Environment

BGSU sheds light on why it’s taking a pass on city solar project (updated)

By BG INDEPENDENT NEWS Just because Bowling Green State University is taking a pass on a solar power offer from the city doesn’t mean it’s not pursuing alternative energy options. In a letter sent to the campus environmental activists, university officials explain why they are turning down an offer to place a solar array on campus, and what other efforts are underway to meet the terms spelled out in a national agreement to reduce carbon emissions on college campuses. The letter by Bruce Myer, assistant vice president for campus operations, and Nick Hennessy, sustainability coordinator, was sent to Matthew Cunningham, president of Environmental Action Group, and Lily Murnen, president of the Environmental Service Group, in response to a letter sent by them and signed by dozens of other student leaders, questioning the university position on a city solar project. The city is planning to construct a large solar array and offered to place some solar panels on a plot of land on the campus. On Monday Bowling Green City Council heard from Daryl Stockburger, of the city utilities department, that AMP-Ohio had reached a joint development agreement for Bowling Green’s solar field. Stockburger said the solar array should be ready to construct this year. The agreement, the university’s letter states, would tie up the property, which has frontage on East Poe Road, for 30 years. The university does not have plans for that site, where construction debris was dumped, but using it for a project and equipment not owned by BGSU “was deemed to provide too many restrictions on its potential use.” The letter also states that since the electricity generated by the array goes into the grid, BGSU benefits whether the solar panels are on campus or off. It shares in the power from the grid, and reaps the benefits of being able to report that it gets some power from solar energy “helping us reach our carbon neutrality goals.” The students in their letter touted the learning possibilities of having a solar array on campus. Those same opportunities will be available at the city’s site a short drive from campus on Carter Road, the university’s letter stated. A couple weeks ago, Bowling Green Mayor Dick Edwards said BGSU’s refusal to join the city in…


BGSU students advocate for solar array on campus

By BG INDEPENDENT NEWS A hill created by construction debris goes mostly unoccupied during the year. Except that is on Independence Day when people gather there to watch the fireworks being launched from the stadium to the southeast. A group of Bowling Green State University students have a different vision for the site – they’d like to see an array of solar panels erected there. Recently the Environmental Action Group and Environmental Service Club drafted a letter and had it signed by a couple dozen other student leaders urging the university to take the city up on its offer to put solar panels on the site. The city’s main solar array will be located on Carter Road, but it offered to also place some on campus. No site was designated. City officials confirmed Monday night that the offer was made, but they’ve yet to hear a response from BGSU. Lily Murnen, president of the Environmental Service Group, said the university hasn’t taken enough action to fulfill its climate action plan that resulted from president Mary Ellen Mazey joining other higher education executives in signing a Climate Commitment calling for campuses to become neutral in their greenhouse gas emissions. That plan, filed in November, 2014, sets out “a vision of the institution as a sustainable campus in the 21st century, operating economically and efficiently, and producing net zero greenhouse gas emissions. This is a vision to be realized by the year 2040.” The solar project would provide “great visibility for the university showing how we are taking some steps to realize our goals,” Murnen said. Matthew Cunningham, the president of the Environmental Action Group, said, the solar panels could also provide students with hands-on learning experiences. As much as the lack of action, Dan Myers, public relations officer for the Environmental Action Group, said the students were concerned that the administration is not communicating with students. “We’re pretty significant stakeholders in the university.” Cunningham said he did see Mazey at a Presidents Day event, and that she said she would be sending a response to the letter to student government. That the activists said would not be enough. Undergraduate Student Government leaders, Cunningham said, have too much on their plate. Murnen said that this issue also…


Students do the neighborly thing on East Side

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN BG Independent News   With their rubber gloves and blowing garbage bags, the students scooped up sandwich wrappers, paper plates, and beer cans. But their primary prey was much smaller. “The two big contenders are cigarette butts and Taco Bell sauce packets,” said Sean Herman, who organized Saturday morning’s cleanup of the city’s East Side through The Common Good organization. By 9 a.m. nearly 50 students and a couple full-time residents were crammed into The Common Good house on Crim Street to load up on coffee and bagels before heading out for the neighborhood cleanup. They were given gloves, garbage bags and maps with instructions of streets their teams should cover.   Herman has organized several cleanups, but this one drew more volunteers – from fraternities, a student environmental group and honors students. The work focused in the Wooster Street area on the east side of the city. “This is where the most trash seems to accumulate,” he said. Through The Common Good, Herman has pulled together occasional cleanup crews for the past 18 months. “I just thought there was a need out there and no one was doing anything about it,” he said. Hollie Baker said the cleanups started after the East Side neighborhood group began talking about the negative effects of living in an area so populated by university students. “So this is a way to help the East Side become cleaner and show them that college students acknowledge it’s a problem,” Baker said. Megan Sutherland, director of The Common Good, said BGSU students canvassed the East Side neighborhood to ask how relationships could improve between campus and community members. “We were expecting something way more complicated,” than picking up trash, Sutherland said. “This is so simple. But the residents see there are students who care and the students get to know the residents.” The simple act of collecting trash is helping to build a bridge between the campus and the community, she said. Some of the residents have responded by asking if they can join the cleanup efforts, Herman said. “People ask if they can help out.” Gradually, distrust is being replaced by respect, Sutherland said. “When you start actually meeting your neighbors, it becomes a neighborhood,” she…


Recycling efforts grow, but still short in some areas

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN BG Independent News   More than 300 local businesses save on garbage pickup costs and conserve landfill space by separating their recyclables from their trash. Businesses from Northwood to North Baltimore use a program operated by Wood Lane’s Community Employment Service, called R&R, to pick up their recyclables. “This is truly intended to be a county-wide program,” said Vic Gable, head of CES. But while the program picks up recyclables for many private businesses, schools and government offices, it collects items from just two apartment complexes in Bowling Green. While the city picks up recyclables at residences, it does not collect them at apartment complexes. During a recent meeting of the Bowling Green City-University Relations Commission, members discussed the lack of recycling at apartment complexes and downtown businesses. Chris Ostrowski, a member of the commission, said he was the first to start apartment recycling in Bowling Green in the 1980s at Summit Terrace, which has 96 units. “We started because it made economic sense,” Ostrowski said. “It was cheaper than having someone pick it up as trash.” Most of the student renters want to recycle, he said. “For the most part, the students see it as a positive thing.” According to Ostrowski, many apartment complexes don’t offer recycling since the owners are responsible for the start-up costs. Unlike other residences, where curbside containers are provided by the city, the apartments would have to purchase the bins. The Wood Lane program partners with the Wood County Solid Waste District to provide recycling containers to school districts throughout the county. The R&R program does not charge for its services, but it does require private businesses to buy their own containers. “One of the challenges with the business community is they have to purchase the containers themselves,” Gable said. “We have to try to break even.” The three trucks used for pickups were purchased with grant funding. Some of the larger corporate customers are Calphalon and Johnson Controls. About 50 small businesses in Bowling Green are involved. But only a few downtown Bowling Green businesses, like Ben Franklin, Finders and Panera, are part of the recycling program, Gable said. “I know there are other entities interested,” he explained. “But there are a lot of…


More than 3,800 landowners to be assessed for creek cleanup

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN BG Independent News   A creek maintenance project that cuts across Wood County will affect the owners of more than 29,000 acres here that drain into the waterway. Wood County is working with Sandusky and Ottawa counties to clear blockages in the Toussaint Creek, which starts on the north side of Bowling Green, and winds its way north of Luckey on its way to Lake Erie. The total cost for the maintenance, which was petitioned by Wood County landowners, is about $860,000. The cost will be divided among landowners of acreage in the Toussaint Creek watershed area. More than 3,800 notices have been mailed out to the landowners who will be assessed, said Wood County Administrator Andrew Kalmar. The cost and acreage in each county is estimated as follows: 29,204 acres in Wood County, costing $608,000 7,763 acres in Sandusky County, costing $123,000 12,982 acres in Ottawa County, costing $131,000 Some people receiving the assessment notices may not even realize they are in the watershed, since the creek may not be visible from their property, Kalmar said. But that doesn’t mean it’s not draining into the waterway, he added. So far, 199 objections to the project or the assessments have been filed. The petition for the work, which is being handled by the soil and water districts of the three counties, asks for the removal of log jams and leaning trees along the creek. There will be no channelizing, or moving of dirt, Kalmar explained. A public meeting will be held on the project, but has not yet been scheduled. “Everyone will have the opportunity to speak their piece,” Kalmar said. The creek cleanup won’t start until fall, after this year’s crops have been harvested.    


BG to use bugs to cut phosphorus

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN BG Independent News   Bowling Green is going to enlist the help of bugs to treat its wastewater. Brian O’Connell, director of public utilities, told city council Monday evening that the city would be paying $126,000 for a biological phosphorus removal project. The project will involve making changes to the aeration and “tricking” microscopic bugs already in to wastewater to eat the phosphorus before it leaves the plant. Phosphorus is one of the culprits blamed for the algal bloom crisis in Lake Erie in the summer of 2014. Phosphorus got to the lake from sources such as sewer plants, farm fields and lawn chemicals. According to O’Connell, by using a biological rather than chemical treatment, the water downstream will benefit. “We’re going to use the bugs in our wastewater plant to consume the phosphorus,” he said. The change is not being required by the Ohio EPA, but O’Connell said environmental regulations are all pointing in that direction. “We are trying to be proactive,” he said. O’Connell said after the meeting that the change should cut the phosphorus that leaves the plant in half. Also at Monday’s meeting, council approved plans for working with the Ohio Department of Transportation for resurfacing the city’s portion of Ohio 105 from Bowling Green’s east side to Ohio 199. During the citizen comments portion of the meeting, Diane Vogtsberger asked council questions about its plans to hire a consultant to do a site assessment of the green space on West Wooster Street which was formerly the site of the junior high school. Council President Mike Aspacher answered her questions, saying Poggemeyer Design Group would be paid $3,200 for the site assessment, creating three artistic renderings of possible uses. There is no timeline for the assessment, he said. The decision to hire the consultant was made by Aspacher, Mayor Dick Edwards and City Administrator Lori Tretter following a public meeting about the proposed use of the green space.


Espen fearless in defense of environment

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN BG Independent News Brad Espen wouldn’t stand a chance in a popularity contest. He refused to budge for landowners protesting sewer lines. He stood eye to eye with federal officials delaying cleanup of hazardous materials. He was unapologetic when enforcing smoking bans. “I made my share of people mad, but when you know you’re doing the right thing, it kind of balanced things out,” said Espen, who will soon retire after 30 years in environmental health at Wood County Health District. “I was always trying to do the right thing.” Espen may have lacked popularity, but he was never short on persistence. One case in point would be the now demolished Victory Inn, in Bowling Green.  After countless inspections and violation reports, the hotel was finally shut down. “We just never gave up with that one,” he said. Espen started at the health department doing housing and restaurant inspections. He then went on to solid waste inspections, and eventually took over as director of environmental health. “I was always interested in the environment,” though he originally thought his career path would lead to work with wildlife and nature – not sewers and hazardous waste. He grew up in Bowling Green, being the sixth generation of his family here. “That’s part of the reason I care so deeply about my community.” Espen starts his days early, getting to work around 5 a.m. when the office is still quiet. From his office he has led crusades for sewers to replace faulty septic systems. During his three decades in environmental health, all the villages in the county had sewer systems installed, and an estimated 15,000 septic systems were eliminated. “That made a big difference in water quality,” he said. He helped with efforts to shut down all the abandoned dumps in the county. “We got all the tire dumps cleaned up.” Espen’s team kept pushing for smoking ban enforcement until it became commonplace in the county. “That was quite a challenge,” he said. He refused to back down as excuses were made to delay cleanup of the old beryllium site in Luckey. “Thank God, we’re going to see something happening there this summer.” And in Lake Township after the tornado flattened homes and businesses,…


Stories to tell, water to save

Educator Laura Schetter brought a souvenir back from the Arctic Circle — a plastic water bottle. Schetter found the bottle on a beach that she expected to be pristine. Instead she found trash carried by the Gulf Stream to this most remote place. That’s just one of the stories she has to tell. Also this year she was in India studying yoga. In the village where she was staying she met the water granny, the elder who was charged with turning on and off the taps to each home daily, and making sure villagers didn’t waste the water. That water was precious. The lake the villagers had relied on had dried up as the climate has gotten warmer. An attempt to drill a conventional well had failed. So they needed a deeper well, cutting through rock. Schetter’s stories about water aren’t all from foreign lands. In the summer of 2014, a deadly algae bloom left the Toledo area, including Holland, Ohio where she lives, without water. All these stories got Schetter thinking about water, the way people depend on it and the way it connects them. She took her students from the Wildwood Environmental Academy where she is the environmental studies coordinator to the water, the nearby Maumee River and to the shore of Lake Erie. They tested the water, played along its banks and picked up trash. One student exclaimed after looking at the 80 pounds of trash they’d collected that he felt like he was doing something to help the environment. All this comes together in H2you.co, a new project the educator has just launched. Schetter wants to gather water stories from around the globe. The stories can come from the young and old, from travelers, local explorers and educators. She hopes that having these stories gathered together will impress on people the worldwide nature of concerns about water. Schetter writes on her blog site lauraschetter.com: “H2yOu is a project where students and explorers all over the world share and compare what is unique about how they source, care for, and conserve our shared global resource of water. This geographic literacy project was designed to inspire water conservation and action, and to raise awareness on the geographic and human connectedness of water.” On Saturday she traveled…