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LEED Energy Ordinance

Chapel Hill’s local government requires that new public buildings must be built to “employ the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Green Building Rating System throughout their design, construction, and operation.”

The expanding library is above the 12.5 million budgeted for the project. I wonder if including LEED-based design in construction is affecting the libraries budget? What LEED-based changes are being implemented?

LEED buildings are supposed to be green by being built on sustainable sites, being energy and water efficient, using sustainable materials, having above average indoor air quality and promoting public transportation. I wonder how the library has been designed to meet these goals.


Jordan Lake Litter

State mandated Jordan Lake cleanup rules ignore a growing problem – a trash buildup spanning nearly 30 years.

The Chapel Hill Town Council voted yesterday to open a public hearing until February for amending new development rules, which would incorporate more environmentally friendly stormwater practices.

“These are not addressing littering, they’re addressing the algae blooms in Jordan Lake,” said Sue Burke, the stormwater engineer for Chapel Hill who presented the rules at the council meeting.

But Fran DiGiano, president of Clean Jordan Lake, said the trash problem is too big to be ignored.

“We’ve picked up 40 tons [of trash] and there’s a lot more out there,” DiGiano said. “Anyone that goes out to help us do this work is astounded by how big a problem it is.”

Much of the trash in the lake was carried there through the stormwater system, said Wendy Smith, stormwater manager for Chapel Hill. When it rains, litter is swept into storm drains which eventually lead to Jordan Lake.

Litter has been accumulating since the man-made lake was created in 1983.

“Jordan Lake is just a mess,” Smith said. “It’s horrendous.”

While the draft of new development rules outlines improvements to stormwater drainage systems, it only does so in regard to pollutants that cause excessive algae.

“Because it’s a man-made lake, the only outlet is the dam,” DiGiano said. “Everything is deposited in the lake, so it can’t leave the lake.”

But stormwater runoff isn’t the only issue for areas around the site.

DiGiano said his group has removed about 2,000 tires from in and around Jordan Lake.

“These are legendary tire dumps,” Smith said. “Hopefully a lot of that has stopped but we still see it every once and a while.”

Friends of Bolin Creek President Julie McClintock said fixing the problem would be complicated.

She said while storm drains were once considered state of the art, newer, more environmentally friendly systems try to imitate nature by allowing rainwater to be absorbed on-site.

The new development rules draft does not require this type of stormwater management system.

“The modern way of dealing with it is to not the have storm drains because what you’re doing is funneling everything towards a place where you don’t really want it to be,” McClintock said.

DiGiano said he wished litter laws would be enforced as much as possible, but it’s difficult to do so in such a large area under so many different jurisdictions.

After participating last week in a clean-up effort along a creek that feeds into Jordan Lake as a part of the N.C. Big Sweep, McClintock said she found tires, old chairs, clothing, plastic bottles, diapers and other trash in the area.

“My husband dragged a carpet once out of Bolin Creek,” she said.

DiGiano said that while most of the trash doesn’t pose a health hazard to drinking water, residents shouldn’t discount the harm it does to wildlife or the aesthetics of the area.

“It doesn’t send the right message when you see all kinds of trash on the shoreline of a lake that’s used as a water supply for 180,000 people,” DiGiano said. “If you really care about a resource, you should try to protect it.”

Last week, eighth grade students from Culbreth Middle School completed their first round of water quality testing on a small stream located at the bottom of drainage basin behind the school.

The Town of Chapel Hill, UNC-Chapel Hill Institute for the Environment and local science teachers were all involved in making the event happen, allowing students to learn about community problems from community members.

“We’ve combined all of our resources to provide more resources to teachers,” said Wendy Smith, stormwater management and environmental education coordinator for the Town.

Students spent two days completing on site testing for dissolved oxygen, pH, turbidity, nitrates and temperature as they study their water quality unit, according to a press release.

Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools

Rob Greenberg, Chapel Hill High School science teacher, said hands on education is the key to understanding the environment.

His students create model islands that have features for green living and display them during Chapel Hill Earth Action Days every year.

“I try to make it meaningful and relevant, Greenberg said. “There’s a lot of art in science.”

Greenberg said he utilizes resources from the Town, such as Wendy Smith, to bring in outside perspectives.

“I’ve always felt lucky to live in Chapel Hill,” Greenberg said. “I make an effort to tap the resources of this community.”

Smith said she comes into high schools on request and has specialized programs in the second, fifth and eighth grades where she teaches about water pollution and shows environmental models.

“The kids are so smart these days,” Smith said. “It’s really fun because you get that excitement with kids who really know a lot already.”

Haw River Assembly

The Haw River Assembly, a local group engaged in preservation activities, follows a similar philosophy.

For more than 20 years, the organization has hosted students from around the area to learn about the Haw River.

Students catch and identify a local organisms, measure the pH of the water, analyze the effects of runoff and turn sedimentary rocks from the river into paint.

“Ninety-nine percent of the projects we do are hands on,” Watershed Education Coordinator Donna Myers said. “Our programs really empower youth, or participants of any age, with knowledge of things they can actually do in their neighborhood later that day.”

Seawell, McDougle and Morris Grove Elementary Schools participated in the 2011 Haw River Learning Celebration which ended Friday, Myers said.

The organization also brings environmental models into classrooms and provides training for teachers.

UNC-CH Institute for the Environment

Representatives from the UNC-CH Institute for the Environment organized and taught two workshops to promote water quality education.

“This was a great opportunity to support the science teachers in promoting hands-on science activities and to encourage scientific curiosity in the students,” said Michele Drostin, project coordinator of the environmental resource program.

The workshops were developed in collaboration with the Haw River Assembly, Friends of Bolin Creek and the Town of Chapel Hill. They included hands-on training in watershed mapping and stream monitoring.

The workshops also stressed how school grounds contribute to runoff and stream pollutants.

“This workshop demonstrated the opportunities for hands-on, outdoor water science activities for schools that do not have a natural stream or wetland available to them,” Drostin said.

The screening of Carbon Nation on the Green in Southern Village is scheduled for Friday, October 14 at 7 p.m..

From the press release:

Carbon nation is an optimistic discovery of what people are already doing, what we as a nation could be doing and what the world needs to do to prevent (or slow down) the impending climate crisis.  We already have the technology to combat most of the worst-case scenarios of climate change, and it is very good business as well.

Local green vendors and representatives form the Town of Chapel Hill WISE program, a local energy efficiency program beginning its second phase, will be at the screening.

From the press release:

Viewers inspired by the movie can take immediate action by consulting energy experts, getting information and contacts, or even scheduling energy assessments for their homes right there and then.

See a trailer and learn more about the film at


The ductbank that is planned to run through Carolina North Forest cannot run along Martin Luther King Boulevard, according to the press release discussed in my last post.

After a few more calls, the N.C. Department of Transportation got back to me. Chuck Edwards, a district engineer for the department, said that there was concern with traffic.

“It was going to present a significant traffic impact during construction as well as after construction for maintenance,” said Chuck Edwards, district engineer for the department.

Clearing for a 40-foot-wide corridor necessary to install power and communications wiring through Carolina North Forest is scheduled to begin within the next two weeks.

Residents are concerned about how the forest and trails will be affected by the cleared corridor, anxieties compounded by the fact that they feel left out of the planning process.

“40 feet is really wide,” said Patrick Brandt, a program director at UNC-CH and frequent user of the forest trails. “It’s like the width of South Road between Wilson Library and the Bell Tower.”

The corridor is being cleared for the construction of an underground ductbank for electrical and telecommunication cables, increasing power and communications reliability for critical University buildings along Airport Drive, according to a press release.

It will also serve as the electrical backbone for the planned Carolina North campus.

Trail effects

The ductbank will run near existing trails and intersect the Pumpkin Loop several times.

“Even if they plant vegetation, it will end up looking like the Bolin Creek trail where there’s still quite a scar,” Brandt said.

An alternative ductbank route along Martin Luther King Boulevard was studied and rejected by the N.C. Department of Transportation, according to a press release.

Residents question why – if the ductbank has to go through the forest – it can’t run along existing trails to minimize disturbance to nature.

“I’m wondering if instead of intersecting in all those areas…if they can just widen the Pumpkin Loop trail, where trees have already been knocked down,” Brandt said. “It’s a 10-foot-wide gravel road that parallels more than two-thirds of the ductbank proposed route.”

But Carolina North Forest Manager Greg Kopsch said because the existing paths would have to be widened and do not run in a straight line to the planned site for Carolina North, more trees would have to be cut down.

“The shortest distance is between two points,” Kopsch said. “If we were to use the existing corridors, it would involve more clearing.”

Residents also worry about how the cleared corridor will affect the atmosphere of the forest.

“Some manifestation of the Pumpkin Loop will continue to exist and there will be this new greenway as well,” Kopsch said. “The current plan is that once the ductbank construction is completed there is to be a paved or some kind of surfaced path that runs on top.”

Brandt said that while rollerbladers and people with strollers might prefer a paved path, the many runners and mountain bikers who use the existing trails would prefer a packed earth or gravel path.

“I think that most people would prefer that it’s not paved,” Brandt said. “But I can see both sides of the argument.”

When construction on the ductbank is complete, the 40-foot-wide corridor required for the movement of heavy equipment can shrink and the path will remain.

“After construction, there will be a 14-foot or so corridor left open but the remaining 13 feet on either side will be revegetated and possibly reforested,” Kopsch said.

Resident input

Groups active in the planning for Carolina North were caught by surprise when the exact details of the ductbank were released.

“It’s like we’re getting the details right at the point when the thing’s going to be built,” said Julie McClintock, Friends of Bolin Creek president and a member of Neighbors for Responsible Growth.

The ductbank project has been planned for several years, is part of the Carolina North Development Agreement and has been discussed at Town meetings and Army Corps of Engineers meetings. Details are also available in the 2010 and 2011 Carolina North Annual Reports, according to a press release

But McClintock said specific details about the project were not well known.

“We knew that when they signed off on that agreement…nobody knew the details, nobody knew how this thing would pan out,” McClintock said. “Nobody thought down to this level of detail at the time.”

Additionally, the Chapel Hill Town Council agreed to a public participation plan, which McClintock said was not effective.

“The citizens really want some input,” McClintock said. “I think that it’s very important that the council committed to do something, and as far as I’m concerned, we don’t have anything.”

She said the Sept. 13 public information meeting was too little, too late for significant changes to the plan.

“There’s so much attention being directed to the 2020 plan…and that’s very important,” McClintock said. “But we shouldn’t be distracted from the big issues right in front of us.”

Car Free Day is celebrated around the world September 22 each year.

Chapel Hill publicized the event by offering stickers and prizes to bus riders. The Village Project, which promotes car-free transportation, encouraged residents to write haikus about using alternative transportation.

In short, the day is largely unnoticed in the Chapel Hill-Carrboro area. Even in urban areas like Washington, D.C., not much more is done than giving out similar prizes and asking people to sign car-free pledges.

Elsewhere in the world, cities take the day more seriously. Bogota, Columbia became the first major city to restrict all vehicle traffic for a day in 2000. Many european countries’ car free days include a theme, music, culture, Earth Day activities and sports. The European Union even established a fund to support cities’ efforts to promote the day.

Cars hurt the environment by releasing carbon dioxide, ozone and other contaminants. Cars in the United States are a major contributor to the problem. One study found that more than half of the greenhouse gases emitted by cars worldwide come from the United States.

Alternative transportation is natural for many, but tomorrow Chapel Hill hopes to encourage more to give up their cars during the town’s annual Car Free Day.

“The ultimate goal is to reduce carbon emissions and help our planet,” said Chapel Hill Public Information Officer Catherine Lazorko. “Many residents are able to make any day a car-free one, while others of us are challenged to think of other ways we can reduce our carbon footprint.”

While only about 20 percent of the nation commutes to work by means other than driving alone, 32 percent of Chapel Hill residents use alternative transportation according to data from the Census Bureau’s 2009 American Community Survey.

Town residents commute to work using the bus at about twice the national average, according to the survey.

“Every day is Car Free Day in Chapel Hill,” said Assistant Director of Chapel Hill Transit Brian Litchfield. “Chapel Hill, Carrboro and UNC have been committed to utilizing public transportation to travel for some time.”

Chapel Hill Transit gives about 7 million rides per year and that number is predicted to increase, he said.

NextBus, a website that uses GPS tracking to show bus arrival times, and the switch to a fare-free system have encouraged many people to use the bus system, Litchfield said. Compared to these year round initiatives, Car Free Day doesn’t encourage many more people to switch, he said.

“We’ve got a lot of folks who are already using public transportation,” Litchfield said. “We tend not to see the large spikes in ridership on these days.”

But Chapel Hill Transportation Demand Management Coordinator Len Cone said the bus is not the whole story when it comes to alternative transportation in Chapel Hill.

“Chapel Hill has had an eye on being biker and pedestrian friendly,” Cone said. “I think people take advantage of that.”

Town residents walk to work at four times the national rate, according to the American Community Survey.

“Once you’ve tried it, you can see the benefits of it,” Cone said.

Chapel Hill was also recently designated bicycle friendly by the League of American Bicyclists.

“We are proud of the roadmap that the Bicycle Friendly Business program provides and how the Town Government of Chapel Hill used it to transform,” said Bill Nesper, director of the league’s Bicycle Friendly America program in a press release.

The Town provides bike checkouts, bicycle workshops and incentives such as prize drawings and giveaways, according to the press release.

As part of Car Free Day, anyone riding Chapel Hill Transit on Thursday can ask for a car free sticker from the driver. By bringing the sticker to the Chapel Hill Planning Department, residents can enter a drawing for gift cards and other prizes.

“We’re trying to say thank you,” Cone said.

For every mile a resident drives, about one pound of carbon dioxide is released and the average commute is 20 miles each way, she said.

“The emphasis is on that,” she said.

While a multitude of incentives exist for homeowners to retrofit their homes with energy efficient upgrades, it is sometimes confusing to figure out what qualifies for an incentive and under what program.

Below is a list of programs and what retrofits they cover.

Chapel Hill WISE Program link

This program provides retrofits that provide the maximum return on investment with the most incentives.

From the website:

50% subsidy (after all other incentives):
• Envelope air sealing and insulation improvements
• Duct sealing and repair
• Outdoor thermostats for homes with heat-pumps

25% subsidy (after all other incentives):
• Heating ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) upgrades
• Energy-efficient appliances
• Hot water heater replacements
• Re-circulating hot water systems
• Programmable thermostats in gas-heated homes
• Lighting upgrades
• Solar thermal hot water
• Solar photovoltaic or geothermal renewable energy systems ONLY if in combination with energy efficiency improvements estimated to generate 15% or more energy savings.

For a homeowner to receive a subsidy, a home energy audit must be conducted to show that the improvements being made will generate a 15 percent or greater savings on the homeowner’s energy bill.

Duke Energy Incentives

Energy Star Homes – link

Homes that receive an Energy Star certification are eligible for rate discounts through Duke Energy. Rates vary based on time of year and account type. For more information, see Duke Energy’s rate schedule for Energy Star homes.

Smart Savers Program – link

Consumers who install new energy efficient heat pumps, air conditioners and geothermal ground loops can receive rebates through Duke Energy.

North Carolina

Residents can take advantage of multiple incentives from North Carolina including:


Citizens can receive tax credits for a variety of different purchases.

  • An energy efficiency tax credit where consumers can get up to 30 percent back on water heaters, furnaces, boilers, heat pumps, central air conditioners, building insulation, windows, doors, roofs and circulating fans used in a qualifying furnace.
  • A renewable energy tax credit where consumers can get 35 percent back on certain technologies, like solar-thermal and solar-electric installations.

Incentives to promote energy efficiency in Chapel Hill will continue for the next few years, but federal tax credits may soon expire.

“Right now Congress is thinking about other things,” said Tom Simchak, senior research associate at the Alliance to Save Energy, a Washington, D.C., based nonprofit that promotes energy efficiency. “It’s looking like the federal tax credits for home energy efficiency improvements will expire at the end of this year.”

Tax credits that may expire this year include rebates on energy saving insulation, water heaters, doors, windows, and heating, ventilating, and air conditioning systems, but a local program may continue until 2013.

“There’s a whole lot more action going on at the state and local level,” Simchak said.

Chapel Hill, with $455,000 from the Department of Energy through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, began the Wise Investments Save Money program (WISE) in March 2011 to offer incentives for energy efficient home retrofits.

“For a community our size, it is somewhat unusual to see a program like this,” said Town of Chapel Hill Sustainability Officer John Richardson. “This is the project nearest and dearest to me at the moment.”

To participate in the program, a homeowner must first have a home energy audit conducted to determine what efficiency improvements will have the greatest impact.

The homeowner can then choose to pursue those improvements, so long as the auditor can show that the efficiency upgrades will have at least a 15 percent impact on the homeowner’s electricity bill.

WISE provides incentives for improvements to duct systems and insulation at a 50 percent subsidy and for improvements to heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems, appliances, lighting and hot water heaters at a 25 percent subsidy.

“Our list consists of those measures that give the best bang for the buck,” Richardson said.

Rainer Dammers, a Southern Village homeowner, installed a $23,670 solar energy system and will pay only $6,214 after incentives from federal, state and local governments.

Dammers saved $7,010 with a tax credit from the federal government, $8,285 with a tax credit from North Carolina and $2,071 with a rebate from the WISE program, he said.

Dammers said with incentives, the solar system will take less than nine years to pay for itself.

To be eligible for a solar system rebate from the WISE program, a homeowner must first reduce energy consumption by at least 15 percent.

Dammers’ energy audit showed that he had a few leaky ducts and gaps in his insulation. By fixing these problems, he achieved the required consumption reduction and received 50 percent of the cost back in rebates through the WISE program.

“A 50 percent subsidy is quite significant. You can do more than otherwise you would have wanted to do all by yourself and get better results,” Dammers said.

Before the introduction of the WISE program, Dammers had upgraded his lighting and windows, added storm doors, and applied weatherstripping to his house. Many of these improvements were eligible for rebates at the federal and state level.

Dammers said he would have waited for solar systems to become more cost effective, but he was worried that some of the government rebates might disappear.

“What made my decision was concern with the political shift and the financial struggles on the federal and state levels,” Dammers said. “I’m just concerned that the landscape obviously is not as much in favor with these types of incentives as it may have been a few years back.”

“I view this as an investment in the future,” Dammers said.