “Ant-Man” (filming under the code name “Bigfoot”).

“It’s a very good day for trees in Atlanta,” says Melissa Mullinax, a senior advisor to Mayor Reed.

The city-owned trees along Capitol Avenue were doomed anyway by the state’s plan to demolish the cube-shaped archives building sometime in the next two years, Mullinax says, and it’s unlikely either government would have much money to replace them.

The city and state agreed to let Marvel move the trees - at its expense - to a safe spot along Fraser Street, and to pay for two years of maintenance. Marvel also will plant temporary replacements on Capitol Avenue - willow oaks in sunken planters that can be moved at will. In addition, Marvel will fork over $8,000 for new trees in Oakland Cemetery.

“The trees are being moved to save them,” Mullinax said. “Here’s the beauty of this - Marvel is paying for it all.”

It’s also being done without a Department of Parks and Recreation permit. In an email provided by Mullinax, Parks Commissioner Amy Phuong, while hashing out the deal, said that’s OK because “this request is atypical and does not need to follow our permitting process.” The main factor, Mullinax said, is that the trees are being moved, not cut down.

Coffin, formerly the city’s senior arborist, isn’t so sure. On Sept. 26, he filed an appeal at the Tree Conservation Commission. Despite that appeal still pending, Marvel’s contractor this week severed all the trees’ roots and started moving them on Friday.

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Wednesday, August 27, 2014

What's holding up the 'Green Book,' Georgia's technical manual to help builders keep waterways clean?

Posted By on Wed, Aug 27, 2014 at 9:18 AM

State Rep. David Knight, R-Griffin, wanted to repeal technical manual from law
Like a backhoe sunk in the mud, Georgia regulations on a key water pollutant are marred up in a months-long dispute that’s making nobody happy. What’s at issue is the so-called “Green Book,” the state’s technical manual for best practices in erosion control at building sites.

The Green Book sets policies that can prevent silt by the ton from invading and suffocating Georgia’s waterways. After four years of work and a federal grant to get the new edition approved in January, it took only six weeks for serious opposition to appear.

What might sound like a wonky dispute over two texts that few people but builders, regulators, and scientists will read has real world impacts. The books set policy on multiple issues, including what products builders should be required to use to prevent construction site runoff, that have big effects on Georgia waterways.

“Every staff [in Fulton and its cities] I’ve talked to was puzzled and disappointed that the sixth edition is being held up,” said Alan Toney, the elected chair of the Fulton County Soil and Water Conservation District, the body in charge of helping local governments, builders and citizens understand and implement soil and erosion laws. “Nobody seems to understand why, but we think it’s political.”

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Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Green battle lines formed at Atlanta EPA hearing

Posted By on Wed, Jul 30, 2014 at 3:21 PM

Elisabeth MacNamara, president of the League of Women Voters, says 50,000 of the Leagues members and supporters have asked the EPA to limit carbon dioxide emissions from power plants.
  • Maggie Lee
  • Elisabeth MacNamara, president of the League of Women Voters, says 50,000 of the League's members and supporters have asked the EPA to limit carbon dioxide emissions from power plants.
If success in setting federal air pollution policy were measured by comfortable walking shoes on the ground in Downtown, matching T-shirts, and folks giving away donuts and Ben & Jerry’s ice cream, Tuesday would be considered a big success for those who want to see carbon dioxide limits on existing power plants.

Unseasonably pleasant weather greeted ralliers from all over the Deep South in Centennial Olympic Park, just under the windows of the Omni Hotel, where the federal Environmental Protection Agency was inside holding regional hearings on mandating lower carbon dioxide intensity from power generation nationwide.

"Georgia can build on the success we’ve already had ramping up solar power and bringing in clean, low-cost wind to create jobs, lower power prices and clean up our air," said Mary Anne Hitt, national director of the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign. The West Virginia resident traveled to Atlanta for the hearing and the club was a prime mover in organizing green turnout.

The EPA wants all the states to cut how much carbon dioxide is emitted per megawatt-hour of electricity produced. Georgia’s intensity was 1,500 tons per MWh in 2012, according to the EPA’s math. Federal officials want the number down to 834 by 2030.

Georgia Power, the state’s biggest electric utility, and the place where 2.4 million Georgians get their power, says that’s too much.

“The guidelines penalize Georgia for taking early action in constructing new nuclear,” said Ron Shipman, vice president of environmental affairs at Georgia Power.
Georgia Power is doubling capacity at its nuclear Plant Vogtle on the Savannah River near Augusta. That project, plus a handful of others started by other utilities over the past few years, has helped break a generation-long drought of new nuclear construction.

Given that step it’s already made away from carbon dioxide Georgia Power thinks going all the way down to 834 is an oversized burden.

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Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Bright lights, big questions

Posted By on Tue, Jul 1, 2014 at 11:52 AM

On Beckwith Street in the Atlanta University Center, students can see the difference between LED lights and high-pressure sodium-vapor streetlights
  • Thomas Wheatley
  • On Beckwith Street in the Atlanta University Center, students can see the difference between LED lights (left) and high-pressure sodium-vapor streetlights (right)
Some Atlanta streets will be brighter thanks to a funding award from the state. CL reader Daniel Bryant writes in a guest op-ed that he has concerns about brightness and accountability. He also wonders why Atlanta is opting for one technology over another.

Most people don't notice things like street lighting. The burnt-orange glow that illuminates Atlanta at night is just another part of our landscape and neither here-nor-there. It just is. But thanks to a $1 million loan, Atlanta's nighttime glow will now be white with new energy-saving streetlights.

The loan from the state's Transportation Infrastructure Bank will fund the conversion of 10 percent of Atlanta's streetlights. And while it sounds like a no-brainer - who doesn't want to save energy and brighten up the city? - is it the right move?

For some longtime Atlanta residents, this is a familiar story. Only 25 years ago, the city converted its white mercury-vapor streetlights to the current orange high-pressure sodium-vapor, or HPS, streetlights. According to a 1988 Atlanta Constitution article about the city's streetlight program, residents were told that the reason for the change was to save energy and to "cut through the fog" that sometimes blankets the city.

The energy savings talk was short-lived. Officials decided that instead of replacing the old 400-watt lights with equally bright 250-watt lights, they would instead replace them with 400-watt HPS lights, which were two-and-a-half times brighter than the old lights - the rationale being that brighter lights reduce crime. Taxpayers got brighter lights but no energy savings.

Now that Atlanta begins another round of streetlight conversion, we can finally return to the moonlit nights of the past and get rid of the orange nightmare foisted on us as "energy savings" 25 years ago.

Unfortunately, the city appears to be on track to make the same mistakes it did back then. The city has, without much fanfare, converted most of the lights on Joseph Lowery Boulevard and Beckwith Street near the Atlanta University Center to LED, or Light-Emitting Diode, lights.

If you haven't seen them yet, you should. They are bright. Jail-yard bright. And while bright lights may help spot escaping inmates at the penitentiary, a study conducted by the University of Southampton concluded that "no evidence could be found to support the hypothesis that improved street lighting reduces reported crime."

The city has not released documentation on its website concerning the conversion, the reason brighter lights were chosen, or the reason LED lights were chosen over induction technology, which the U.S. Department of Energy called "one of the best kept secrets in energy-efficient lighting."

Induction lighting, invented by Nikola Telsa, is a lesser-known alternative to LED lighting that uses an electromagnet rather than electrodes to create light. While it is as energy efficient as LED lighting, it emits less glare, and is less expensive. You may have seen these lights in Arizona, California, and New Jersey, where they have been widely installed.

Many cities across the country - Los Angeles, most notably - have already converted to LED or induction lights. The California city's Bureau of Street Lighting tested dozens of lights, asked for public input, and over a period of five years, converted all of its lights to LED fixtures, which cost 63 percent less to operate than HPS fixtures. The lights also drastically reduced light pollution.

Other cities have taken the "top down" approach Atlanta seems to be taking, such as Arlington, Virginia, which has been flooded with complaints over brightness of the LED lights it installed in 2012. Los Angeles, by comparison, has had relatively few complaints.

The city's Department of Public Works, which is leading the conversion process, has not yet identified what streets or areas will receive the investment. So it's too early to say whether the fixtures on the interstate, which have been dark for more than a year now, will get switched out. Of if Atlanta's lower income neighborhoods, some of which don't have adequate lighting, will receive the new technology. Part of the loan will pay for hiring a consultant to identify what areas should be targeted. The rest will fund the first phase of the conversion project.

Let's hope the public gets a chance to weigh on where that investment should be targeted - and what technology they'd want the city to use. If the city wants to get this right, it's going to take diligence and public involvement. If we don't this time, we might be stuck with patchy and inefficient lighting for another 25 years.

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Friday, June 20, 2014

Effort continues to turn fenced-off Atlanta Waterworks into Westside greenspace gem

Posted By on Fri, Jun 20, 2014 at 12:30 PM

What could be
  • Friends of Atlanta Waterworks
  • What could be
Imagine jogging alongside a small lake, safe from the speeding traffic on Howell Mill Road but with a full view of the city skyline. Picnickers lunch on the grass beside you. You pass a boathouse.

This is what the Atlanta Waterworks reservoir on the Westside used to look like. And for the past several months, a group of community members has been trying to bring it back. But first they'll have to convince city officials to remove the fence circling the property and open the path circling the reservoir - plus add the amenities that parkgoers want.

Will Jungman, the president of the Berkeley Park Neighborhood Association, one of the community groups pushing the proposal, notes that in the 1890s the reservoir was "originally conceived to both be a water structure site and a green space for residents to use." Cross-country runners raced and bicyclists pedaled around the water.

The area was closed to the public right before the 1996 Olympics out of safety concerns and never reopened. But in recent years residents and others have broached the idea. They have even found support among some Atlanta City Councilmembers, including Yolanda Adrean.

"For all these Atlanta residents who live on the west side of Atlanta, there really is not a lot of big park space," Jungman said. "We really think that this space could be that premier greenspace."

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