Category Archives: Economic Development

Civic elders ask millennials to engage with community; How will they respond?

This may be a breakout year for millennials in metro Atlanta because the region’s current leaders are actively encouraging young folks to step into the public realm. One question is the form the relationship will take.

Midtown millennial

Metro Atlanta civic leaders are seeking to ways to engage millennials such as Sarah Ayres in the public arena. Ayres was in a Midtown cafe while Pony was served on the sidewalk. Credit: David Pendered

Bill Bolling didn’t mince any words in his comments to more than 100 young professionals assembled by the Atlanta Regional Commission to bring their fresh eye to eight challenges facing the region. Bolling now heads the Food Well Alliance after founding and running the Atlanta Community Food Bank for more than 35 years.

“We want you to lead the effort,” Bolling said. “To begin to map who your allies are. The ARC is one; Community Foundation is one; the Food Well Alliance. To start mapping progressive policy makers in government, business. At the end of the day it has to be a business proposition. You’re going to say that, because you’re going to say, ‘This is what we want; this is what we demand.’”

For some baby boomers, the millennials’ response to Bolling’s challenge may present a case of, “be careful what you wish for.” According to a White House report, all indications are that millennials have the education and social skills to win their case when they engage in an issue:

However, the millennials face a challenge may impede their ability to engage in politics or community-building events: college debt. Finding time for such activities might not be possible for a millennial facing a monthly payment on a student loan.

The average real per borrower debt increased from $24,000 in 2004 to $30,000 in 2012, according to the White House report. Total student outstanding loan debt exceeded $1 trillion at the end of the second quarter of 2014.

To get greater numbers of this generation into the fold, the Gwinnett Chamber has revamped its youth outreach program. The chamber has partnered with Georgia Gwinnett College to ramp up Gwinnett Young Professionals, a mentoring program.

“Our mission is to attract millennials to the chamber when they first enter the workforce and engage and empower them through community, professional and social opportunities,” Sean George, manager of membership services at the Gwinnett Chamber and program manager of Gwinnett Young Professionals, said in a statement.

Millennials by race, ethnicity

Metro Atlanta mirrors the national trend of millennials being the most ethnically and racially diverse cohort of youth in the nation’s history, with no majority ethnic group in 2010, according to an ARC survey. Credit: ARC

This strategy, of focusing an outreach program on millennials, is one of the recommendations of a report commissioned by the ARC. The Millennial Report is part of the ARC’s New Voices program, which aims to promote meaningful conversation among millennials on topics related to the future of metro Atlanta.

ARC sponsored the event where Bolling made his comments to nearly 100 millennials. The Millennial Meeting was the forum at which eight working groups of millennials turned their attention to regional problems – transit; access to healthy food; affordable and livable centers; mentorships at every stage of life; education; uniting the region; and promoting regional cooperation.

ARC Chairman Kerry Armstrong told the young professionals that current leaders are looking to them for ideas, and ways to implement them.

“I want to reiterate the high expectations we have of this group,” Armstrong said at the start of the meeting. “What we hear tonight is extremely important to all of us.”

At the end of the meeting Armstrong echoed Bolling’s sentiment: “How do we keep the momentum up? All you groups are going tell us, and we’re going to listen.”

 

Georgia women paid an average of 82 cents for every $1 paid to men, report shows

Women in Georgia are paid an average of 82 cents for every dollar paid to men, according to a report released Friday.

Rosie the Riveter, Mary Doyle Keefe

Norman Rockwell’s famous painting of Rosie the Riveter, inspired by Mary Doyle Keefe, was viewed as an inspiration to women. Credit: usmagazine.com

The National Partnership for Women and Families conducted a nationwide study that determined the national average is that women are paid 79 cents for every dollar paid to men. The figures represent workers in fulltime jobs.

“This study confirms that a punishing wage gap persists for women in every corner of the country and the costs for women, their families and our national and state economies are significant,” Debra Ness, president of the National Partnership for Women and Families, said in a statement.

In Georgia, the annual gap in wages results in women being paid $8,155 less than men. The NPWF used data from the American Community Survey 1-Year Estimates, 2014, to reach its conclusions, according to the report.

Georgia ranks 37th in the nation in terms of the wage gap, according to the report. The difference in wages paid in Georgia is 18 cents.

Wage gap

This chart shows the wage gap reported Friday by the National Partnership for Women and Families.

Louisiana is ranked No. 1, with a wage gap of 35 cents, followed by Utah (33 cents), Wyoming (31 cents), West Virginia (30 cents), and North Dakota (29 cents).

The areas with the least disparities are Washington, D.C. (10 cents), New York (13 cents), Hawaii (14 cents), and four states with a disparity of 15 cents – Maryland, Nevada, Florida, and North Carolina. California, Arizona, and Vermont share the fifth place in terms of lowest disparity, at 16 cents.

The NPWF is lobbying Congress to pass the Paycheck Fairness Act. Sen. Barbara Milkulski (D-Md.) introduced the legislation in 2013. Milkulski, 78, announced in March that she will not seek reelection to the Senate, where she has served since 1987. Milkulski previous served a decade in the U.S. House.

The legislation would amend the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 in order to, “revise remedies for, enforcement of, and exceptions to prohibitions against sex discrimination in the payment of wages,” according to a summary of the bill on congress.gov.

The legislation would revise, “the exception to the prohibition for a wage rate differential based on any other factor other than sex. Limits such factors to bona fide factors, such as education, training, or experience,” according to the summary.

“Closing the wage gap would help keep women and families from losing much-needed income while benefitting our communities and country,” Ness said. “It is past time for federal lawmakers to take real action to promote equality and economic security for America’s women and families by passing the Paycheck Fairness Act, which is a reasonable and common sense proposal that has languished in Congress for too long.”

Here are some snapshots from the report on Georgia:

Millennials offer a smorgasbord of solutions to the region’s big challenges

Editor’s note: Visit our page Sept. 22 to read more on this subject and the broader issue of millennials in metro Atlanta.

The Atlanta Regional Commission recruited some of the sharpest millennial minds in metro Atlanta to come up with their best solutions to the region’s thorniest problems. The overarching response is that no challenge is too great if folks are willing to try new things and work together.

Doug Hooker

ARC Executive Director Doug Hooker recorded the slides and videos presented during the Millennial Mixer. Credit: David Pendered

A proposed Pledge to Win the Future is the clearest example of how one group of millennials think the region should approach its challenges. Presenter Michael Leithead said Denver created its Mile High Compact 15 years, and the compact helped create a shared vision for the region.

Eight working groups of millennials presented their solutions in a format similar to those on the TV show, Shark Tank. The Millennial Mixer, on Monday evening, culminated a project that ARC Executive Director Doug Hooker has pursued for almost three years. The teams have been working most of this year.

After the mixer, Hooker said he viewed the eight teams as a convergence of focus group, think tank, and implementation team.

“They are a focus group in that we started with the idea of putting them in a lot of settings they are comfortable in and asking, ‘what do you want to see in this region and what will keep you committed.’ We got lots of ideas and these eight subjects rose to the top. So that’s a focus group.

“The think tank aspect is, ‘How do you put these ideas into action; how does the region implement them,’” Hooker said. “As far as implementation team, you saw their energy, their excitement. They are laser focused on implementing these ideas.”

At this point, Nick Juliano, a presenter, walked up and offered to be a contact for future stories about his group’s effort. Juliano said he wanted to approach the Metro Atlanta Chamber to gauge its support and interest on advancing the group’s subject – creating a unified voice of support for transit in metro Atlanta, and a unified transit system to operate it.

Millennial Mixer

Putting live DJs to mix music on MARTA trains is one of the ideas that would incorporate transit into the lifestyles of riders, millennial presenter Blake Bredbenner said. Credit: David Pendered

Hooker offered to introduce Juliano to chamber chamber President/CEO Hala Moddelmog, who attended the mixer.

The solution Juliano and his teammates devised is to unify the support for transit that is emerging throughout the region. A number of polls have showed a rising level of support across the region for improving transit.

The group already has created a website to begin building support and gathering responses to a poll.

A related aspect is to unify the region’s five major transit systems in order to promote the development of a comprehensive transit system. The group cites MARTA, GRTA, Cobb Community Transit, Gwinnett County Transit, and Atlanta Streetcar.

According to a statement on the website: “Transit is top of mind for individuals across the region, but this has translated to limited action. If metro Atlanta is to remain competitive as a region, it will need to provide residents with a comprehensive and unified transit system capable of moving people conveniently and efficiently throughout the region.”

A second team that considered the transit issue considered the issue of healthy transit habits.

The upshot is to make MARTA an integral part of life in metro Atlanta. Ideas include an app that lists events occurring at locations near MARTA bus and rail stops; expanding the fresh market concept that MARTA has developed at the West End Station; staging pop up community gardens in underused parking lots; and having live DJs mix music inside MARTA trains.

MARTA would hire an art curator to coordinate the events, according to presenter Blake Bredbenner.

 

Atlanta Climate Action Plan to set sustainability agenda for region’s urban core

Atlanta is poised to adopt a comprehensive plan intended to reduce the city’s greenhouse gas emissions and forestall climate change, much like sustainability initiatives at Emory University and Spelman College that have resulted in their ranking among the greenest campuses in the country.

Urban gardens

Atlanta is home to at least 85 community and school gardens, and at least 10 urban farms, according to the proposed Atlanta Climate Action Plan, which proposes to expand the city’s food programs. Credit: westsidecommunities.org

Lofty goals outlined in the introduction of the proposed Atlanta Climate Action Plan can be achieved through, “common sense approaches and cutting edge policies.” The goals include reducing energy use and waste, creating local jobs, improving air quality, and improving the local landscape and history.

The proposed sustainability policy has evolved into one that addresses many more aspects of the city’s carbon footprint than a proposal introduced at the start of the Great Recession, in 2007. Rather than focusing on commercial buildings, the current proposal covers everything from energy audits on buildings to urban farms and food deserts.

The Atlanta City Council could consider adopting the proposed Atlanta Climate Action Plan as early as Sept. 21. This schedule presumes that two council committees support the proposal at their meetings on Tuesday. Atlanta Councilmember Kwanza Hall sponsored the resolution.

The Utilities Committee is to begin the discussion. If members approve the proposal, they are slated to refer it to the Community Development Committee for consideration Tuesday afternoon. If the proposal clears the second committee, it is to be placed on the city council’s Sept. 21 agenda.

The sweeping proposal encompasses several initiatives the city now is implementing, but in a piecemeal fashion. The Atlanta Climate Action Plan is to bring all the initiatives, both existing and future, into one program overseen by the Office of Sustainability, now headed by Stephanie Stuckey Benfield.

For example, Mayor Kasim Reed recently created and posted the position of “urban agriculture director.” The duties will include the implementation of a food security program that’s identified in the Atlanta Climate Action Plan. The notion is for the new position to promote new policies regarding farming in the city, and the conversion of brownfields into urban gardens.

The Atlanta Better Buildings Challenge now has 100 million square feet of commercial space enrolled in a program that aims to reduce water and energy consumption by 20 percent by the year 2020. The Atlanta Climate Action Plan calls for expanding the program. The plan states that 45 percent of the city’s greenhouse gas emissions stem from commercial buildings and industrial processes.

An example cited in the Atlanta Climate Action Plan involves the cost savings and emissions reductions related to the illumination of the exterior of Atlanta City Hall. The older lighting system was replaced in 2013 with a system of light emitting diodes (LEDs). Annual maintenance costs were trimmed by $8,000, electricity costs by $8,000, and 36 tons of greenhouse gases were abated.

The Atlanta Climate Action Plan is the result of a stakeholder process that brought together more than 50 individuals with expertise in six categories:

 

 

The organizations that participated on a Technical Steering Committee include:

 

 

 

One participant previously produced a report on air quality in metro Atlanta that’s received scant attention. David D’Onofrio is the ARC’s air quality and climate change principal planner, and he released a report last year entitled, Understanding the regulatory environment of climate change and the Impact of community design on greenhouse gas emissions.

The Buckhead community in Atlanta produces the greatest amount of carbon dioxide emissions, per person, in the Atlanta region. The ranking includes emissions for both powering homes and tailpipe exhaust.

On a related point, Atlanta’s sustainability plan is more aggressive than Georgia’s pending State Wildlife Plan.

Atlanta’s plan seeks to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, whereas the state plan seeks to devise ways of, “preparing for and coping with climate change impacts on fish and wildlife.”

The two campuses in metro Atlanta that achieved national rankings for the success of sustainability programs were announced in the August edition of Sierra magazine.

Out of a pool of 153 schools, on a scale of 1 to 1,000 points, the schools were scored:

 

Georgia ranks No. 2 for growth in solar capacity since 2012, new report shows

A new report commissioned by Environment Georgia provides a status report on the nation’s solar power industry and shows Georgia ranks second in the country in terms of growth in solar capacity since 2012.

Solar power, Environment Georgia

Athens-Clarke County Commissioner Melissa Link spoke at an event to mark the release of “Lighting the Way,” a report on the state of solar power in the nation. The others are (l-r) Warren McPherson, director of Athens Montessori School; Gerd Schroth, a solar installer at Solar Sun World; and Colleen McLoughlin, the Solar Campaign Organizer for Environment Georgia. Credit: Environment Georgia

The report, Lighting the Way, determined that every state has more than enough sunshine to meet its energy needs. The states that produce the most electricity from solar are those that have polices that encourage installation of solar facilities.

“We’ve got plenty of sunshine,” Colleen McLoughlin, solar campaign organizer with Environment Georgia, said in a statement. “Combine that with plenty of commitment to clean energy policies and Georgia can light the way on solar.”

Georgia has a new law on the books that is intended promote the production of solar power.

The new law addresses one of the recommendations made in the report. In a section about market expansion programs, one of the recommended financial strategies is to create: “[P]rograms that allow solar customers to sell solar renewable energy credits to utilities seeking to comply with state solar generation targets.”

“Our analysis shows that policy choices are a key driver of solar energy growth,” Gideon Weissman, a co-author of the report, said in a statement. “State and local government policy leadership is closely aligned with success in growing solar energy.”

In May, Gov. Nathan Deal signed into law House Bill 57, the Solar Power Free Market Financing Act. HB 57 is a, “giant leap forward in the development of distributed solar power in the state,” according to a white paper by the Atlanta law firm Smith, Gambrell & Russell. The paper goes on to state:

Solar Facility, Southern and Turner Enterprises

Subsidiaries of Southern Co. and Turner Enterprises has built 80,000 solar modules in California, representing another capital project putting pressure on Southern’s credit rating. File/Credit: pvsolarreport.com

Here’s what the law does, according to Smith, Gambrell & Russell:

HB 57 was sponsored by a bipartisan group of lawmakers from metro and exuburban Atlanta. House signers include Rep. Mike Dudgeon (R-Johns Creek); Rep. Karla Drenner (D-Avondale Estates); Rep. Buzz Brockway (R-Lawrenceville); Rep. Harry Geisinger (R-Roswell); Rep. Ed Setzler (R-Acworth); and Rep. Mark Hamilton (R-Cumming).

The Senate sponsor was Sen. Steve Gooch (R-Dahlonega), the chamber’s majority whip.

The report commissioned by Environment Georgia notes that similar provisions are being discussed in North Carolina and Florida.

Here are the top 10 states in the nation, in terms of solar electricity capacity. Credit: “Lighting the Way”

Here are the top 10 states in the nation, in terms of solar electricity capacity. Credit: “Lighting the Way”

In North Carolina, pending legislation would legalize third-party sales.

In Florida, citizen activists are promoting a ballot measure in 2016 to allow third-party solar ownership. The Florida effort, named Floridians for Solar Choice, involves the Libertarian Party of Florida, the Christian Coalition, and the Florida Solar Energy Industries Association, according to the report.

Environment Georgia released the report, Lighting the Way III, Sept. 3 at Athens Montessori School. The school has a solar power facility.

The report determined that the top 10 states in the nation, in terms of solar capacity per person, have renewable energy requirements. Nine of the top 10 states have laws that enable solar customers to connect to the grid and sell their excess power to the utility.

The top 10 states cited in the report are: Hawaii, Arizona, Nevada, California, New Jersey, New Mexico, Vermont, Massachusetts, and North Carolina.

Affiliates of Southern Co. and Ted Turner’s Turner Enterprises, Inc. have built a facility in Kern County, Ca., that has 80,000 solar modules. Southern California Edison has signed a 20-year contract to purchase power created by the interconnected 20 MW AC Adobe Solar Facility, according to pvsolarreport.com.

A lesson for citizen advocates: How Environment Georgia won strong protection for Conasauga River

The value of patience and persistence is one lesson citizen advocates learned from the state’s decision to grant the headwaters of the Conasauga River, in north Georgia, the highest level of protection available under the federal Clean Water Act.

Conasauga River

Environment Georgia wrote the latest chapter in the book on citizen advocacy when it prevailed in an effort to grant the highest level of protection to the headwaters of the Conasauga River. Credit: Environment Georgia

Environment Georgia has written the latest chapter in the handbook on how to influence public policy. The effort that started in 2007 ended with the Georgia Board of Natural Resources voting Aug. 25 to designate an 11-mile stretch of the Conasauga River as a Tier 3 waterway with the Outstanding National Resource Water designation.

In the end, the group didn’t get all the protection that it wanted for the Consauga River. But members learned a lot and set the stage for future efforts to protect waterways and land. And the effort cemented relations with partners including landowners, the River Basin Center at the University of Georgia, and various environmental organizations.

“The most important lesson we learned is that if you’re forging entirely new territory, it’s best to figure out the easier ask and come back later for more,” said Jennette Gayer, the state advocate at Environment Georgia. “We scaled back our original proposal with the idea that once we get the first designation done, it will be that much easier to get the next ones.”

The notion to protect the Conasauga River started with a general conversation about protecting greenspace and wild areas.

“The basic idea was, ‘You know, we are letting a lot of these special places slip away without taking a minute to fight for them,’” Gayer said.

Out of that conversation came the plan to protect the Conasauga and Jacks

Conasauga River, in autumn

The headlands of the Conasauga River are protected by the most stringent regulations, following state action on a proposal made by Environment Georgia. Credit: Environment Georgia

rivers. The original plan was to protect the rivers from their headwaters all the way to the state border with Tennessee. The group wasn’t prepared for what came next.

“We naively submitted a petition and thought it would take a year to go through the process,” Gayer said. “We found out that’s not the case. Not because of intense opposition, but creating Tier 3 had never been done in Georgia before. If something’s never been done, it’s kind of trickier.”

The state Environmental Protection Division required a stakeholder process to gather public opinion about the proposed water protection designation.

“We got Fannin, Murray and Gilmer counties to pass resolutions saying they support the idea,” Gayer said. “It was kind of fun because we met with owners of land the river passes through. These are in the Alaculsy Valley [in Murray County] above the Cohutta. The people have been owners for generations and see themselves as being stewards of the land and liked the idea of being part of the big ‘first ever’ designation.

Conasauga River, map

Georgia has designated the headwaters of the Conasauga River, an 11-mile stretch that goes almost to the Tennessee border, as the state’s first “Outstanding National Resource Water.”

Along with local landowners and commercial interests, the stakeholders include the U.S.D.A. Forest Service, because the rivers are in the Chattahoochee National Forest.

“We got into the weeds about how the Forest Service manages land,” Gayer said. “One thing that came up is there are lot of places where a trail crosses over a river, or over a stream that creates the river. If you have to reroute a trail, you’ll end up with sediments in the river, which is changing the quality of the river you’re trying to protect.”

As time passed, Environment Georgia decided to scale back the original proposal. Jack River fell by the wayside and the proposal for the Conasauga River was reduced to its 11-mile headwaters. One reason is that an early thought to protect a hole where snorkeling is popular was abandoned because Tier 3 protection isn’t appropriate for an area that is a recreation destination.

To accommodate the future work by the Forest Service, to reroute trails and camp areas, the state board added the following language:

Gayer said Environment Georgia will identify a similar project in the future. Members will use the lessons learned from the effort to gain Tier 3 designation for the Conasauga River.

“Our next step will be to take a step back, and figure out the steps to achieve this designation, figure out if people want to do this along a river or stream, and map other places where we could designate ‘Outstanding National Resource Water.’

“It might not have the exact conditions, but it might have something worth protecting and we can help move it toward being an outstanding national resource,” Gayer said.

 

Breaking cycles of poverty: How not to cluster the poor in broken neighborhoods

Metro Atlanta could be the poster child for housing policies that, intentionally or not, have concentrated lower income households in non-white neighborhoods that aren’t pleasant places. The U.S. Supreme Court and the Obama administration intend to change the way policies are implemented, and the policies.

Imperial Hotel

The Imperial Hotel, in downtown Atlanta, was renovated in 1995 with funding from the Low Income Tax Credit Program. All 120 rooms were set aside for low income residents. Credit: wikimedia.org

In the world of housing advocates and developers, the actions coming out of Washington this past summer are most compelling. They could change the way business has been conducted for decades, according to panelists at a quarterly forum sponsored Wednesday by Atlanta Housing Forum.

“The Supreme Court decision is really scary when you look at it, because it’s not built on what we intended to do, it’s built on things that maybe we don’t control,” said Laurel Hart, who directs the Housing Finance and Development Division of the Georgia Department of Community Affairs.

Hart referred to the outcome of long-standing Georgia DCA policies regarding low-income housing tax credits. The outcomes in Georgia are similar to those at the heart of a test case heard by the Supreme Court involving the Texas Department of Community Affairs.

Georgia’s policies for allocating the tax credits have resulted in affordable housing in metro Atlanta being concentrated mainly in south Atlanta, south DeKalb and south Clayton counties, and the town centers of counties such as Hall and Cherokee counties, according to maps provided by Mike Carnathan, a researcher with the Atlanta Regional Commission.

Housing Forum, low income tax credit projects

Georgia’s formula for allocation low income tax credits has resulted in affordable housing being concentrated in poor communities. Credit: ARC

The reason is the matrix of rules that determine where Georgia seeks to encourage the development of affordable housing, according to Hart. Evidently, the matrix has had an unintended impact and the matrix needs to be changed, she said.

“If the end results of our selection process means we are primarily building in high minority concentration areas with high poverty, high crime, than we need to make changes,” Hart said.

The policies should be based on a number of decisions influenced by the court ruling, she said.

“It doesn’t prohibit us from building in a blighted area,” Hart said. “But when we do, I think it has to be much more thoughtful. I don’t think we can just build a tax credit project in a minority concentrated area with high crime, bad schools, and we’re going to say that just because we build here we’re making that community better. … Are we just building a property, or are we community building? Are we making a community better place for people to live?”

Hart was one of three speakers on the panel. The others offered their perspective of the federal actions.

Tera Doak is an attorney and self-avowed “geek” on housing law. Doak serves as associate general counsel for Habitat for Humanity International.

`Housing Forum, low income in minority neighborhoods

Georgia’s formula for allocating low income tax credits has resulted in affordable housing being concentrated in non-white communities. Credit: ARC

In her closing comments in the first segment of the program Doak noted: “One of the points I’m trying to make is there’s still a lot of uncertainty out there in respect to these claims, and it will be really interesting to see how all this plays out.”

Doak noted that the Supreme Court ruling did reaffirm a long-standing ruling about what it takes to make a case of disparate impact in fair housing lawsuits. And HUD did issue a final ruling that will affect programs including the Community Development Block Grant.

Still, from a lawyer’s perspective, a lot of litigation remains before the final policies are determined.

“It remains to be seen how courts ill apply, ‘disparate impact,’” Doak said. “Additional cases will be brought that will flesh that out.”

The headliner of the presentation was Ethan Handelman, vice president for policy and advocacy for the National Housing Conference.

Incidentally, NHC presented its 2015 Housing Visionary Award in June to Piece by Piece, a regional initiative to address the foreclosure crisis. Piece by Piece is staffed by the Atlanta Neighborhood Development Partnership, Inc., which helps staff Atlanta Regional Housing.

Handelmann was enthused by the rulings from the Supreme Court and HUD. He focused on the notion that the court had reaffirmed long-standing interpretations of fair housing.

Housing Forum, housing plus transportation costs

Metro Atlanta ranks sixth highest in the nation in terms of the combined cost of housing and transporation. Credit: ARC

“In some ways, what the Supreme Court says is, ‘status quo continues,’” Handelmann said. “By reaffirming that standard, it added a lot of energy to this conversation and remind people of what the Fair Housing Act of 1968 means, and how we can change communities for the better.”

Handelmann discussed the sometimes competing visions of fair housing. Some advocates call for community development. Others frame the fair housing issues of access and choice as relevant in civil rights.

“Too often, we’re fighting each other,” he said.

Handelmann’s comments reminded of the 2013 Supreme Court decision that wiped away crucial parts of the Votings Rights Act of 1965. The court determined that states with histories of racial discrimination no longer need approval from the federal government to change voting laws.

Obama called last month for Congress to renew the provision. On Tuesday, the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington ruled against providing Shelby County, Ala., with more than $2 million to cover its legal costs for bringing the case to the Supreme Court, according to a report in huffingtonpost.com.

Conasauga River headwaters to receive highest level of protection under Clean Water Act

Georgia has declared the headwaters of the Conasauga River, in north Georgia, as the state’s first “Outstanding National Resource Water.” The designation provides the highest level of protection available under the federal Clean Water Act.

Conasauga River, headwaters

Georgia has designated an 11-mile stretch of the headwaters of the Conasauga River as one that receives the highest level of protection under the federal Clean Water Act. Credit: Environment Georgia

The Georgia Board of Natural Resources voted Aug. 25 to designate an 11-mile stretch of the Conasauga River as a Tier 3 waterway. The board specified the following length of river as designated: “Conasauga River within the Cohutta Wilderness Area of the Chattahoochee National Forest (headwaters to Forest Service Road 17).”

The language in the Clean Water Act that describes Tier 3 seems to be black-letter law: “Except for certain temporary changes, water quality cannot be lowered in such waters.”

The board provided this additional language it the amendment approved to Water Quality Control, in state law:

Jennette Gayer, the state advocate at Environment Georgia, which has championed the designation since at least 2007, said Tuesday the language allowing for temporary changes is an important part of the designation.

The language envisions improvements to be made near the river by the U.S.D.A. Forest Service, which manages the Cohutta Wilderness Area.

The notion of “temporary changes” will enable the Forest Service to reroute trails or relocate a campground, actions that likely will have some temporary effect on water quality.

Conasauga River, map

Georgia has designated the headwaters of the Conasauga River, an 11-mile stretch that goes almost to the Tennessee border, as the state’s first “Outstanding National Resource Water.”

“The language in the code allows for … the ultimate idea that the changes will result in restoring the water to the original, or even better, condition,” Gayer said. “If you’re rerouting a trail or moving a campground, it’s because you want to protect water quality in the river.”

Lots of high-powered folks have written eloquent messages about the reasons the Conasauga’s headwaters deserve extreme protection. The non-profit U.S. PIRG Education Fund is one of them, having described the Conasauga River in a 2006 report as one of the 10 exceptional waterways in the southeast.

Here are some thoughts from those who live near the river, as expressed by the sole commissioner of Murray County, Jim Welch, and the deputy clerk, Charlene Miles, in a resolution dated July 1, 2008:

The Clean Water Act requires states to establish a three-tier anti-degradation program. Until the Conasauga River was named a Tier 3 waterway, Georgia and Mississippi were the only states that had not provided the ultimate level of protection from development and other environmental stressors.

 

Southern Co. likely to see downgrade of credit rating when it buys AGL Resources

Moody’s Investors Service has reduced the credit outlook of Southern Co. from stable to negative as a result of Southern’s decision to purchase AGL Resources. Moody’s affirmed Southern’s current ratings, but expects to reduce ratings if the AGL deal goes through as announced.

Plant Vogtle, July 2015

Plant Vogtle is adding to the financial drag that Moodys Investors Service says will prompt it to downgrade Southern’s credit rating as Southern purchases AGL Resources. Credit: georgiapower.com

According to a ratings statement Moodys issued Aug. 24:

Southern currently has ratings of Baa1 senior unsecured, Prime-2 short-term rating for commercial paper, according to the rating action.

Southern intends to acquire AGL for about $8 billion in cash, said Michael Haggarty, an associate managing director of Moodys. Although Southern intends to issue equity in the future to finance the purchase, Southern is going to be leveraged for several years, according to the rating action.

In addition, the purchase of AGL comes at a time Southern’s rating faces rising financial pressure from expansions in Georgia and Mississippi, and expansion into renewable energy, according to the rating action.

In Georgia, Georgia Power is accruing cost overruns and construction delays at Plant Vogtle, where Units 3 and 4 are the first nuclear plants to be built in the U.S. in 30 years. Georgia Power is Southern’s largest utility subsidiary, according to Moodys.

Kemper IGCC

A subsidiary of Southern Co. is building the Kemper IGCC project in Mississippi. The facility is now projected to cost nearly three times the original estimate and is another drag on Southern Co. as it purchases AGL Resources. Credit: mississippipower.com

In Mississippi, Mississippi Power is building the Kemper IGCC. The facility is now projected to cost $6.1 billion, almost three times the original estimate of $2.2 billion. The Integrated Coal Gasification Combined Cycle project is the only large-scale integrated carbon capture and sequestration project being built in the U.S., according to powermag.com. Southern Co. has already shouldered $2 billion of pre-tax, or $1.5 billion after-tax, charges for unrecoverable costs related to the Kemper project.

The last financial pressure cited by Moodys’ is the expansion into renewable energy by Southern’s wholesale power subsidiary, Southern Power. The parent company is supporting the expansion through debt financing, according to Moodys.

One example is a solar facility that Southern Power has built in partnership with an affiliate of Ted Turner’s Turner Enterprises, Inc. The facility in Kern County, Ca., has 80,000 solar modules. Southern California Edison has signed a 20-year contract to purchase power created by the interconnected 20 MW AC Adobe Solar Facility, according to pvsolarreport.com.

The purchase of AGL will push Southern’s total debt from less than $2 billion to the range of $10 billion to $11 billion as it works to manage the mounting costs of expanding its facilities, according to Moodys.

Moodys’ decision to affirm Southern’s ratings does reflect Moodys’ opinion that the purchase puts Southern creates a diversified market in a vast geographic area.

Solar Facility, Southern and Turner Enterprises

Subsidiaries of Southern Co. and Turner Enterprises has built 80,000 solar modules in California, representing another capital project putting pressure on Southern’s credit rating. Credit: pvsolarreport.com

According to the ratings action:

However, Moodys offered no hope that Southern’s credit rating will rise in the foreseeable future:

Moodys does foresee a number of scenarios that could drive Southern’s ratings lower:

Southern current has a working capital to debt ratio of 20 percent. That’s expected to drop to 15 percent immediately after the acquisition of AGL, according to Moodys.

 

 

Atlanta Streetcar to accept Breeze Card despite earlier reports of conflict, to get new interim director

It turns out that the Atlanta Streetcar will utilize the Breeze Card, despite an earlier report by a top city official that it isn’t cost efficient and resulted in no fares being collected this year. In addition, the streetcar has a new interim executive director, according to a statement issued Thursday by Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed’s office.

Atlanta Streetcar

Atlanta’s streetcar system serves the Downtown area. File/Credit: walkableapp.com

A main reason for interest in the fare technology is that Reed told Central Atlanta Progress at its annual breakfast meeting in March that there was one reason for delaying fare collection on the streetcar until 2016. Reed said fares wouldn’t be collected in 2015 because he’d learned of new fare collection technology while traveling abroad.

A month later, Reed’s commissioner of public works gave a different reason for the delay in collecting fares. Richard Mendoza said the lack of technology to collect fares, including the Breeze Card technology, meant city administrators decided to waive fare collection:

Evidently, all issues have been resolved.

At Wednesday’s meeting of the Transportation Committee of the Atlanta City Council, William Jones, of the Public Works Department, told the Transportation Committee that Breeze Card machines will be provided at every stop of the Atlanta Streetcar.

Jones is a transportation planner charged with implementing the streetcar, according to his LinkedIn profile.

Here’s what Jones said about app’s relation to the Breeze Card:

Jones cited the Breeze Card as he was explaining on Wednesday a proposal pending before the Transportation Committee to pay a vendor $172,272 to develop a mobile app. The app is to enable streetcar passengers to buy a fare from their mobile device.

The source of funds includes $100,000 in federal funds and $72,000 from Atlanta’s car rental tax collected at Atlanta’s airport. Committee Chairperson Felicia Moore asked for an accounting of how the car rental tax seems to be a bottomless pit of funds that subsidize so many varied projects that can’t pay for themselves. Jones said he will get more information to say how many years the $72,00 fee may cover.

At the Transportation Committee meeting, Councilmember Alex Wan said he’s ready for the streetcar to begin generating revenues: “We’ve run into problems, but we’ve got to starting bringing money in on this project.”

Moore called for an accounting the funds being used to maintain the app for the streetcar. That amount totals $72,000. Williams said he needed more time to determine if the sum covered one year or several years.

Councilmember Natalyn Archibong asked who is in charge of the streetcar. Mendoza answered the same question last month and said he’s in charge. Some on the council seem to doubt that a department head is handling the daily affairs of the streetcar.

keith jones

Jones has updated his LinkedIn page to reflect his current position. Jones’ pending appointment wasn’t passed to the Atlanta City Council’s Transportation Committee when its members asked the day before Jones’ announcement who was overseeing the Atlanta Streetcar. Credit: LinkedIn.

Reed’s office issued the following statement Thursday concerning leadership of the Atlanta Streetcar:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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