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Round up of emerging green initiatives in Northeast Ohio

Marc Lefkowitz  |  08/04/11 @ 10:44am

The NEO Green Building Council gathered in a cozy room at Glidden House to hear about regional greening efforts from the Sewer District, the NEO Advanced Energy District, RTA, and two private sector green businesses.

Athan Barkoukis, director of the NEO Advanced Energy District, kicked it off, explaining that their program will miss its 2011 launch because of the maze of challenges in building an ambitious 14-member inner-ring suburbs + Cleveland district that is looking to finance renewable energy upgrades of private and public buildings. Only three energy SIDs survived the fallout from Fanny and Freddie's "kibosh" on Property Assessed Clean Energy loans, he said, leaving Northeast Ohio and 13 other region's scrambling for answers (Barkoukis hinted that he's lining up financial partners, going through legal agreements and hopes for a spring 2012 launch. Their plan includes hiring a third-party administrator with national experience.). The need is greater for a regional energy SID, he said, after the state eliminated its renewable energy tax breaks, throwing cold water on renewable energy installations. While there are no guarantees, Barkoukis wants to provide financial assistance, at least to the "pilot" properties that fit the profile to receive it.

Kyle Dreyfuss-Wells explained that the Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District is moving ahead with its Stormwater Program, fueled by a $4.75 fee or tax (a September court date will parse which) per 3,000 ft. of impervious surface for thousands of property owners in the region. To put this in context, the surface parking lot across Superior Avenue from Tower City will pay $855/yr.-the lot is equal to 15 residential lots, said Dreyfuss-Wells, who offers to calculate your business' fee, too. This alone won't exactly loosen the choke hold that parking lots have on downtown since parking revenues far outweigh stormwater fees (even for the parking lot operator with multiple lots). Where the District has work to do is in steering their stormwater program clear of a whole new rash of ugly retention ponds lined in concrete and surrounded by chain-link fence, a treatment accepted by Ohio Revised Code.

The District has no way of enforcing the more desirable bioretention options it would like to see sprout up; it can however, continue to offer its $10,000 small grants and direct fees from the program and credits to property owners who see the value in the more aesthetically and environmentally beneficial bioswales, rain gardens, permeable pavers. Bioretention is not only better looking, it could be easier to maintain and, of course, provide cost savings on a regional scale in capturing stormwater on site, she said.

Speaking of the stormwater small grants, the District just announced this year's recipients. Among the 23 property owners who will receive up to $10,000 is Blue Pike Farm; the eastside Cleveland grower will install a cistern to collect rain from the roof of its building for crop irrigation. To learn more about the Sewer District's plans, read the GCBL blog post "Turning huge vacant lots into stormwater areas and neighborhood centerpieces"

Upcycling is quickly becoming an eco-chic concept where the old adage one man's junk is indeed another's treasure. In fact, connecting businesses that want to donate or sell their "trash" (this is really about re-thinking the concept of trash) to a business that can use it as a feedstock is the work of Recycle Solutions. The small entrepreneurship is working with Case Western Reserve University, Step 2 and others to offsite and locate a source for recycling their hard to's (also in this field is the municipal-serving Cuyahoga Solid Waste District and its new Special Waste Convenience Center). "We do a lot of connecting," explains Recycle Solutions' Paul Osan. "The other day we helped Lutheran Hospital pull out a bunch of metal lockers and found someone who wanted them. We've connected a stain glass company with a jewelry maker. I've seen so many 40-yard dumpsters at clean up sites that we could find a second home for."

When asked about upcycle or collaboration work in University Circle, UCI sustainability manager Chris Bongorno said their organization worked with Case to include other Circle institutions in its ongoing carpet recycling pick ups. Collaboration is a focus area of the University Circle green teams, where topics ranging from bike share to composting are mined for lessons (and hopefully implementation).

RTA staffer Jim Frick talked up the Commuter Advantage program where employers can purchase fare cards with pre-tax payroll ? "it saves people $300-400 a year" (depending on how often you ride). In 2003, 100 companies were signed up; today 585 companies and 13,000 employees use the program. RTA has received push back that including a 5-Ride (not just monthly) pass might bump up that number (Frick blamed a lack of admin capacity, but offered that companies that use third-party administration services like WageWorks or Admin Flex could take on that service). Frick was also asked if RTA is getting on board with sharing its data with mobile app developers-"there is someone who has approached us with developing an app (for real time schedules)," he said. He was also asked when the ultra-mod University Circle Red Line station was going to be built. "We only have money for designs, not for construction. Unfortunately at the time of the Stimulus it wasn't shovel-ready. But we're re-doing all of our stations; Puritas was just redone and E. 55th is almost complete." The last word on Commuter Advantage is no minimum number of employees is needed-your company could have just one person.

Finally, Tom Arcoria of Sagamore Soils, Summit County's largest commercial composter, explained that in order to scale up composting (food waste accounts for 33% of landfill space nationwide) businesses need to plan out how and where to make room for a second dumpster or the 90-gal toters (the tall bins in operation of their Cuyahoga competitors, Rosby Resource). As an aside, I think composting is going to become the new recycling. The Cleveland Museum of Natural History Blue Planet Café, for example, recently started offering its guests composting for food scraps, plates, cups, even forks and knives using Rosby as our commercial composter. The challenge is in getting people aware of and accustomed to throwing things in separate bins (like Whole Foods, the café has a line of bins for composting, recyclables and for trash-but a lot of people don't see the signs to separate and there's a lot of trash getting mixed in with the compostables. Unfortunately, there are still vending machines and packaging in the café that are going into the trash/landfill-but this is a move in the positive for the museum. In addition, the café has introduced some LED lights).

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