(This article originally appeared in the May 11, 2021 edition of Charlottesville Community Engagement)
The Charlottesville Tree Commission got an update on several topics at its meeting on May 4, including an update on several projects planned for Charlottesville’s McIntire Park.
“In McIntire Park there are three projects going on that are really private-public partnerships,” said Peggy Van Yahres, a member of the Tree Commission.
Van Yahres is part of one project to install a memorial grove in McIntire Park to commemorate people who have been awarded the Charlottesville Regional Chamber of Commerce’s citizenship award.
“We wanted to preserve the landmark oak trees on the top of McIntire Park on the east side,” Van Yahres said. “The other objective was just to enliven the park and make it a better place for people to go and sit underneath these beautiful trees.”
The memorial would be a stone terrace on which the names of the past and future award winners would be displayed.
“There will be a beautiful lawn, people can play, a walkway, and of course, a lot more oak trees to continue the tradition,” Van Yahres said.
Van Yahres said the grove has been added to the schematic design for the Botanical Garden of the Piedmont. That’s the new name for the nonprofit that entered into a memorandum of agreement with the City of Charlottesville to operate in the northeast section of McIntire Park. She said the grove will hopefully be installed by this fall.
As for the garden, Jill Trischman-Marks is executive director of the newly renamed organization. There was a naming contest.
“We had over two hundred responses and selected Botanical Garden of the Piedmont because it was precise and concise,” Trischman-Marks said. “It not only identified where the garden is located but it also talked about the trees and other plants that will be highlighted in this garden.”
The nonprofit is on the hook to raise funds to pay for infrastructure and to install the garden.
“The city of Charlottesville has dedicated the land to this project but that’s where the taxpayer burden ends,” Trischman-Marks said. “All of the funds that are needed to design, construct, and maintain the garden will be privately raised but once it is built just like any other city park, the Botanical Garden will be free and accessible to all.”
“And share the survey with your friends, families, and neighbors because the more feedback we get, the better this garden will be,” Trischman-Marks said
Trischman-Marks will update the Charlottesville Planning Commission at their meeting on Tuesday.
The third project is a more low-key initiative from the Charlottesville Area Tree Stewards to plant new specimens.
Later in the meeting, the Tree Commission got an update on plans to fight the Emerald Ash Borer from the city arborist, Mike Ronayne.
“The Emerald Ash borer is an invasive insect from Siberia and it will be killing all of our untreated ash trees in Charlottesville,” Ronayne said. “And now it seems like it’s come through other parts of Virginia like northern Virginia and now we’re really just starting to deal with all the dead ash trees that we’re finding in Charlottesville.”
The goal is to protect 31 individual trees in the city, and have sought additional funding from City Council for the purpose and to remove the dead trees. About one to two percent of trees in the city’s parkland are ash trees. A draft cost estimate to remove the trees over five years is $480,000. That does not cover the cost of planting replacements. The cost to annually treat those 31 trees will be $8,425 a year. Todd Brown is the city’s director of parks and recreation.
“Basically this is a state of emergency situation,” Brown said. “These trees are dying. Ninety-nine percent of them are going to die and right now we’ve been hitting at a tiny fraction of them. For everyone we’re doing, there are ten more that need to be done and ten more that die. We’re chasing a moving target that’s eventually going to stop and eventually we are going to have to catch up to it.”
An ad hoc group of environmental professionals working on a way to reduce the amount of glass that winds up in landfills resumed the conversation earlier this month. The work is an outcome of Albemarle County’s Solid Waste Advisory Committee and Better World Betty. They have been asking area wineries and breweries to tell them how much glass they discard in an online survey that is open through February 1.
“There’s just a lot of glass to be had and we’re excited about the survey results that we’ve received,” said Teri Kent, the founder of Better World Betty.
The idea is to collect the information with an eye towards hiring a hauler who could collect glass from beverage providers and aggregate the material at a processing facility run by the Rivanna Solid Waste Authority. For this to work, the glass must be separated in the waste stream to avoid contamination.
“I am instinctively drawn to anything that will do something than what we’re doing with glass now which is just putting it in the landfill,” said Stan Joynes. “But I do have this question at the outset which is what is the end of this material?”
Philip McKalips is the solid waste manager at the RSWA. He said for many years, the agency collected glass and was able to find places for it to go but has recently formalized an arrangement.
“More recently we wanted to have more of a structured program, something that we could rely on functionally, and we set up an arrangement with Strategic Materials where they actually a hire a trucking company, they come on a regular process, out to our closed landfill, where we stockpile our recycled glass that comes in from our collection centers,” McKalips said.
From there, the glass goes to a facility in Wilson, North Carolina, where the materials are sorted.
“And then they either use it internally or sell it to other users,” McKalips said.
“All of the glass that’s going into the bins in the Northern Virginia communities of Arlington, Alexandria and Fairfax is now making its way down to Wilson and getting turned around into glass container plants,” DeFife said.
DeFife said much of what ends up in mixed recycling bins winds up in a landfill.
“Getting enough clean, you know, a critical mass of good quality glass can get that glass back into the supply chain,” DeFife said. He added that there is a market for a glass manufacturer somewhere in Virginia which would reduce travel time.
“But the economics of processing are very chicken and egg,” DeFife said. “Nobody is going to build a $10 million to $15 million glass processing plant if there’s no glass to go to it.”
The Virginia Department of Transportation is participating in a program that seeks to help provide a safer journey for winged creatures that majestically migrate across the Commonwealth. Angel Deem is the director of VDOT’s environmental division and she spoke before the Commonwealth Transportation Board on January 19.
CCAA is a program of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that works with other government agencies to conserve land for at-risk species, such as the Monarch butterfly. Deem said the goal is to conserve millions of acres of land across the nation that are currently being used by state highway agencies and land used to produce energy. Another specific goal is to plant milkweed on 2.3 million acres.
Last December, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services updated the endangered species list, and the Monarch is listed as “warranted but precluded.” Deem explains.
“What they mean by precluded is that there are other priority listings ahead of this one so they are essentially going to put it on hold if you will and continue to monitor its progress,” Deem said.
Progress would be made if existing habitats aren’t threatened to be converted to some other uses. The use of pesticides and mowing of state right of way are other threats.
“Those things are impacting the available foraging and breeding habitat for the Monarch,” Deem said.
Under the CCAA, VDOT would agree to taking several conservation measures.
“We would do some specific seeding and planting and brush removal to encourage suitable habitat for the Monarch,” Deem said. “We would also participate in what’s called conservation mowing, allowing food sources to be available to develop for the Monarch as well as breeding sites.”
VDOT entered into the agreement last November and the goal in the first year will be to apply the measures to 1,567 acres. Deem said VDOT has already achieved that goal and is now making progress towards the five year goal of doubling that amount. For more information on the program, watch the entire presentation on YouTube. (view the slides)
JUNE 17, 2020: Work in Albemarle County to meet ambitious greenhouse gas reduction goals is moving forward, even though the Board of Supervisors has not yet adopted an official Climate Action Plan (CAP).
“We have recently begun the process of developing a current inventory and expect to be complete with this inventory before the end of the calendar year,” said Greg Harper, chief of environmental services for Albemarle County.
On June 17, Harper and other staff briefed elected officials and the public on the status of the CAP, which seeks to coordinate ongoing work to address climate change. Supervisors adopted a strategic plan on November 7, 2018 whose top priority is “Climate Action Planning”. Eleven months later, they adopted a goal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 45 percent by 2030 and to be “net zero” by 2050.
“The main content of the plan is the strategies and actions that the county will take in the coming years to mitigate climate change,” Harper said.
The draft CAP is a year in the making, and would have come before Supervisors earlier, but the COVID-19 pandemic caused delays.
“We completed the draft climate action plan document in early March and you’re probably aware that we had intended to present the plan to you and the public in mid-March but shifted our strategy due to the consequences of the coronavirus,” said Greg Harper, chief of environmental services for Albemarle. “Therefore we spent part of March and April developing materials through which to introduce the plan to the community virtually.”
One issue is that none of us in the community really knows where we stand now because the last greenhouse gas inventory was conducted a dozen years ago in 2008. There are ten years until the first new target date.
“While we are halfway in time to the first target date from the last inventory, we have not conducted a greenhouse gas emission inventory in the last decade so we don’t know how much progress if any we have made towards that target,” Harper said.
The draft Climate Action Plan is a 41-page document that results from a series of public input sessions held last summer. The work is arranged in five sectors, ranging from transportation to building materials. Early on it was determined that the plan should also take into account how reducing greenhouse gas emissions can also improve the community.
“Successful climate action should benefit the local community in multiple ways beyond just reducing greenhouse gas emissions,” said Gabe Dayley, an environmental services staffer. “In the document we identify three areas of co-benefits that Albemarle’s Climate Action Plan will support. One is economic prosperity. Two, community health and three, the local natural environment.”
For instance, jobs might be created through weatherization or installing solar panels. Community health would be served through better air quality.
“And in terms of local and natural environment, seeing benefits in terms of the local watershed and habitat health as we engage in actions that support carbon sequestration like planting trees [and] reforesting areas,” Dayley said. “I want to emphasize that the co-benefits are a key way in which the Climate Action Plan advances the county’s vision of a thriving economy, a healthy ecosystem, and natural resources.”
There will also be a large equity component as well. Dayley explains.
“This includes rigorous attention to who provides input, who has access to program benefits, and on whom financial burdens fall for programs,” Dayley said. “It’s important to consider equity in climate action planning for two main reasons. One there is a risk of worsening disparities either via poor planning or via the effect of climate change and we are already seeing that climate change is impacting vulnerable communities hardest.”
Dayley said the climate action plan can advance equity, perhaps through better transportation systems. There will be an equity advisory group that will be added to the sector teams.
“These sectors also [are] consistent with those presented in the 2011 report of the community-wide Local Climate Action Planning Process known as L-CAPP, and with those found in the majority of climate plans that we have reviewed from other organizations,” Harper said.
While we may not be working from the most up to date baseline, the work needs to be measured from somewhere. According to the last inventory conducted in 2008, transportation makes up 50 percent of greenhouse gas emissions in Albemarle.
“The goals in this sector are reducing overall vehicle miles traveled and shifting towards more efficient modes of travel,” Harper said.
Forty-five percent of emissions in the 2008 inventory traced back to buildings. There are also reduction goals that can be achieved by switching the way our goods are packaged and how we rid ourselves of unwanted food scraps.
“Sustainable materials management goals are intended to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions associated with decomposition of organic waste and the lifecycle of various products,” Harper said. “These goals include increasing the amount of recyclable materials put to positive use and diverted from landfills, and composting organic materials instead of landfilling them.”
The landscape sector is less about reducing reduction goals, and more about offsetting emissions. Harper said this is done by calculating the value of existing open land.
“In this case primarily by capturing and trapping carbon in vegetation, soil and products like timber, “ Harper said. “The major goals of this sector include protecting and restoring natural carbon sinks throughout the county and promoting practices on managed land that trap carbon and minimize emissions.”
Now, what about timelines? A listing of all of the actions includes a proposed timeframe ranging from “assess opportunities’ to ‘immediately actionable.” Let’s go through some transportation examples.
“An example of immediately actionable item is to increase public information about bicycle and pedestrian safety,” Harper said. “I think it’s pretty obvious that this action would not require a great amount of time from staff nor would it cost very much money.”
An example of “initiate planning” would be to prepare for electrical infrastructure on government properties. An example of “assess opportunities” would be to increase affordable housing opportunities along transit lines.
“This isn’t something the county can simply do on its own,” Harper said. “It would involve perhaps planners in [community] development working with developers or other stakeholders during master planning processes or during review of projects requiring special use permits or rezonings.”
After the presentation, Supervisors had the chance to ask questions about the plan.
“The one thing that I didn’t see in this plan, in this climate action plan, that I would like to see [is] is to emphasize our growth management plan and our hard development lines that we have,” said Supervisor Liz Palmer. “Just to reiterate, those are important for natural resource protection. It’s also important for our transportation goals.”
Palmer said she wanted to establish metrics to evaluate open-space conservation agreements to make sure those who plant native species and pollinators are eligible for credits.
“I was pained by a 27 acre property that was all natural grasses and native species in my district that was turned into a haying operation after they lost their tax break,” Palmer said, referring to recent changes to the county’s agricultural-forest districts.
Palmer is a proponent of providing more opportunities for Albemarle residents to bring their solid waste and recycling.
Supervisor Diantha McKeel said one major element of county government is missing from the draft plan.
“I think we should be reaching out to the school division, the administration, the School Board about their input and feedback because when we’re talking about plastics, recycling, reducing vehicle miles, greenhouse gas emissions… it doesn’t matter what we’re talking about, I think just believe in my heart of hearts that the school division has a stake in this.”
Supervisor Ann Mallek said there is a lack of specific details in the draft.
“I’m hearing from lots of citizens is that there are lots of nice words but we really want to see who’s going to do it, measurable goals, how do we know when we’ve got there,” Mallek said. “So I’m very excited to hear and I’ve been waiting for years to hear that the baseline should be done by December. Then we will actually have the first data since 2008.”
Mallek said she would like to see research conducted into how other localities recommend different crops to maximize carbon sequestration. She also wants to see changes to land use rules that would help increase the county’s overall tree canopy.
“We have an opportunity to change our zoning, our site plan regulations to have less destruction of established forests which is then replaced by spindly little trees the size of my arm that takes 15 years to do any good,” Mallek said.
Supervisor Bea LaPisto Kirtley said she would like the county to build more places for people to bring their trash.
“We have the lowest amount of convenience centers in the surrounding counties which I think is kind of embarrassing and so I think that’s something we could and should do frankly quickly,” LaPisto Kirtley said.
Supervisor Ned Gallaway noted that much in the plan is already underway, such one strategy and action designed to decrease vehicle miles traveled.
“I would challenge, like in the immediate action items, T.5.1 to ‘continue to improve coordination between public transit providers,’” Gallaway said. “But that’s the goal of the Regional Transit Partnership. It just sounds like a throwaway goal that’s in here. It’s something that we plugged in because we had a transit item.”
Gallaway said there are opportunities to learn from work-from-home strategies employed by many people throughout the region. Lance Stewart, the director of environmental services, said this idea is being measured and will be in the next draft.
“Just a few weeks ago the county executive’s office issued an employee survey about the coronavirus and teleworking and specifically asked how many times a week do you come into the office and how many times do you stay home?” Stewart said. “How many miles is your round-trip? So we can start to think as we develop our own internal thinking about teleworking going forward, what is the impact on our employees and that our employees can have by not commuting on greenhouse gas emissions and also the cost savings that they experience as employees without having to pay for gas.
The Board is being requested to continue to offer input on the plan through July 15. A final version of the draft plan could be before the Board in mid-August.
“If the feedback we receive from the board requires more substantive changes to the Climate Action Plan the process could be extended in time and we might need to schedule an additional work session before plan approval,” Harper said.
As the world continues to reel from emergency after emergency related to a changing global climate, an increasing number of people want to take action but may not know where to begin.
“One of the big things I hear from people is that they’re overwhelmed by climate change and don’t know where to begin and don’t know what to do in their personal lives to make an impact on this incredibly enormous problem,” said Susan Kruse, executive director of the Community Climate Collaborative.
Kruse was one of four speakers at a panel discussion put on by the League of Women Voters of the Charlottesville Area called Hot Matters: Climate Crisis. Around 50 people attended the February 16, 2020 event.
“The Natural Resources Committee members were wondering what could be done with all of the possibilities of combating climate change,” said Muriel Grim, the committee’s chair. “What are some of the steps that we could take that would be most effective?”
A deadline for action is looming. In November 2018, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change announced the global temperatures need to be kept from increasing above the 1.5 degree Celsius of warming in order to avoid cataclysmic changes for world ecosystems. To get there, IPCC scientists recommended a crucial target of reducing global greenhouse gas emissions by 45 percent by 2030.
“That’s 10 years we have to get there and we have a long way to go and need to all pull as a community together to figure out ways to move forward,” Kruse said.
The co-chair of UVa’s Sustainability Committee said it is important for public agencies to set aggressive goals, but the follow-through is crucial if the community is to meet its goal.
“You’ve got to have tactics and a road map to get you there,” said Cheryl Gomez, operations director for facilities management at UVA. “2030 means you have to be really focusing on what you have to do to get some quick wins. You have to be thinking about strategy because that’s less than a decade away now. It’s starting to tick away.”
Gomez said UVA does not have all of the answers of how it will get to the 30 percent goal, but they are working on strategies.
“Every decision we make today will be totally driven and informed by that ultimate goal,” Gomez said. That means each new building is more energy efficient than those that came before. It means trying to reduce demand for parking by encouraging alternatives.
“If there is still some fossil fuel emissions, carbon emissions, left associated with that new construction we will need to offset that by additional renewable energy in some form,” Gomez said, giving the example of installing more utility-scale solar.
The environmental sustainability manager for the city of Charlottesville said UVA can move faster to implement policies because it has more control over its own destiny.
“Sometimes a city or a county is a little envious of a large local partner like a university that has control over a lot of what happens in that footprint,” said Kristel Riddervold. “We have similar plans on a different scale of improving the efficiency of our existing buildings, looking at expanded deployment of solar [and] looking at electrifying our municipal fleet. The challenge is how to move forward and what areas to focus on.”
Charlottesville conducted inventories in 2000, 2006, 2009, 2011 and 2016. Overall, the city saw a 23 percent decrease in greenhouse gas emissions over that period.
“You can’t manage what you’re not measuring,” Riddervold said. “Having benchmarks at the home scale or community scale is incredibly important because we have more biases on where to focus our efforts.”
Riddervold said local planning should be taking climate and emissions into consideration. Charlottesville has begun a new effort to update the Comprehensive Plan.
“This is going to be looking at the housing strategy and the zoning ordinance,” Riddervold said. “Going to those meetings, which may feel like they were something other than climate action, in my opinion are the right meetings to go to talk about climate action.”
“You may have heard of things like small area plans, or Streets that Work, transportation improvement Plan, housing redevelopment plans and urban forest planning,” Riddervold said. “All of these topics are places where we are starting to sort of demand of ourselves that we look at those things through the emissions lens.”
Riddervold the city is working on many projects, including a landfill diversion strategy to reduce the amount of solid waste that ends up being buried.
“There is an extraordinarily large portion of the waste that goes to landfills that is organic and when the decomposition happens, the gases that come off of that are things like methane,” Riddervold said.
The Rivanna Solid Waste Authority now offers a drop-off point for household composting at the McIntire Recycling Center, as does the city of Charlottesville at the farmers’ market.
Staff is currently researching the Commercial Property Assessed Clean Energy program to help encourage businesses to upgrade their cooling and heating systems. (one resource)
“Climate protection or climate action sometimes feels like it’s a topic people are tackling in parallel or in isolation to a lot of other things,” Riddervold said. “I would suggest one of the opportunities is to integrate the topic in other core priorities that we’re tackling.”
For instance, if you give up driving alone to work, you’re also taking one less car off of the highways during periods of congestion.
Kruse said programs run by C3 like the Better Business Challenge are designed to bring people together to lower the barriers to participation.
“When people are acting alone they tend to feel like it’s not enough and what they’re doing doesn’t matter,” Kruse said. “It’s also hard to know if you are choosing the right path forward.”
Gomez said the public also needs to be aware of the current gutting of environmental regulation at the federal level.
“Some of you may recall [enactment of] the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, the National Environmental Protection Act and all of these amazing [bills] that were enacted in the 70’s under President Nixon,” Gomez said. “We could literally absolutely see from year to year, decade to decade, the incredibly positive impact these regulations had on our air, water and land. We cannot let these regulations get gutted and eliminated and taken away.”
Gomez said money spent to address climate change should be considered an investment rather than a cost.
The reality of fighting climate change at the local level is that no one is ever really in charge. Our elected officials come and go, leaving staff to implement plan after plan.
“Decision makers are trying to figure out what part and what [role] local government should be playing and those decisions are being influenced by conversations over coffee about things that are important to constituents,” Riddervold said. “There’s a role for staff, for the community, and for city management to bring initiatives and ideas to the decision-makers about what [climate action] looks like in our community.”
“We have got to figure out how to achieve mutual goals around climate and affordable housing,” Kruse said. “We need to be expanding our definition of who is a climate leader. I think affordable housing is very much a climate issue. If you can’t afford to live near where you work and you have to live far out from the community and you have to drive in every day, that is a climate issue.”
“One of the challenges is how do you tackle this topic at the 30,000 foot level but have it be granular enough and accurate enough that you can have real policy and program decisions,” Riddervold said.
One woman pointed out the forum was held on a Sunday, when transit service is drastically reduced.
“I’m optimistic because I’m seeing some really cool and innovative things happening in technology where there are huge and dramatic improvements,” Gomez said. “UVA currently uses 30 percent less water today than our high water mark of usage.”
“You need larger institutions to put in the investments for things like battery storage to make it more deployable and applicable for smaller scale uses,” Turner said.
Albemarle County is continuing to develop a climate action plan after making that the number one strategic goal in the fall of 2018.