Lees Lane Site Could Soon Be Ready For Redevelopment Wednesday, May 4 2016 

As tests continue to show diminishing environmental risks at the former Lees Lane Landfill in Southwest Louisville, city and state officials are beginning to discuss redevelopment of the former Superfund site. One possibility is a solar energy field.

For 35 years, the landfill took in everything from household trash to toxic chemicals. It was closed in 1975, and in 1983, it was added to the National Priority List of federal Superfund sites. Lees Lane was remediated and removed from the list in 1996, but since then, monitoring has continued. There are still toxic gases venting from the landfill, and nearby residents have had concerns about health and safety.

The Environmental Protection Agency and the state Department for Environmental Protection will continue to monitor the site. But after the most recent round of tests didn’t show that landfill gases are infiltrating nearby homes, EPA project manager Donna Seadler said the site could be ready for redevelopment in the near future.

The most recent round of testing of indoor air quality was in response to previous tests that showed seven homes near the landfill had potentially dangerous levels of toxic gases in crawlspaces. But the gases found—like 1,3 butadiene—could have come from the landfill, or a number of other sources like cigarette smoking or vehicle exhaust.

Seadler said the EPA tested indoor air quality at eight of the homes closest to the landfill, as well as testing the soil gas outdoors. She said if the gases inside the home were migrating from the landfill, they would be in a higher concentration in the soils than in the indoor air.

“At the Lee’s Lane area, that was just not the case,” Seadler said. “So we were able to determine whatever concentrations we were getting in the homes were not due to landfill exposures.”

Now, Seadler said there’s a minimal amount of sampling that still needs to be done, but the 112-acre site could soon be suitable for certain types of development. State and Metro Government officials have been meeting to discuss the subject, and in a statement, Develop Louisville spokeswoman Jessica Wethington said one possibility that’s being considered is solar energy.

“Louisville Metro Government representatives recently attended a meeting convened by the Kentucky Energy and Environment Cabinet to discuss the potential to redevelop the Lees Lane Landfill for solar energy generation or other uses. The idea is in the very early stage, and it is still not clear that the site can be developed for solar energy generation or other issues. However, we are optimistic about this concept and will continue to participate with the Cabinet and other stakeholders in exploring its potential.”

From Seadler’s perspective, she said the EPA would like to see some sort of development at Lees Lane, as long as it didn’t damage the clay cap that covers part of the site. Right now, there are numerous trespassers who enter the former landfill, and ATV riders often damage the cap.

“It does look like it could be acceptable for industrial or recreational use at the site,” Seadler said. “But it does need to be reused in some sort of way because it’s so difficult to maintain, and it would be less attractive to ATV riders if it had some other use.”

Seadler said even replanting the Lees Lane Landfill as a pollinator haven—similar to what the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is doing at the McAlpine Locks and Dam—would serve a purpose and save lots of money in mowing costs.

Kentucky’s Coal Employment Dips To Lowest Recorded Level Since 1898 Monday, May 2 2016 

Kentucky’s coal industry continued its freefall in the first quarter of this year, according to data released Monday by the state Energy and Environment Cabinet.

Coal production fell nearly 13 percent across the state in the first three months of 2016. Only about 11 million tons of coal was mined, making this the lowest statewide rate since 1939.

As has been the trend, Eastern Kentucky’s coalfields took a larger hit than Western Kentucky. Eastern Kentucky coal production declined more than 21 percent in the first three months of this year alone. The last time coal production was lower in the region was 1917. The bulk of the job losses came in Eastern Kentucky too, with more than a thousand jobs lost this quarter. Statewide, about 6,900 coal miners are employed: the lowest level recorded since 1898.

Kentucky Energy and Environment Cabinet Assistant Director Aron Patrick said it’s likely that Kentucky coal production and employment will continue to drop—at least for the next two years or so.

“Currently we are supplying coal to power plants that are scheduled to close before 2018,” Patrick said. “So in the near-term, i.e., 2016 through 2017, there likely will be continued declines. But 2018 and beyond, there probably will be some sort of stabilization.”

An analysis released last week by the federal Energy Information Administration found that coal demand dropped in all but two states from 2007 to 2015. Some of the biggest drops were in the Southeast, where power plants have historically been major consumers of Kentucky coal. In 2015, coal consumption in Georgia, North Carolina, Mississippi and Alabama was half of what it was in 2007.

Kentucky’s neighbors, Ohio and Tennessee, also saw big drops in coal consumption over that time period—49 percent and 45 percent, respectively. And even Kentucky power plants used 16 percent less coal in 2015 than they did in 2007.

Patrick said a lot of that is due to a declining demand for electricity throughout the country.

“Electricity demand is not declining because of any kind of economic stagnation,” he said. “Electricity demand is declining as a result of higher electricity prices, and most importantly, energy efficiency. We have energy efficiency now in our homes and in our businesses in ways we’ve never had it before, everything from LED lighting to advanced appliances. And right now, we’re simply not using electricity as intensively as we have in the past.”

In a statement, Energy and Environment Cabinet Secretary Charles Snavely, a former coal executive, cited market forces and federal regulations for the continued downward trend.

“It is important that we do everything we can to help regional economies that are struggling because of that,” Snavely said. “Coal remains important to Kentucky.  About 85 percent of the state’s electricity is generated by coal and last year the Commonwealth was able to offer manufacturers the fourth lowest industrial electricity prices in the U.S., which translates into jobs for Kentuckians.”

Kentucky’s Sustainable Landscapes Can Seek Certification Under New Program Monday, May 2 2016 

Officials with the U.S. Green Building Council are hoping to certify several new sites in Kentucky in the coming months. But rather than bestow the organization’s well-known LEED rating system for green buildings, they’re recruiting spaces for a new, landscape-focused rating called Sustainable SITES.

When a building is seeking LEED certification, the USGBC assigns points for various sustainable design elements like having bicycle racks or green roofs.

But “SITES goes beyond LEED and looks at how to create sustainable, resilient, regenerative landscapes, places and spaces,” said Jamie Statter, USGBC’s vice president for strategic relationships. “While LEED looks at a green building, SITES looks at a green landscape.”

Statter was in Louisville last week to hold a workshop for professionals and property owners interested in learning how to incorporate SITES certification into projects.

Like LEED, the program uses a rubric to assign points, and the points translate to whether a project achieves certification, silver, gold or platinum ratings. Reducing the urban heat island effect can result in four points, for example. Protecting air quality during construction can award another four points. Other categories include managing water use and runoff, using sustainable materials and connecting to pedestrian and bicycle networks.

But unlike with LEED, SITES requires that planning begin pre-construction. So there’s no way to take a place that hasn’t been designed with the concept in mind and retroactively apply for certification.

Statter said just like with LEED, SITES provides a check when places use terms like “sustainability” to advertise.

“All the time, people hear these terms thrown around willy-nilly,” she said. “And without metrics and rigor, and in the case of GBCI and USGBC, third-party verification, we don’t know that things are performing as they should be performing or are designed as they should be designed.”

So far, there are no SITES-certified sites in Kentucky, but Statter said the goal is to have five to 10 register to begin the certification process in the coming months.

Learn More About Louisville’s Urban Heat Island Monday, May 2 2016 

long-awaited study on Louisville’s growing urban heat island was released last week, and now it’s open for public comment.

For those who want to know more about heat islands, or what they can do about them, a symposium next week will provide information.

“Urban heat island” refers to the temperature disparity between a city’s urban core and outlying rural areas. Factors like a lack of canopy trees and a surplus of dark, paved surfaces exacerbate the effect.

The symposium May 13 at Jefferson Community and Technical College is sponsored by the Partnership for a Green City, which is a collaboration between Metro government, Jefferson County Public Schools, the University of Louisville and JCTC. Partnership director Brent Fryrear said it’s open to anyone who wants to learn more about the urban heat island, including its effect on community health and possible solutions.

The conversation is especially relevant now, Fryrear said, in the wake of Georgia Tech professor Brian Stone’s comprehensive assessment of the scope of Louisville’s problem. The study lays out the exact number of new trees or cooler roofs that are needed in each of the city’s neighborhoods, and a lot of those changes will require individual citizens to be informed and on board.

“A lot of people think they can’t do anything because their little bit isn’t going to help,” Fryrear said. “One of my last slides in a new employee orientation program says ‘it’s the greatest of all mistakes to think you can do nothing because you can only do a little. Do what you can to help.’”

Symposium admission is $20 and includes lunch, but Fryrear said scholarships will be available for those who can’t afford to pay. The symposium is May 13 from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Here’s a link to register.

With Louisville’s New Climate Commitment, Shadows Of An Old Promise Thursday, Apr 28 2016 

Last week, to commemorate Earth Day, Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer stood in front of the Crescent Hill Library and ceremoniously signed a document committing the city to track and cut its greenhouse gas emissions. The Compact of Mayors, as it’s known, is a global group of nearly 500 city leaders who are pledging to inventory their communities’ emissions and prepare for the effects of climate change.

But for many of Louisville’s longtime climate activists, the sense was “been there, done that.” This isn’t the first time Fischer has signed an agreement to cut the city’s emissions, and they say the previous document has been largely ignored — a charge a top Fischer administration official brushed off.

Louisville already has a document taking inventory of its greenhouse gas emissions and laying out recommendations to reduce them. It was prompted by another pledge: the U.S. Mayor’s Climate Protection Agreement, which was signed by former Mayor Jerry Abramson in 2005. With his signature, Abramson committed the city to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions to 7 percent below 1990 levels by 2012.

There is no data available to suggest the city has met that goal — or even attempted to measure its progress.

In 2009, the Partnership for a Green City published the Climate Action Report. Representatives of the University of Louisville, city industries, Metro government, Jefferson County Public Schools and others worked for more than two years to prepare the report. It included a comprehensive greenhouse gas inventory that outlined where the city’s emissions were coming from — largely the transportation and residential sectors — and 175 recommendations to implement reductions.

On his second day in office — Jan. 4, 2011 — Fischer ceremoniously renewed the city’s commitment to the Climate Protection Agreement that Abramson signed six years earlier. But little has been done to live up to that agreement.

Sarah Lynn Cunningham of the Louisville Climate Action Network advised on the original report.

“Mayor Fischer did readopt the same agreement … which we applauded,” she said. “But he has not done the follow-through that’s necessary to ensure that we met the goal, much less that we can document that we met it. So, it feels to me like we’re starting over.”

As far as Cunningham or former Air Pollution Control Director Art Williams know, the greenhouse gas inventory created in 2008 has never been acted upon. Cunningham said at this point, the document is dated and a new inventory is necessary.

Williams said he hasn’t seen much interest in bringing the 175 recommendations that were part of the report to fruition during the Fischer administration.

“I’m not hopeful that there’s been any change, any new commitment developed currently,” Williams said. “Since I haven’t seen it for several years on pursuing meaningfully any of the significant important recommendations that came out of the first, very well-done study, I’m doubtful, unfortunately, that there’s been any change of heart in taking serious steps on climate change locally.”

Partnership for a Green City Director Brent Fryrear said he wasn’t sure if Louisville had met the goal laid out in the 2005 agreement — to cut greenhouse gas 7 percent from 1990 levels by 2012. But he said steps have been taken on 140 of the Climate Action Report’s 175 recommendations, though the last update in 2014 shows just eight have been completed — like the suggestion that Metro government hire an urban forester.

“We have been working on it constantly and showing progress in a lot of the different areas,” Fryrear said. “Mayor Fischer’s commitment [to the Compact of Mayors] further solidifies the city’s desire and commitment to go forward. It’s sustainability, but it’s also in coexistence with economic development.”

Metro Sustainability Director Maria Koetter underscored the significance of the new agreement, dismissing the 2009 document as “just a report” and not a plan.

“Everybody that signs onto the compact is going to be using the same methodology do their calculations,” Koetter said. “That’s really important, to distinguish that all the cities that have signed on will be using the same protocol and methodology that will be verified and published through the same clearinghouse, so we’re all apples to apples.”

Koetter was hired by the city in 2012 and said its commitment to the U.S. Conference of Mayors happened before her tenure.

“I really can’t speak to all that,” she said. “But I’m excited to be able to take this step, and I think the city should be really proud to move forward.”

Fischer himself touted the sustainability efforts he’s made during his time as mayor in an Op-Ed in the Courier-Journal earlier this week. These include creating the Sustain Louisville plan in 2013 and the recent unveiling of both the Move Louisville plan and the Urban Heat Island assessment. 

Fischer’s budget for the next fiscal year will include funding to comply with the compact, Koetter said. The cost is expected to be $300,000 over the next three years.

But the previous greenhouse gas inventory was paid for by the city, too.

Cunningham said it’s a shame that more hasn’t been done with the Climate Action Report. And, she said, asking for volunteer participation in these projects and then not bringing them to fruition is breeding cynicism.

“Frankly, I have given up waiting for the government to follow up on those recommendations,” she said.

That’s why early next year, Cunningham and the Louisville Climate Action Network plan to open a learning center to offer educational programming for homeowners, business owners and renters interested in reducing their greenhouse gas emissions and energy bills. She said it would be called the “Center for Cutting Carbon and Cost.”

Schools Receive Grants For Urban Heat Island Mitigation Projects Tuesday, Apr 26 2016 

Three Louisville schools will receive grants for urban heat island mitigation projects.

Mayor Greg Fischer and Jefferson County Public Schools Chief Operations Officer Mike Raisor on Wednesday will present Ballard and Assumption high schools and Farnsley Middle School with grant funding from the Knollenberg Foundation. The money will fund UHI mitigation projects at each school.

A news release issued by JCPS on Tuesday says participating schools across the county received a meteorological station from the University of Louisville to collect baseline data on the local UHI, making the students “citizen scientists” for a real-life issue. The projects were proposed and judged after the students participated in a UHI Youth Summit hosted by the Partnership for a Green City and Brightside.

The awards of $5,000, $3,000 and $2,000 are for projects investigating white roof coatings and temperature differences; a green wall and trees planted strategically; and tree plantings to shade parking lots and the school.

On Monday, Mayor Fischer released a draft of a long-awaited study on the city’s urban heat island. In their report, researchers laid out quantitative ways Louisville can reduce the disparities between temperatures in urban and outlying rural areas.

As WFPL’s Jacob Ryan reported early Tuesday, Louisville legislators could soon get their first chance to craft policy around the findings of the study.

A Metro Council committee is in the midst of a multi-year effort to rework the city’s 800-page land development code, and one soon-to-be-discussed item deals with regulations guiding parking lot developments.

Parking lots are cited in the recently released study as an element contributing to the city’s urban heat island effect.

The term “urban heat island” refers to the difference in temperature between urban and rural areas. Brian Stone of Georgia Tech — one of the foremost UHI researchers in the country — conducted the study for Metro government. He has previously found that Louisville is home to one of the fastest-growing heat islands in the country, which has contributed to heat-related deaths in the city.

MSD Board Approves Plan To Cover Smoketown Basin With Green Space Monday, Apr 25 2016 

A stormwater storage basin in Louisville’s Smoketown neighborhood will be redesigned mid-construction at an additional cost of $4.8 million. The Metropolitan Sewer District Board voted unanimously Monday to authorize the changes, which came in response to community concerns about the project.

The basin in Smoketown is one of 12 that will eventually be built around the city. All are part of Louisville’s federal consent decree; the city is required to address the consistent problem of sewage overflows into the Ohio River. The Smoketown basin was the first project planned, and is the furthest along in construction. But so far, all of the other basins will be buried below grade and covered with green space. The MSD’s plans originally intended for the Smoketown basin to be covered with a windowless one-story brick building.

After questions about the MSD’s public outreach procedures and unequal treatment, both MSD Director Tony Parrott and Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer expressed support for exploring changes to the basin. At Monday’s meeting, the board unanimously approved the change order, which will cover the basin with an at-grade cover, and raise the basin’s total cost to about $48 million.

MSD spokesman Steve Tedder said the cost for the Smoketown basin would still be in the same range of the projected cost of the other basins. All the basins are in various stages of planning, which makes it difficult to estimate final costs, he said. Another complication is that all the basins are different sizes, and the various locations also represent different costs in land acquisition, for example.

After the unanimous vote, MSD Board chair Cyndi Caudill said she was pleased with the change, and saw it as a worthwhile investment.

“The voices of the community have been heard and as a board, we should be responsive as we can to our community needs while continuing to be good stewards of our ratepayers’ money,” she said. “I’m glad we can respond to the needs of our citizens as well as meet our objective to provide safe, clean waterways.”

The change to the basin represents a win for the citizens’ groups who opposed the original plan. But there are still outstanding concerns about the basin’s construction. Immediately after the change was approved, Metro Council candidate Barbara Sexton-Smith addressed the board, sharing information she gathered while campaigning in the Smoketown and Paristown Pointe neighborhoods.

“I’m here today to talk about something that I call unintended, unfortunate consequences,” she said. “And sometimes when we solve problems and have opportunities, other problems arise.”

Sexton-Smith showed the board pictures of homes with extensive cracks, both inside and outside, that homeowners said was caused by the blasting at the Smoketown basin.

Caudill asked Sexton-Smith to provide MSD with a list of the affected homeowners, and said the agency would investigate the situation.

Fischer Launches ‘Cool502’ Initiative To Encourage Residents To Combat Urban Heat Monday, Apr 25 2016 

Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer is calling on residents to work within their own neighborhoods to help combat the city’s rising temperatures in urban areas.

The city has one of the fastest-growing urban heat islands in the nation. Fischer released a long-awaited study of Louisville’s heat island Monday morning. During a news conference, he stressed the ways the study’s data can help inform individuals and neighborhood groups about what they can do in various areas of town.

“It really gives a level of specificity to this that we’ve never had before,” Fischer said.

He said Metro Government has and will continue to play a role in addressing urban heat, but by necessity, a lot of the onus will be on people to make changes on a micro-level.

“We all need to do so much more,” Fischer said. “And the government can only do so much with trees. Most trees are obviously on private land, so we need all of our private citizens to step up.”

His administration rolled out an online database where residents can search for their neighborhoods, identify their primary heat island challenges and pinpoint the exact number of cooler roofs or additional trees that will help measurably lower summer temperatures.

Fischer is calling the initiative “Cool502,” and is encouraging residents to share their cooling efforts on social media using the hashtag: #cool502.

The urban heat island study will be open for public comment for the next 60 days. There are also two urban heat island-related events planned for next month: study author Brian Stone of Georgia Tech will speak at Spalding University on May 16, and there’s an urban heat island symposium planned for May 13 at Jefferson County Community and Technical College.

Long-Awaited Study Lays Out Ways Louisville Can Beat Urban Heat Island Monday, Apr 25 2016 

Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer will release a draft of a long-awaited study on the city’s urban heat island today.

The study by Brian Stone of Georgia Tech — one of the foremost UHI researchers in the country — lays out quantitative ways Louisville can reduce the disparities between temperatures in urban and outlying rural areas.

The term “urban heat island” refers to the difference in temperature between the two areas; Stone’s research has previously found that Louisville has one of the fastest-growing heat islands in the country.

The heat island is a nuisance for some, but for others, it’s a dangerous situation. Stone estimated that in 2012, a warmer-than-average year, 85 people in the Metro area died from heat-related causes. Taking steps to lower temperatures by several degrees could literally save lives, he said.

“We find overall that through actions that are achievable through city policies of one form or another, more than 20 percent of annual heat-related deaths in Louisville could be avoided,” Stone said.

Fischer said the study gives city agencies the data they need to tackle the problem. But he added that the way this study is designed means it will be useful for residents, too.

“Some of these problems can seem so overwhelming that an individual says ‘I don’t know what to do, I can’t make a difference,’” Fischer said. “A study like this says ‘Yeah, you can make a difference, and you can make a difference by getting together with your neighbors, and here’s what you can do about it.’ It’s a practical guide to help not just our city as a whole but individual neighborhoods and individual households as well.”

Stone’s study focuses on three main ways to help combat urban heat: replacing dark roofs and pavement with lighter materials, planting trees and increasing energy efficiency. The greatest temperature reductions come when all three are combined in neighborhoods.

Stone said overall, planting trees is the most effective way to combat urban heat. But an analysis of Louisville’s land uses suggests there’s more opportunity for cool materials in several densely populated areas.

These “cool materials” could be anything from replacing black-paved parking lots with a lighter concrete or asphalt material, to painting roofs white or replacing black shingles with gray. The Kentucky Ready-Mix Concrete Association, a trade group, has been advertising the reflective properties of concrete for years as a way to both reduce urban heat and promote the group’s product.

Stone’s study takes a neighborhood-level approach, identifying how many roofs would have to be converted, how many trees should be planted and how much pavement needs to be lightened to reduce summer average temperatures by anywhere from one to three degrees.

“I think of this as a way to direct investments by the cities — but also by the neighborhoods and by individual homeowners — to areas that are highly vulnerable, to try to mitigate against rising temperatures,” Stone said. “If Louisville were to implement or pursue all of these objectives, I think they would be the most forward-looking city, as far as managing heat, of any in the United States.”

Now that the study is complete, it will be up to policymakers to act on Stone’s recommendations. Fischer spokesman Chris Poynter said the draft would be released for public comment for 60 days before it is finalized. During that time, he said Metro government would begin discussing the best ways to take action.

“We’re going to be having internal discussions about what policies should we implement, are there budget implications, should we have a cool roof incentive program, should every roof that the city puts on or replaces on its own buildings, should it be a cool roof?” Poynter said. “So these are the types of conversations we’ll be having around policies, both internally and externally.”

The city will also likely look to others around the country for ideas of what policies work. Some cities have already implemented policies to lighten up roofs and paved surfaces; for example, Chicago’s “Green Alleys” program is installing highly-reflective permeable pavement in the city’s alleys.

In Louisville, Metro government has also developed a database for residents to drill down on their neighborhoods and see customized recommendations to reduce temperatures. That database will be live late Monday morning, after Fischer officially releases the study, officials said. UPDATE: Here’s a link to the downloadable data.

Read the draft report below.

Changes To MSD’s Smoketown Basin Will Cost $4.8 Million Friday, Apr 22 2016 

Louisville’s Metropolitan Sewer District Board is set to vote Monday on whether to approve a new plan for a stormwater storage basin in the city’s Smoketown neighborhood. The new plan — which would place the basin underground — will cost about $4.8 million more than the alternative, according to documents posted Friday by the agency.

The basin on Logan Street is one of 12 designed around the city to capture stormwater during heavy rain events. It’s part of a federal consent decree that is designed to reduce sewage overflows into the Ohio River.

But earlier this year, Smoketown residents raised concerns about the project’s inequality. Of the 12 basins, only Smoketown’s was designed to be above ground.

“They asked every other neighborhood that’s getting a basin, ‘Hey, do you want this above ground, or do you want this below ground and have a park on top?’ And they said ‘Oh, we’d rather have a park on top.’ But we didn’t even get asked, we didn’t get that courtesy,” Jessica Bellamy of the Smoketown Neighborhood Association told WFPL earlier this year.

Last month, the MSD Board authorized the staff to explore what it would take to change the project. Mayor Greg Fischer and MSD Executive Director Tony Parrott also supported exploring a redesign.

Originally, the plans called for the space to include a large, windowless brick building covering the basin. Now, the contractor has indicated they can pivot mid-project to cover it instead with green space for $4.8 million.

Here’s the description of the change from the documents included in the MSD Board’s agenda packet:

Change Order No. 2 includes major revisions to the facility by eliminating the proposed exterior one-story brick building covering the structure and replacing with an at-grade vegetated concrete cover. The changes are being made to per requests from the local community. Buildings will remain to accommodate pump access, electrical and control equipment, emergency generator, and basin access.

In the order, staff documents lay out the costs for making the change. The original contract — signed with Walsh Construction in February 2015 — was for $42,705,656. Another small modification was made in February of this year. If the board approves the new design, it would add another $4,850,000 to the project’s cost. The new total for the Logan Street Basin would be $47,906,892.

MSD spokesman Steve Tedder said it was hard to characterize the price range of the other similar basins because all are in different phases of planning, but this additional cost doesn’t make the Logan Street Basin significantly more expensive than the others.

The MSD Board meets in open session at 1 p.m. Monday.

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