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.”
On Oct. 15, city workers will start switching out the diminutive 18-gallon bins with rolling, blue 96-gallon "carts." Total cost to the city: $2.3 million, which the mayor claims will be made up in cost savings.
Crews will first begin switching out containers in southwest Atlanta before moving to Virginia-Highland, Morningside, Poncey-Highland and other communities in the northeast part of the city three weeks later. Grant Park residents and other southeast Atlanta neighborhoods should expect their carts to arrive shortly after Thanksgiving. Northwest Atlantans will receive their bins after Christmas and into the new year. Around one-third of Atlanta homeowners already have the large carts.
In a City Hall press conference this morning to kick off the effort and accompanying PR campaign, the mayor stressed the importance of recycling, which he says is part of his plan to make Atlanta a top ten sustainable city. In addition, says the mayor, recycling makes financial sense.
The official dedication for the new trail will be held on Monday, October 15 at 10 a.m. It will also be featured as part of the Art on the Atlanta BeltLine exhibit, which starts on the evening of September 8 with the Krewe of the Grateful Glutton’s Lantern Parade and ends on November 11. In addition, the trail will be part of the route for Atlanta Streets Alive on October 7.
During the month of September and beyond, crews will still be working on sections of the trail, including concrete, hand rails, retaining walls and slope containment. Art for the Art on the Atlanta BeltLine exhibit will also be installed in September. Landscaping will get started in mid-fall with the planting of new trees; there will be volunteer opportunities to work with Trees Atlanta to plant these new trees, which will be part of the Atlanta BeltLine Arboretum. Landscaping will continue into the spring with the planting of native species of flora.
You might have noticed people riding bikes and jogging along the trail. But Beltline officials are reminding folks that the trail is still an active construction site and the trail is not yet finished:
There are still sections of concrete that need to be poured or fixed, and some intersection improvements (specifically 10th and Monroe and Lake and Irwin) are still works in progress. While construction is active, anyone who uses the trail does so at their own risk.
"Georgia Power is using our money to pay for something we don't need, we don't want and is killing us," said Margie Resse as she handed out flyers outside the Fox Theatre. Southern Company, Georgia Power's parent company, had reserved the historic Midtown venue to screen a documentary that it commissioned about the utility's 100-year history for shareholders and executives.
The flyers claimed that Southern Company used "its notorious lobbying machine to push a $2 billion rate hike" onto Georgia ratepayers to build "two risky nuclear reactors on the Savannah River," which the groups say are months behind schedule and $900 million overbudget. The flyer urges ratepayers to refuse to pay a fee tacked on to utility bills that helps pay for the reactors' construction.
Southern Company Spokesman Steve Higginbottom, standing just inside the Fox Theatre's entrance and speaking barely above the protesters' chants, said that Southern Company supports the rights of protesters but disputes their claims.
The "$900 million" figure cited by protesters, he said, has been alleged by Westinghouse, the manufacturer of the reactor, and Shaw, the project's general contractor.
"That $900 million is alleged to Georgia Power and its co-owners. Four hundred million dollars of that is what they attribute to Georgia Power," Higginbottom said. "We do not believe that that amount is the responsibility of Georgia Power."
He adds that there are currently "no cost overruns" and that the company "believes that all targets are achievable." According to Higginbottom, the first reactor would come online in 2016, with the second switching on the following year. He says the units are among the "safest" in the world — "even safer than what we operate now."
But an independent monitor hired by the Public Service Commission, a quasi-judicial state agency that decides how much Georgians pay to turn on their lights and heat up their ovens, seems to think that the project could face financial and scheduling issues. The monitor, quoted in an AJC article published last week, warned that costs could go overbudget and the project could face delays of "as much as seven months or more."
The occasion: the premiere of "Big Bets," a rosy documentary commissioned by the utility giant about its 100-year history. Organizers will voice opposition to the construction of two new nuclear reactors at Plant Vogtle in eastern Georgia. According to a media advisory from the Sierra Club's Georgia Beyond Coal Campaign:
The demonstration will be used to highlight the large health and financial burden on consumers and communities created by Southern Company’s coal and nuclear “Bets” in Georgia. As the owner of the first new nuclear development in over 30 years, and the nation’s top 3 most polluting coal-fired power plants, Southern Company is wagering the livelihood of Georgia residents while obstructing smart-bets in clean-energy technology.
According to Georgia Women's Action for New Directions, which will also participate in the protest, will include "street theater, banner drops, drumming, chanting and distribution of literature aims to raise awareness of and pressure Southern Company to" stop building the new nuclear reactors.
We've searched high and low for a trailer of this riveting documentary, which is based on a book with the same name written by Southern Company communications staff. From a brief glance at the book — which, oddly enough, you can read here — it's a flattering take on the energy giant. If you know of one, send us a link.
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