Greenroom: January 2009

Cobb County voted to spend $40 million on new parklands in the November election. The county has proven a good land steward, investing $37 million in about 400 acres over the last year, and voters approved the new bond two-to-one. The funds will go mostly to “pocket parks” and areas adjacent to parks purchased in last year’s bond, including Stout Park, which, with last year’s purchase, now totals 226 acres, making it bigger than Atlanta’s Piedmont Park.

Voters across the state also agreed to let school boards participate in Tax Allocation Districts, a big relief to revitalization projects such as the Atlanta Beltline. The TAD is critical to the transit portion of the Beltline, as well as to the future of affordable housing in Atlanta: the Beltline Affordability Housing Board plans to use 15 percent of the Beltline TAD, which is expected over the next 25 years to generate $120 million, or 2,800 affordable housing units, along the loop.

Voters also made it easier for landowners to conserve Georgia’s forests. Amendment 1 will allow land to be taxed at its current value in forest rather than at the value of a shopping center or subdivision down the road; owners have to sign a 15-year covenant to keep their land in trees to qualify for the current use valuation. The amendment will protect an estimated 4 to 5 million acres from sprawl.

Georgia Power plans to convert Albany’s Plant Mitchell to 100 percent biomass, making it one of the largest plants of its kind in the country. The location, surrounded by 20 million tons of “biomass” (trees) not commercially utilized, is ideal for the plant, which could consume a million tons of biomass a year. Biomass-to-electricity plants emit less sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide than their coal-fueled cousins, and when the trees harvested for energy are replaced, the project captures carbon emissions. The converted plant should also have lower fuel and operating costs than the current coal-dependent facility and create up to 75 new jobs in forestry, logging, biomass delivery and support. “By converting Plant Mitchell to biomass, we hope to not only help grow the renewable resource base in Georgia but also to expand the market for renewable energy credits, which ultimately will foster additional renewable energy development,” said Mike Garrett, Georgia Power president and CEO.

The city of Atlanta has completed the $190 million West Area Combined Sewer Overflow Tunnel, the last project under a consent decree negotiated in 1998 to settle a lawsuit filed by the Upper Chattahoochee Riverkeeper and other environmental groups over pollution in the Chattahoochee. The tunnel will help reduce overflows in the 10 percent of the city sewer system that remains combined – meaning stormwater and sewage share the same pipes. Such overflows can tax the pipes’ capacity and result in untreated water entering streams and creeks. The city’s Department of Watershed Management says the newly-completed tunnel can store up to 177 million gallons that will eventually be transferred to a treatment facility – and result in a cleaner river.

Kudos to Atlanta’s Sweetwater Brewery, which, along with Taco Mac and Whole Foods, gave the Upper Chattahoochee Riverkeeper a check for $63,000 in August from its Save the Hooch campaign. The donation set new records and will fund the UCR River Patrol and Water Quality Monitoring Program for a year.

Hall County has been put on notice by residents angry that state-protected buffers along Lake Lanier were being cleared for a makeover of the Lake Lanier Island Resort. Initially claiming the county had no authority to enforce actions on federal property, the Georgia Environmental Protection Department then told the county it did have such authority and responsibility. No action has been taken to date.

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