Welcome to the May 2013 issue of the Kent Environmental Council newsletter.
|Changing Seasons and a Changing Environment |
Summer is nearly here, and life in Kent is once again taking on a new feeling. At this time last year, construction was everywhere downtown, and the skyline was far different than what we see today. Several seasonal changes are occurring also, as the canoe livery opens for its fourth season and many students leave for the summer. On-campus activity may be a bit more leisurely right now, but in the parks, on the trails and in the gardens, the real wildlife is just hitting its stride as the weather warms.
Kent Environmental Council's focus on active living continues this season, with further analysis of the city's bicentennial plan and another year of partnership with the Haymaker Farmers' Market. Behind the scenes, we're keeping busy adding new functionality to the website (you can join, renew and pay dues all online now) and sprucing up the Haymaker Parkway Adopt-A-Spot. If the weather has your cells and molecules in an excited state about any of these topics--or other areas where KEC is active, such as fracking or environmental education--then check out the various focus groups and see if you'd like to help out a bit.
What do food, landscaping, people-powered transportation, and downtown redevelopment have to do with the environment, you might ask? Well, let's be honest, you probably already know, because you're well-read and an engaged participant in the community. But just in case, let's review. A vibrant city with developed infrastructure helps to support a healthy population. A healthy population is more likely to appreciate and protect its environment. High-quality natural areas and outdoor recreational opportunities add value to a community.
Whether we're talking about the natural environment or the built environment, it's all connection--people, nature, and society. Improvements in one area make it easier to enhance other areas. Let's take some of the momentum from the improvements that have happened in Kent lately to make sure that all three parts of our community are in good shape and see more positive changes. Thanks for all you've done, KEC members and friends, and all you continue to do.
--Lisa Regula Meyer, Chair, KEC
|KEC's Spring Forum Explored the Idea of `Active Living: Measuring the Fulfillment of Kent's Bicentennial Plan'|
At the Kent Environmental Council's Spring Forum on April 22, KEC member Dr. Eugene Wenninger opened the session with an overview of Kent's Bicentennial Plan, which was developed 10 years ago by Kent State University, Ohio State University and the city of Kent. The plan focused on three types of sustainability: economic, environmental/ecological and social/cultural. The plan is quite lengthy. To read the entire plan, click here.
A panel discussion among Krista Beniston, planning coordinator for the Akron Metropolitan Area Transportation Study (AMATS); Bryan Smith, director of planning for PARTA; and Jim Bowling, Kent city engineer, followed. Moderator and KEC member Chris Mallin asked the panelists to address what they do, what their organization does and how they obtain citizen input.
Beniston said that AMATS does long-range transportation planning for Portage and Summit counties and a small portion of a third county. It receives state and federal funds, and then allocates those funds. Ten years ago, roads and bridges were the agency's main focus. That scope has since expanded to include planning for increased alternative transportation opportunities with a focus on the components of active living, such as bicycle and pedestrian trails. Beniston said the federal government requires AMATS to have public participation and recently held two meetings related to active living. One person attended the Kent meeting, while three people attended the Akron meeting. Beniston acknowledged that AMATS has a difficult time getting public input. One recent success was a bike ride starting at PARTA's new multimodal transit center in Kent; a meeting to discuss ideas was held after the ride. A total of 62 people participated and generated a great deal of discussion. Beniston said that AMATS definitely will use the input in their future planning.
Smith from PARTA noted that when Beniston came to AMATS, she began to plot the existing bus routes and sidewalks in Portage and Summit counties and do other mapping projects as a part of the agency's Connecting Communities Plan, which has been a big help to PARTA and has changed the conversation in the region. A big issue for PARTA is how to make transit relevant for each community in Portage County. Smith noted that what is needed in Palmyra or Edinburg, for example, is not always the same as what is needed in urban areas such as Kent. The federal government, Smith said, mandates that PARTA produce a Transit Development Plan (TDP) every seven to 10 years. This is a guiding document that can be found on PARTA's website. Smith noted that the mandate lacks details about how the plan is to be developed, except to say that meetings are required. Like AMATS, PARTA also has trouble attracting people to meetings. In Atwater, no one attended a meeting held there. Smith said he helps with planning, finds ways to use the community input, finds the funds needed to implement the TDP and obtains approval for the plan from the agency's board. A federal grant PARTA received for the multimodal facility was made possible with help from the city's Bicentennial Plan, AMATS and PARTA's TDP.
Bowling has been the engineer for the city of Kent since 2007 and a consultant to them for 13 years before that. He said he saw how KEC and other citizens changed the conversation in Kent--most recently, looking at a different expectation regarding including pedestrian and bicycle uses on the new Fairchild Avenue bridge. The city's transportation planning process is as follows:
- The city identifies a need. The Bicentennial Plan identified some of these issues. Citizens also voiced their concerns (they did not lack citizen input).
- The city lists the work to be completed needed and has experts conduct accident and traffic studies.
- The city evaluates solutions in light of fiscal constraint. This step includes technical studies and may include citizen input.
- The city develops a capital plan to determine what can be done and in what order.
- The city presents the plan to city council for discussion and approval.
- The city conducts a preliminary study (sometimes in conjunction with a committee) to determine the details of how to fix the need (e.g., adding a bike lane to the Summit Street resurfacing project).
- The city begins the design phase, where plenty of input is solicited from various people so the small issues are not forgotten.
- The city builds the project.
The following are snippets from the question-and-answer session after the panel discussion:
- About the necessity of the Esplanade: It was in the Bicentennial Plan and funded by grants.
- About bike trails: By 2017, Kent will connect its bike trail to Tannery Park. There are bike trails from north to south but not along State Route 43, which is quite busy at times.
- About the need for more bus shelters: One percent of transportation funding must be spent on enhancements. Smith from PARTA said that he has $30,000 for such structures and will build bus shelters if another organization pays for the cement pad (usually 10 feet by 12 feet, but it can be smaller) and has an engineering drawing of the pad--such as occurred with the veterans' facility in Ravenna recently. He said he is willing to consider building more shelters in cooperation with other groups. He added that even if he cannot address all of the needs now, he can set them for future dates.
KEC member Charles Frederick then spoke about active living, giving an overview of the concept of active living and the crowd-sourcing methods he has been using in his study of the topic. He then showed slides of the photos and descriptions submitted by Kent residents that relate to active-living issues. The research can be summarized as follows:
Thirty-three community members submitted a total of 218 images; since the data were collated and analyzed, five people submitted another approximately 40 images, which will be included in the future. Only 209 images/descriptions were used for the initial analysis; eight images/descriptions could not be located because there was not enough descriptive information, or the image was focused on an individual object with minimal context; likewise, one image was of a participant's family member and was not used for privacy reasons. The raw data were formatted directly into a GIS database. The individual locations were plotted, and each point was given active living attributes. One of the active living attributes, value, was assigned by the participant. The value ratings were good (95/209), moderate (28/209) and poor (86/209). For examples of the ratings, see the photos below:
Good Example. The expansion of the Kent State University esplanade into downtown Kent has the potential to be a good example of active living. Without this extension, one must either go through a residential area or cross a busy intersection to get downtown. These options do not promote active living because many people would consider either option to be a hassle and decide that going downtown is not worth the trouble. An extension of the esplanade into that area creates a clean route for students to access the rest of Kent and for Kent residents to access the university. The extended esplanade will create a much stronger connection between the two areas, and this connection likely will entice people to cross between the two areas and help revitalize downtown Kent, which is another way to promote active living and cohesion within the community.
Moderate Example. Bike racks encourage physical fitness as well as environmentally friendly ways to travel in a city. People may feel more inclined to ride bikes if a city provides secure places to lock them when not in use. Kent provides quite a few places for people to lock their bikes; however, the addition of more of these devices may improve and encourage active living in Kent.
For a map plotting the three levels of active living examples around Kent, see the illustration below:
|Poor Example. This is a poor example of active living because it shows that numerous people are driving to college classes. A lot of people in Kent live close enough to campus that they could walk to all of their classes instead of filling up huge parking lots. Most likely, a significant part of the people parked her live too far to walk, but with dorms and houses so close to campus, fewer people could be driving. Weather conditions also likely play a role in a person's decision to drive or walk. Not many people want to walk far in the cold.|
|Map showing the plot of good, moderate and poor examples of active living around Kent.|
Seven other active living attributes were created by interpretation of the narrative submitted with the image.
This research examines two critical elements: data and participation. While these are distinctive issues, this research revealed their interrelationships. The answer to the initial question--Does planning matter?--is yes. But did the data collection method provide relevant information for the project? Again, the answer is yes. The collection method provided data from both the participant and the researcher, with 96 percent of the data able to be plotted and analyzed. This data-management process was successful because of the community participation. When compared to the most recent planning document for the city, the 2004 Kent Bicentennial Plan, the community participation portion is less, but this research is still being conducted and, as it continues, community participation should increase. Also, if the engagement process evolves into a more rigorous social networking framework, then it is likely that an increased yet different social participation process would occur. The data collection and analysis for this project greatly exceeds the data collection for the Bicentennial Plan. That plan was structured as a document that would evolve and progress as local conditions warrant. The management structure of the plan proposed a yearly report card that would evaluate all of the implementation tasks. This work was completed in 2005. The active living project, with the community participation and data collection, provides the city with initial baseline data for future report cards or for revisiting the Bicentennial Plan.
The KEC active living project will continue through 2013. The immediate intent is to advance the understanding of the data to a point that at least policy recommendations could be forwarded to the appropriate stakeholder--city of Kent, PARTA or AMATS--or that KEC with a partner could develop planning guidelines for a particular active living concept. The expectation of ongoing data management directly follows the intention of this research: that data collection via community participation seems to increase the likelihood for planning success. Furthermore, an engaged community is an informed community and can help lead various aspects of the planning process. The two active living project community meetings (i.e., KEC Annual Meeting and KEC Spring Forum) have been positive and engaging toward this research and the concepts of active living. A better test will be the KEC Fall Forum (date still to be determined, the focus of which will be continued development of community participation and policy suggestions and/or planning projects for active living concepts.
The project will continue to evolve with a particular focus on data management. Soon this process should be taken to the next level of engagement with its inclusion on KEC's social media portals--primarily the KEC website and Facebook page. The intent here is to test more opportunities for social networking and data collection. Another research opportunity is to use the social networking image platforms (e.g., Flicker) for an increased web presence and for data mining.
In conclusion, the project director needs to continue to receive input and determine how to sustain the project. For the next few months, the focus will be on how more data can be gathered and how to use the information to fix the areas that are lacking, or what is done as a process. The panel members suggested that it would be interesting to overlay the AMATS maps on the maps that Frederick has compiled from the crowd-sourcing effort. They believed the crowd sourcing was an absolutely useful tool.
The following are comments from the audience:
- KEC member Harold Walker pointed out that transportation habits are most damaging to natural environments and tie into land use for roads, parking lots, storm-water runoff, ever increasing the need for oil and gas. He added that part of KEC's focus is conserving natural environments. He said the Active Living Committee needs to do more planning and goal setting. How can we live more sustainably and more compactly and make connections clearer to people, Walker asked.
- KEC member Bob Wilson suggested that to gain input, PARTA should have people meet on a bus and ride around. It would be a discussion and comment session on the go, similar to the successful bike ride mentioned earlier in this article.
- Bob Howard commented that the College of Public Health at Kent State University is using the concept of healthy cities, which overlaps active living, and that the dean of the College of Architecture and Environmental Design brought in Richard Jackson, M.D. from UCLA to discuss public health and the built environment. Howard said these might be sources of collaboration.
- Kent Councilwoman Heidi Shaffer noted that not many people speak up for blighted sidewalks. Kent City Council, she said, needs to have this input.
| ||Blowin' in the Wind--and in Water, Solar . . .|
The answer, my friends, is indeed blowing--not only in the wind but also in water, solar, biofuels, geothermal, and tidal power, and the expanding electric and hybrid vehicle market, all of which represent important sources of alternative energy, the term used for any energy source that is an alternative to the burning or extraction of fossil fuels.
Two of the major contributors to the burning and extraction of fossil fuels are high carbon dioxide emissions (from burning coal) and methane emissions (from extracting gas and oil). Both of these gasses are also considered to be major contributors to global warming, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. The relationship between burning coal and global warming has been well documented, but as the gas and oil companies point out, methane is a clean-burning fuel. What they neglect to tell us, however, is that a full eight percent of the methane extracted is released into the atmosphere, either during the extraction process or from leaky storage tanks and trucks transporting the gas. Eight percent of the millions of gallons extracted is a huge amount of methane.
In addition to the problems related to the burning of fossil fuels, however, it is important to consider the procedures used for their extraction. In the case of coal, mountain-top removal, used extensively in West Virginia and Kentucky, is not only destroying numerous mountains but also contaminating and filling many streams at the foot of the mountains. Another problem is black-lung disease, which is virtually epidemic among miners. For a firsthand look at this devastating process, readers should take a drive through West Virginia to see for themselves what is happening there.
In the case of gas and oil, slickwater hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, is the method of choice and is responsible not only for the destruction of many thousands of acres of farmland and wetlands from one coast to the other, but it also is destroying the quality of life for many hundreds of people and, in some cases, their life itself. In that respect, Ohio Gov. John Kasich recently signed a bill into law that makes it extremely difficult for physicians, nurses and other medical professionals in Ohio to obtain information about many of the chemicals used in oil and gas drilling. The law allows drillers to designate many chemicals as proprietary trade secrets. Lack of knowledge about the chemicals to which affected patients have been exposed makes treatment difficult or impossible.
The process of fracking is well known to many KEC members, and space does not permit its description here. For those interested in reading more, please see the references below:
- Physicians, Scientists & Engineers for Healthy Energy
- Richard Manning, "Bakken Business: The Price of North Dakota's Fracking Boom,"(Harper's, March 2013, pp. 29-37).
- Walter M. Brasch, Fracking Pennsylvania: Flirting with Disaster, 2013.
- "Impacts of Gas Drilling on Human and Animal Health," (New Solutions, Vol. 22, No. 1, pp. 51-77, 2012).
- Renewable energy sources
Is there any way out of this growing circle of disaster? There is, and it is called alternative energy: wind, water, solar, biofuels, geothermal, tidal power, and electric and hybrid vehicles. All of the above represent important sources of alternative energy. While space limitations do not permit a discussion of each of the above, readers are encouraged to check out those which are not included below on Google and other information sources.
Wind generated energy, as pointed out in the March/April issue of Sierra Magazine (Vol. 98, No.2), supports an estimated 75,000 jobs nationwide. Since 2008, America's wind energy capacity has doubled, making wind second only to natural gas in terms of new generators coming online in recent years. Ohioans are in a position to benefit greatly from the winds on Lake Erie, which represent a major potential, some of which is already being tapped. There are other sources, however, that often are overlooked. Mike Wilson, executive director of the Trumbull Soil and Water Conservation District, points out that much of Ohio is windy enough to power turbines, noting that Ohio's wind potential is greater than that of Germany's. Trumbull County alone has enough accelerated winds to house many wind turbines, thus opening the potential for wind power to become a significant economic development opportunity for that area.
Water power generated by Niagara Falls has for many years provided New Yorkers with an abundant source of alternative energy. There is great potential for water power as a source of renewable energy not only in the United States but also worldwide. Here again, space does not allow for a full discussion of water power, but abundant resources are available for the interested reader. One of the best is Wickipedia, which may be found by Googling "Water Power."
Solar power is another free and abundant source of renewable energy. Solar panels are being installed on many industrial buildings and private homes. But today's solar products go far beyond what most of us think when we hear the term solar power or solar energy. We typically imagine solar electric panels on rooftops, converting sunlight into electricity. While these panels do represent a large piece of the solar pie, many more solar powered products and technologies using the sun's energy now exist. One of the largest is solar hot water, which uses the sun's heat instead of electricity to warm a potable water supply. This method is proving to be highly efficient and cost effective. Solar HVAC systems, battery-backed off-grid systems, solar farms and more are at the forefront of the solar power world of innovations, with still more to come.
Corn ethanol and other food-based biofuels represent yet another important source of alternative energy. While their use does put pressure on food supplies, recent development of cellulosic biofuels largely avoid these problems because they can be made from perennial grasses, agricultural residues left behind after harvesting and even garbage. This process has the potential to displace enough gasoline to save more than 1.5 million barrels of oil per day by 2035.
Geothermal and tidal energy also represent valuable sources of alternative energy. Once again, because of space considerations, they will not be discussed; however, numerous resources can be found by Googling Geothermal, "Tidal Energy."
Unfortunately, the United States is lagging far behind many other countries in the support of renewable, alternate energy. According to the Government Accountability Office, electricity generated by fossil fuels in the United States receives five dollars in federal subsidies for every one dollar received by the renewable energy industry. Furthermore, oil and gas drilling corporations are among the most highly profitable industries in the world. (Supermajor is a term used to describe the world's five or six largest publicly owned oil and gas companies. The supermajors are considered to be BP, Chevron Corporation, ExxonMobil Corporation, Royal Dutch Shell and Total, with ConocoPhillips Company also sometimes described as part of the group. These companies earned a combined $30.2 billion in 2012, or $331 million per day. The recent Citizens United Supreme Court decision allows these corporations to pour millions into the coffers of legislators and judges (who are elected in 39 states).
It is incumbent upon all of us, therefore, to urge our federal, state and local legislator to begin paying more serious attention to this issue. Development of alternate energy deserves far greater support than it now receives. Nothing less than our lives and the lives of future generations depend on it.
--Ted Voneida, Ph.D.
| ||Come See What's New at Your Farmers' Markets |
This summer, two Portage County farmers markets, Haymaker Farmers' Market in Kent and the Downtown Ravenna Farmers' Market will launch a food empowerment campaign designed to introduce lower-income community members to the availability and benefits of fresh, local produce.
At the beginning of every month, the markets will offer Ohio Direction Card users up to a $10 match in Lettuce Loot Coupons for the purchase of fresh fruits and vegetables at the markets. The double-value program will continue each week until the month's allotted funds are spent.
During the spring markets, Portage County Master Gardeners will hold onsite free backyard and container gardening clinics open to the public. Customers who want to participate in SNAP Gardens can use their Ohio Direction Card to purchase food-producing plants and get growing, general care, pest and disease control, and harvesting advice from the master gardeners. The Lettuce Loot Coupons may be used to purchase food-producing plants. The clinics will provide free potting soil and pots for anyone (adult or child) wanting to learn how to pot a plant and take it home.
Both markets will have weekly cooking demonstrations provided by the Campus Kitchen at Kent State University. Free recipes and nutrition information will be available. Many ingredients will be sourced at the markets, and market staff will be on hand to help customers find ingredients. Family and Community Services $.A.F.E. staff will provide meal-budgeting tips, with price comparisons for the day's recipe ingredients between farmers' markets and grocery stores.
The markets also are working with individual schools and camps in Kent and Ravenna to get Lettuce Loot Coupons into the backpack programs, which provide lower-income children with backpacks of food items to take home for the weekend. Coupons can be used at each market for the purchase of fresh fruits and vegetables and food-producing plants.
Stay tuned for a schedule of children's activities, free health screenings and seasonal produce festivals, including Strawberry Days, a Zany Zucchini Festival, a tomato tasting and contest, and end-of-season harvest festivals. Customers also can enjoy free, live, local music every week at the markets.
Haymaker Farmers' Market is open on Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. May 25 through October 26 at the corner of Franklin Avenue and Summit Street, under the Haymaker overpass. Come by to see the beautiful mural painted on the bridge abutments and lintels. The Downtown Ravenna Farmers' Market is open on Thursdays from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. May 23 through September 19 at the corner of Meridian and Cedar streets, one block north of Main Street.
For further information about the Kent market or the Ravenna market, contact Market Manager Kelly Ferry
|Highlights from Kent's 23rd Annual River Day Festival|
Kent's 23rd annual River Day festival began the morning of Saturday, April 18, when Boy Scouts from Troop 253 conducted a flag ceremony and led the crowd in reciting the Pledge of Allegiance.
Lisa Regula Meyer, Kent Environmental Council board chair, then spoke about the importance of the natural environment and the river as examples of a natural and recreational heritage that benefits the community.
|A child pets a turtle.|
Many children at the event enjoyed seeing the turtles and snake at the Kent Parks and Recreation booth and had a chance to make face masks. Next to the teepee set up by the Portage County Historical Society, many participants enjoyed weaving a mat from snake grass at a stand-up loom.
Art works from a contest for school children were displayed and depicted various birds. Also on display were various animal pelts, Indian artifacts and jewelry.
|A family try life jackets on for size.|
Kent State University's Crooked River Adventures was there with life jackets to encourage their use and to try to set another word record for the most life jackets tried on in one day. The adventure group's canoe and kayak livery is now open on weekends and taking reservations for river trips.
Information was available about KEC and its active living project along with pictures and information from Friends of the Kent Bog. Concerned Citizens provided literature about fracking dangers and alternative energy sources.
|Holden Elementary School children demonstrate their skill at song and dance.|
The Holden Elementary School choir was grand finale for the day with songs about water and rivers; dancers were included this year as well. An estimated 150 people viewed the performance.
In the evening, the Kent Community Dinner, sponsored by All Together Now, Inc., was held at Plum Creek Park, followed by a bonfire and drum circle with singing and dancers sponsored by KSU's Native American Student Association.
For more of River Day in pictures . . .
|Edith Case (left) and Caroline Arnold at the KEC booth.|
|An authentic Indian teepee.|
|A Native American in full dress displays Indian artifacts.|
|Children work on art projects.|
A good time was had by all. If you missed the festival this year, be sure to come next year. This summer, please be sure to visit Plum Creek and its park. This was one of the best stream restorations in northeast Ohio.
|Adults and children engage in zebra mat weaving.|
--Edith Chase and Lorraine McCarty
Save the Date: Saturday, July 6 - Kent Heritage Festival
Mark your calendars for the Kent Heritage Festival on Saturday, July 6. KEC will have a booth at the festival. Energy will be the focus. Be sure to join us. More details coming soon.
KEC Membership Renewals Due; New Members Welcome to Join
It's time to renew your KEC membership this year or join if you are not a member. February was the deadline for all KEC dues. Remember, dues are the main source of income for KEC. We need your support to do our work. Just fill out the KEC membership form. Enclose the completed form and your check made payable to: Kent Environmental Council and mail to: KEC, P.O. Box 395, Kent, OH 44240. To join or renew online with PayPal, click here. Membership levels are $45, Sustaining; $35, Family; $25, Individual; $15, Golden Buckeye; $10, Student; $500, Lifetime; and $200, Organization.