September 05, 2011
A Newer Way to Relate to the Built Environment
Happy Labor Day! This morning I was perusing the Athens paper and happened upon this article about local parkour enthusiasts. The folks at parkour.com define it as "‘Efficient movement from A to B’ (i.e. anything you would do if you were running for your life)," and it involves jumping on and over buildings, stairwells, trees, and anything that comes in your way. I'm always looking for ways to get my students out of the office and seeing how land use really happens out in the world. Maybe I should encourage them to get into parkour, for an up-close-and-personal perspective.
Jamie Baker Roskie
August 17, 2011
USPS Closing Many Rural Post Offices
An interesting article on the New Urbanist Network about how the Postal Service plans to close 3,600 rural post offices.
For many communities, the closings may reduce activity in town or village centers. Even with diminishing mail volume, there are still many people who cross paths at the post office. The drawing power of post offices was recognized early by new urbanist developers such as Robert Davis in Seaside, Florida, and Buff Chace and Douglas Storrs in Mashpee, Massachusetts.
Jamie Baker Roskie
July 10, 2011
Closed Pools a Sign of Deeper Local Problems
From The New York Times, an article about the struggles local governments face in keeping their public pools open:
There are few things in life more doleful than a child looking at a closed pool on a steamy summer day, and yet that sad scene has become as common as sunburns and mosquito bites as struggling local governments make the painful choice to shut their pools to save the budget. The list of locales where public pools have been in jeopardy in recent years includes some of the sweatiest spots in the nation, including Central Florida (90s and humid on the Fourth), Atlanta (90), and Houston (97)...
The question of where pools are closed often raises issues of class and race. In the case of Houston, one of the pools closed in June was in Independence Heights, a historically black neighborhood where the median household income in 2009 was about $27,000, according to city statistics.
The city councilman for the area, Ed Gonzalez, said the loss of a pool there would sting worse than in more well-to-do neighborhoods. “There are no other true community assets out there,” he said. “Your neighborhood park and your pools are the only real amenities that some of these communities have.”
Mr. Gonzalez, a former police officer, said it was not just a matter of letting people beat the heat. The lack of a local pool, he said, could have an impact on public safety. “If kids do not have a productive thing to do, like swimming or community centers to go to,” he said, “it’s more idle time they have on their hands.”
Here in Athens the Leisure Services department seems to be doing a good job keeping the pools open, but we went without a public fireworks show this year due to lack of sponsorship. While these types of amenities are hard for local governments to support in tough economic times, they are also key to a community's quality of life. It will be interesting to see how deep communities will dig to maintain the rituals of summer in these difficult days.
Jamie Baker Roskie
July 09, 2011
Georgia Theater to Reopen
I've blogged previously here and here about efforts to rebuild Athens' historic Georgia Theater after a devastating fire in 2009. It's been a long, tough road for the building's owner, and I'm sure he felt there were times when the reopening just wasn't meant to be. So, in grand Athens fashion, there will be a big, weeks long party to celebrate, starting August 1. They have a fantastic lineup of local and national favorites such as The Glands, Kenosha Kid, and Bela Fleck and the Flecktones.
The UGA student paper The Red & Black has a nice article about the rebuilding and refitting of the interior. The Theater is beloved by music and architecture fans alike. It's wonderful to see it taking on a new life.
Jamie Baker Roskie
July 08, 2011
A Major Development in the Southeastern Water Wars
I've only blogged a very little bit about the on-going water conflict between Alabama, Georgia and Florida, but it's a very big deal around here. A recent 11th Circuit decision is worth noting. From an Atlanta Journal Constitution story:
The court threw out a 2009 ruling by Senior U.S. District Judge Paul Magnuson, who had found it was illegal for the Corps of Engineers to draw water from Lake Lanier to meet the needs of 3 million metro residents. In its decision Tuesday, the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals found that one of the purposes of the man-made reservoir about 45 miles upstream of Atlanta was to supply water to the metro region.
Alabama will appeal the ruling to the full Circuit Court.
Magnuson had also set a doomsday clock ticking for Georgia, Alabama and Florida to arrive at a water-sharing agreement. If the states could not reach a settlement by July 2012, Magnuson said, metro Atlanta would only be allowed to take the same amount of water it received in the mid-1970s -- when the population was less than one-third its current size.
That deadline is no longer in effect.
Instead, the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals set a new deadline. It gave the corps one year to make a final determination over water allocation from Lake Lanier. And the court reminded the corps that the water litigation has already been going on for more than two decades...
Tad Leithead, chairman of the Atlanta Regional Commission, said Magnuson's order posed a serious threat to metro Atlanta's water supply and noted the judge himself said his ruling could lead to a "draconian" result if the July 2012 deadline were not met.
"Had his ruling gone into effect in July 2012, the water supplies that millions of people depend on would have been cut off," Leithead said. "As a result of today’s action by the 11th Circuit, now that won’t happen."
Demming Bass, chief operating officer of the Cobb Chamber of Commerce, said the ruling takes uncertainty off the table in terms of recruiting businesses to locate to metro Atlanta.
"The good news is that because of Judge Magnuson's decision, it forced Georgia and Atlanta to come together and look at worst-case scenarios," Bass said. "It made us pass some great legislation that's going to help us conserve water and get plans in place to look at additional reservoirs, which is something we're going to need anyway."
If you're interested in reading the judge's 95 page ruling, it's available here.
Jamie Baker Roskie
June 28, 2011
A Reversal of the Great Migration
If you haven't already used up your June allotment of free articles on The New York Times website, you might find this article interesting. It's entitled "For New Life, Blacks in City Head South." An excerpt:
Life has gone full circle,” said Ms. Wilkins, whose grandmother was born amid the cotton fields of North Carolina and moved to Queens in the 1950s.
“My grandmother’s generation left the South and came to the North to escape segregation and racism,” she said. “Now, I am going back because New York has become like the old South in its racial attitudes.”
Many black New Yorkers who are already in the South say they have little desire to return to the city, even though they get wistful at the mention of the subways or Harlem nights.
Danitta Ross, 39, a real estate broker who used to live in Queens, said she moved to Atlanta four years ago after her company, responding to the surge in black New Yorkers moving south, began offering relocation seminars. She helped organize them, and became intrigued.
Ms. Ross said she had grown up hearing stories at the dinner table about segregation. She said the Atlanta she discovered was a cosmopolitan place of classical music concerts, interracial marriage and opulent houses owned by black people.
A single mother, she said that for $150,000, she was buying a seven-room house, with a three-car garage, on a nice plot of land.
Ms. Ross said she had experienced some culture shock in the South, and had been surprised to find that blacks tended to self-segregate, even in affluent neighborhoods.
She said that the South — not New York — was now home.
“People in Georgia have a different mind-set and life is more relaxed and comfortable here,” she said. “There is just a lot more opportunity.”
I'm a bit suprised by this trend, given that unemployment in Georgia, particuarly among blacks, remains very high. But, cost of living and pace of life do account for a great deal. Still, it's a interesting reversal of a very long trend of northern migration.
Jamie Baker Roskie
May 11, 2011
Will Southern Arizona Become the 51st State?
In my on-going quest to post items that marry my interests in land use and immigration law, I present an NPR story that aired yesterday about efforts by a group in Pima County, Arizona to break away over Arizona's draconian (and possibly federally preempted) effort to regulate illegal immigration.
(In the interest of full disclosure, I also note that Georgia's legislature has passed a similar bill.)
It doesn't sound much like the effort to create Baja Arizona will come to fruition, but it's an interesting piece of political protest. We'll see what comes next.
Jamie Baker Roskie
April 26, 2011
"Passengers" Radio Documentary
Somewhat ironically I I was driving home, alone, from Atlanta on Sunday night when I heard an episode of Passengers. This is a short series of public radio documentaries about public transportation. Apparently I heard part three; among other topics, it touts Google Transit. This is a handy service that allows one to plan public transit trips - only not in Athens, as neither "The Bus," nor UGA Campus Transit are participating agencies. This is somewhat surprising, as the UGA bus system has one of the largest riderships in Georgia, second only to Atlanta's MARTA. (MARTA does participate in Google Transit - it seems to be the only agency in Georgia that does so.)
At any rate, Passengers seems to be a great series on the basic concepts and current debate about public transit and transportation planning in the US. You might find it to be a helpful teaching tool.
Jamie Baker Roskie
April 21, 2011
Victory in Longleaf Coal-Fired Power Plant Case
I've previously blogged about litigation in Georgia against new coal-fired power plants. Today I received news from my friends at GreenLaw, the Atlanta-based public interest law firm handling this cases. Their media release:
Court Rules Against LS Power's Longleaf Coal-fired Power Plant
The Earth received a present, just in time for Earth Day. A Georgia administrative law court handed a victory to opponents of a proposed 1200 megawatt coal-fired power plant in Blakely, Georgia. According to the ruling issued on April 19, the state permit did not sufficiently limit harmful air pollution that will be emitted by the plant.
The Georgia Environmental Protection Division (EPD) must now reconsider its permit after the court found flaws in provisions for measuring toxic air pollutants.
EPD’s permit was to allow New Jersey-based LS Power to build the largest coal plant in the nation to be classified as a “minor” source of pollution--a strategy that would circumvent the stricter pollution controls required for a “major” source of pollution under the law.
The court found that the permit’s monitoring and reporting scheme could “miss” many tons of toxic air emissions each year, including emissions of known carcinogens like formaldehyde. The court also found that the permit did not account for toxic air emissions from the entire facility.
GreenLaw represented two citizen groups, Friends of the Chattahoochee (FOC) and the Georgia Chapter of the Sierra Club, in their challenge to the EPD decision to approve construction of the largest new coal-fired power plant in Georgia in over 25 years.
“We are pleased that we were able to make progress on this complex case, which arbitrarily classifies a massive plant as a minor rather than major source of air pollution,” stated GreenLaw Executive Director Justine Thompson.”
Longleaf is designed to be a 1200 megawatt (MW) plant that would emit millions of tons of pollutants each year in Early County along the Chattahoochee River. LS Power can sell the power to buyers anywhere in the U.S. without being subject to any regulation by Georgia’s Public Service Commission.
Recently, plans to construct coal plants in North Carolina, South Carolina, and Louisiana have all been canceled. Other states are showing rising concern about the financial risks, high water consumption, and air pollution caused by coal plants. Georgia already has 10 coal-fired power plants, leading to public health costs of over six billion dollars each year from health problems such as respiratory illness and premature deaths attributed to the pollution emitted by these coal plants.
Congratulations to GreenLaw attorneys Kurt Ebersbach and George Hays, who labored valiently to win this case. A copy of the court's decision can be found here.
Jamie Baker Roskie
April 06, 2011
My friends at the Madison-Morgan [Georgia] Conservancy have just published and posted the Farmeander Map. This is a cool driving tour tool for visiting agritourism sites (including organic farms, berry and flower farms, and natural meat operations) in Morgan County, along with fun places to stay and a schedule of festivals throughout the year.
For many smaller agriculture operations in Georgia, agritourism is critical for economic viability. It also helps we city-dwellers create and maintain relationships with the folks who produce our food. While "Fameander" is a new (and trademarked) term, there are many agritourism programs around the country, including "Farmer for a Day." So, wherever you are, consider "farmeandering" around to find out what's what with your local food supply.
Jamie Baker Roskie
March 10, 2011
In With the Local, Out With the National...
As someone who lives just a couple hours from Atlanta and frequently visits the city, I pay close attention to many of its signature projects, including Atlantic Station.
Recently, the massive former brownfield site was sold and the new owners are looking to give the fascinating project a more local feel:
AIG Global Real Estate Investment Corp., which backed Jacoby Development’s creation, hit hard times in the financial crises and had to sell its holdings in the project. CB Richard Ellis late last year bought AIG’s interests — the retail portion, an office tower and the remaining vacant land — for about $173 million, according to DataBank Atlanta, as well as the two distressed apartment buildings.
As the fixer, Toro has arrived at a crucial time. The retail portion of the project opened to much hoopla in 2005, but only had a couple of years of economic fair weather before the recession set in.
Toro plans to fine-tune the tenants by adding locally owned shops and restaurants, as well as fix major issues faced by residents and workers. With CBRE involved, Toro says he can spend the millions of dollars it could take to reinvent Atlantic Station.
Read the entire article, here.
This trend is likely to continue as high gas prices and the inability to sell houses (and thus relocate jobs) "re-localizes" our cities even more.
February 28, 2011
Making Comprehensive Planning Optional (in Georgia)
It's not getting much play in the media, but there is legislation moving through the Georgia legislature that would make local comprehensive planning and solid waste planning optional. Currently both are mandated by state law. Well, actually, comprehensive planning isn't mandated, exactly, but local governments must have comprehensive plans to quality for various kinds of funding, including state-administered community development block grants. (See the Georgia Department of Community Affairs website for more information about comprehensive planning requirements.) The Association [of] County Commissioners of Georgia and the Georgia Municipal Association both support the bill. Interesting, the Gwinnett Council for Quality Growth has expressed concern. The Council, which started out as a developers' organization, is apparently now largely populated by consultants and professional planners who make their living writing comprehensive plans (among other things). It will be interesting to see how this plays out, particularly given the precarious financial position of local governments.
Jamie Baker Roskie
February 10, 2011
Billions for High Speed Rail
Vice President Biden made an announcement Tuesday that's grabbing headlines - $53 billion in the Administration's proposed budget for high speed rail. From an article on CNN.com:
The proposed new investment -- including $8 billion in the upcoming fiscal year -- would accompany a streamlined application process for cities, states, and private companies seeking federal grants and loans to develop railway capacity.
"There are key places where we cannot afford to sacrifice as a nation -- one of which is infrastructure," Biden said in a written statement. There is a pressing need "to invest in a modern rail system that will help connect communities, reduce congestion and create quality, skilled manufacturing jobs that cannot be outsourced."
It might be, though, that none of that money ends up in Georgia. Georgia has a history of being hostile or apathetic to proposals for high speed rail, something that Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood made a point of when he visited the state last year.
I think it's a shame Georgia's leadership isn't more progressive about rail. I loved the ease and convenience of riding the train to Philly when I lived in DC (much better than being grounded on a plane by thunderstorms in the summer, or driving the insanity that is I-95 in the Northeast corridor). Rail between Athens and Atlanta, and Atlanta and Chattanooga, make a ton of sense. But then, nobody's really asking me...
Jamie Baker Roskie
February 04, 2011
Snow Days in Texas and Elsewhere
Today I am in my hometown of Albany NY, trudging through waist-high ramparts of plowed snow. Much of the US has suffered tremendous snowfalls/blizzards in the past week. Back in my current home of Houston, TX, my family and students are having a "snow day" because they anticipate maybe getting some white stuff. Since the typical transplanted-yankee reaction is to scoff at the inability of southern cities to deal with snowy weather, I think it's worth editing and reprising this post from last year, where I defend the local government choice to take the occasional shutdown over the necessary land use investment for snow removal:
Snow Day in Texas
Hard to believe, but it might snow today in Houston. Such weather is pretty rare in Houston. My law school has closed for the day in mere anticipation of snow.
I grew up in upstate New York [where I am today, in Albany], where the average January temperature is 22 F (compared to Houston's 55 F); average winter snowfall was 64" (compared to Houston's < 0.05"). Tennessee, where I lived for about eight years as an adult, is just far enough north to get some decent snowstorms each winter, but overall it has a much warmer, and shorter, winter. Yet it seemed that in Tennessee the authorities were constantly cancelling school and shutting the city down. Often the schools had to extend their year to make up for all of the snow days. In New York we hardly ever lost a day of school due to snow; perhaps 0-2 per year. Even a 12-inch snowfall was not a problem, while in Tennessee they would preemptively close for a forecast of snow.
Fellow northern transplants and I would snicker at all this. You call this a snowstorm? I chalked up the different approaches to the hardiness of our yankee constitutions. But eventually I think I figured out what might be the biggest factor in the different regional reactions, and it's a land use & local government issue. Albany County's snow removal budget for supplies alone (salt, fuel) is $1,217,500. This doesn't include the operating costs for personnel, nor the capital outlays for the equipment; a new snow plow can cost a city around $200,000. Chicago's total snow removal budget is $17 million.
So while these types of expenditures are necessary in northern cities, it wouldn't make sense in warmer climes to purchase and maintain the equipment, supplies, and personnel necessary for snow removal capability. In Houston a freak storm like today's doesn't happen often enough to remotely justify the expense. It becomes a more difficult question for places in the latitudinal middle, like Tennessee and Kentucky. One could measure the economic impact of lost school and work days and business in the area, and compare it to the costs of snow removal. But even that would still need to make some predictive assumptions based on variance from year to year. (Besides, why invest in a snow plow when Georgia will soon be underwater due to global warming?)
Assuming rational actors, one would think we could draw lines between the places where it is more efficient as a matter of municipal policy to do snow removal, and those where it is more efficient to simply ride out the storms as they come. Obviously there are a lot of other factors for planners in making this decision, including geography, the urban/suburban/rural character of the place, and other unique factors. Plus there are the politics of snow removal (a blizzard is said to have altered the outcome of Chicago's mayoral primary in 1979).
But obviously it would never make sense on the Gulf Coast, so we'll just hunker down as we watch the freak snowfall today (my three-year-old [now four, and still talking about last year's snow] has no idea what this stuff is). But don't feel bad for me-- it will be back up to 74 F by Tuesday.
So take that, yankees. As Jessica points out, in Buffalo they make the social land use adjustments that are necessary, but they take a rational approach in Houston too. I might reconsider this stance tonight after I freeze off my fourth point of contact.
UPDATE: No snow in Houston, but everything's frozen. Contrast the icy fountain in front of my Houston apartment with the snowdrifts piled high in front of my childhood home in NY. Yet the local government responses are as different as the respective amounts of frozen H2O.
January 31, 2011
From time to time on this blog we've written about local agriculture, including a post I wrote about a controversy in Fall 2009 where the Georgia agriculture department seized a large shipment of raw millk from a local purveyor.
Today's Athens Banner-Herald has an article about a local farm producing small batches of low temperature pastuerized milk. To me this is a nice compromise - locally produced milk that is pathogen free and tasty. Unfortunately, in my experience it doesn't seem to last as long as milk that's been pastuerized at high or ultra high temperatures, so the hubby and I sometimes have difficulty finishing a half gallon (the smallest size available) before it goes bad. (Obviously we don't drink much milk - we use it more for tea and cereal) However, it's super popular locally and it often sells out at our daily co-op.
Another interesting aspect of the article is the farmer discussing how much agriculture officials struggled to understand that his process is perfectly legal. It seems like there's an initial reaction against milk processing that isn't being done in the predictable way, by large dairies. I guess it's another version of small businesses being tripped up by red tape. It's great the farmer was able to get this worked out, because my guess is that local ag is a small but growing part of Georgia's very significant agricultural economy. (And with home building at a stand still, we need all the economic growth we can get!)
Jamie Baker Roskie
January 27, 2011
Zoning Out Young Students
Antonia Layard recently posted about new planning restrictions in the UK limiting the number of unrelated people occupying a house. These restrictions are not uncommon in the US, particularly in college towns. For example, Northwestern University students are in an uproar because the town of Evanston has decided to start enforcing an old ordinance, quaintly called the "brothel rule," forbidding more than three unrelated people living together.
Athens has an even stricter requirement that no more than two unrelated people can live together. However, in my experience this rule is rarely enforced. I have no issue with most of the student households in our neighborhood, but occasionally we get a group of three (usually very young) folks living in the house next door and engaging in loud partying and/or having incessantly barking dogs. I've had much more luck working directly with the tenants and the landlord, though, than I have getting Code Enforcement to come out and investigate.
Another current area of conflict in Athens is the placement of a fraternity in a historic neighborhood of Athens that is already home to several fraternities and sororities, but also to many families and working adults. This is one of the many, tricky balancing questions in land use law. How do we accomodate young folks who are still forming as individuals and learning what it means to be part of a community, without burdening the neighbors who need their beauty sleep and grow tired of noise and garbage?
Jamie Baker Roskie
November 25, 2010
Being Smart (Growth) About Environmental Justice
As a clincian who teaches three semesters a year I rarely have the time or opportunity to produce scholarship. When I do, it's usually in collaboration with clinic students. I recently posted a piece on SSRN of which I am very proud, becuase it's a cross-disciplinary collaboration with a law student, Stinson Ferguson, and a Geography Ph.D student, Ellen Kohl. It's a piece on the Obama Administration's focus on enviornmental justice in its Smart Growth programs, and how it might impact our client communities. Thanks to my Geography colleague, Nik Heynen, it even has a snappy title - "Being Smart (Growth) About Justice: Can the Obama Administration Undo Decades of Environmental Injustice Via Smart Growth?"
The article only begins to speculate about the answer to that question, but we hope it will be a jumping off point to a whole lot more collaborative writing on the topic, and on the struggles and successes of the Newtown community in Gainesville.
The opportunity to write this article came through this blog. The students at Seattle University recently started the Seatlle Environmental Law Journal, where the article first appeared, and they solicited our input for their inagural edition, "The Obama Effect." (Unfortunately the whole edition is not available on-line.)
Happy Thanksgiving! I'm grateful for a great group of colleagues and friends who help create this blog, and to all of you who teach, write, and help communities become stronger and more equitable.
Jamie Baker Roskie
November 22, 2010
Southeast Smart Growth Network Video Conference
I just received this announcement from Katie Sheehan at UGA's River Basin Center:
The Southeast Smart Growth Network invites you to join us for our first regional video
conference showcasing key smart growth initiatives in the Southeast. The hour and a half program
will be presented from four interactive sites linked by the University of Georgia. You may also view the presentation from your computer.
Overcoming Obstacles to Smart Growth – A Case Study of the Town
of Davidson, NC (2004 EPA Award for Overall Excellence in Smart Growth
Achievement) - Town of Davidson Planning Manager, Lauren Blackburn,
and Commissioner Marguerite Williams will explain the main tenets of the
Davidson Planning Ordinance, initial community reactions to draft policy,
and the tools used to build support for change.
Going Green in Georgia – David Freedman, Principal at Freedman
Engineering Group and former Director of Engineering and Construction
for the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, will discuss strategies
for a successful green building program and cost neutral approaches to
constructing green buildings.
HUD-DOT-EPA Interagency Partnership for Sustainable Communities -
Anne Keller, Senior Sustainability Advisor, Environmental Protection
Agency Region 4, will discuss the new partnership and provide an
overview of the communities in the Southeast receiving grants. Amy
Brooks, Transportation Planner, Knoxville Regional Transportation
Planning Organization, will briefly discuss their initiative to develop a
Regional Plan for Sustainable Development.
Southeast Smart Growth Network – Christine Olsenius, Executive
Director of the Southeast Watershed Forum, will introduce a new project to
analyze green building programs in 5 Southeastern states.
DECEMBER 13th 2010, 2-3:30pm EST video conference.
Watch online: Email email@example.com to
receive the conference url and link-up instructions.
You can also watch from four locations;
Athens, Georgia - Center for Teaching and Learning, North Instructional Plaza, http://www.ctl.uga.edu/location, park at the Tate Student Center, 705 S. Lumpkin Street
Atlanta, Georgia - Georgia Department of Community Affairs, 60 Executive Park South NE, http://www.dca.ga.gov/main/About/DCAMap1.pdf, sign in at the security desk in the lobby
Charlotte, North Carolina - University of North Carolina, Charlotte, Room 126 Fretwell Building – #45 on campus map, park on parking deck, http://home.uncc.edu/directions
Knoxville, Tennessee - University of Tennessee, Room 156 Plant Biotechnology Building on the Agriculture Campus, http://www.utk.edu/maps/
Looks like it will be very interesting - unfortunately I've got a conflict, but I imagine it will be posted on a website for later viewing.
Jamie Baker Roskie
October 14, 2010
Upcoming Brownfields Webinar
From my colleagues at UGA's Fanning Institute:
Brownfields Redevelopment in Georgia
Keeping Projects Moving Forward in an Uncertain Economy
October 26, 2010
11:00am - 12:30pm
Register at: http://www.fanning.uga.edu/work/brownfields/brownfields_webinar.html
Join the Georgia Chapter of the National Brownfields Association and the University of Georgia’s Fanning Institute as we engage professionals from the finance, consulting, regulatory and development sectors in an interactive discussion of current brownfields projects and new ideas to promote the development of challenging properties. Our expert panel includes:
· Darahyl Dennis, Chapter President, Georgia Chapter of the National Brownfields Association
· Alex Cleary, Georgia EPD
· Dan Grogan, MacTec
· Madeleine Kellam, Georgia EPD
· Matt Robbins, US EPA
· Gerald Pouncey, Morris, Manning & Martin, LLP
· Mark Smith, Georgia EPD
· Charles Whatley, Atlanta Development Authority
· Bill Bryant, Georgia Power
· Courtney Tobin, Fanning Institute
This would probably be great for anyone working on brownfields.
Jamie Baker Roskie
September 30, 2010
A Report on the Impacts of Deepwater Horizon
I've blogged before about an informal "2nd Friday Symposium" held by the River Basin Center here at UGA. I wasn't able to attend the most recent event, so I asked Land Use Clinic student Greg Raburn to report. Here's his summary (and accompanying culinary notes):
The convivial meeting started at 4:00 p.m., but, by the time I was able to get out of class, burn the roof of my mouth on a hastily-heated corn dog, and drive to the River Basin Center, the discussion had already begun The room, which had the appearance of some type of student lounge, was nearly full, and the speaker, who must have been Professor Chuck Hopkinson of Marine Sciences and Director of the Georgia Sea Grant, with beer in hand, was describing the statistics and findings displayed on the projection screen.
He noted that while Savannah, as befitting one of the top U.S. seaports, was being monitored for contamination, Georgia’s southeast coast was not. The oil, if or when it appeared on Georgia’s beaches, he stated, would probably look like tar-balls (which were essentially asphalt, he explained) or micro-droplets, and he and his group had made recommendations to Congressional staffers for detecting the presence of the oil and monitoring it. He said much of the Gulf data was being collected by robotic “Seagliders,” manufactured by iRobot (the makers of the “Roomba” robotic home vacuum cleaner). The gliders were designed to “glide” to the bottom of the ocean, collecting data from their surroundings, and then rise to the surface and transmit the data. In addition to recommending using Seagliders off the Georgia coast, his group additionally recommended using fluorescent sensors, doing tar-ball counts, monitoring “sentinel” organisms, and utilizing satellite monitoring to collect additional data.The next part of the discussion centered on the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s leaked press release which had stated that 74% of the released oil was “gone.” The report naturally raised the question: if 74% of the oil was truly gone, where did it go? The press release claimed that 25% of the oil had dissolved or evaporated, 16% had been naturally dispersed, 8% had been chemically dispersed, 17% had never entered the water (captured at the surface), 5% had been burned, and the cleanup efforts had captured 3%, and therefore only 26% of the oil remained in the ocean.
Professor Hopkinson’s group decided to evaluate the data themselves. The first thing they did was discard the figure for the 17% of oil that never entered the water; if some oil never entered the water, they felt it was misleading to include it on a report about the status of the oil in the water. Professor Hopkinson’s group also figured in “degradation,” which, based from data from the Ixtoc oil spill off the coast of Mexico in 1979, was estimated at about 4%-8%. His group ultimately concluded that the oil was not “gone,” but that most of it had simply changed into a form that rendered it uncollectable.
The University of Georgia and the Georgia Sea Grant testified before a [Georgia] Senate subcommittee regarding Georgia’s vulnerability to the oil spill. The Senate subcommittee charged the Georgia Department of Natural Resources to develop an oil sampling plan. Three things were to be sampled: water columns, hard bottom, and fish. If oil were found in these things, then two additional things would then be sampled: sediment and hydrodynamics. Unfortunately, I am unable to provide further details on this part of the discussion, as it went well beyond my limited knowledge of marine science and ecology.
As a side note, Professor Hopkinson also observed that British Petroleum (BP) is selling or has sold off its terrestrial U.S. wells, put its shallow water wells up for sale, and is currently expanding its deepwater drilling in areas with little regulation, such as Africa and Brazil. He suggested this could have been a counterproductive consequence of the recent U.S. sanctions on BP and the restrictions on deepwater drilling. He pointed out that the well currently being drilled in Brazil, will be at almost twice the depth of the Deepwater Horizon.
Professor Hopkinson closed by saying that the University of Georgia Sea Grant website on the oil spill could be found at oilspill.uga.edu, with additional information at www.southatlanticseagrant.org, www.deepwaterhorizonresponse.com, and www.restorethegulf.gov.
In conclusion, I found the science and statistics of the discussion to be rather interesting. I had to glean the meaning of much of the technical language from the context in which it was used. The symposium was definitely geared toward someone with more of a background in environmental and marine science than myself, but the group was open and friendly, and a small variety of refreshments were available – including a bowl of dried, multicolored, tubular things that, in size and shape, resembled McDonald’s French Fries. I had to try one. It tasted kind of like a pretzel. I still have no idea what it was.
Jamie Baker Roskie