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Monday, December 7th, 2009
Funding challenges still loom for California’s landmark water compromise

San Jose Mercury News (Calif.) — When lawmakers celebrated the end of California’s water squabbles last month, they left unanswered an issue certain to bedevil their hard-fought compromise: money.

Permanent funding for the signature policy initiatives in the deal— from a panel created to govern the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta to new efforts to crack down on water theft — have yet to be identified. But one likely source is fees levied against water districts, which could lead to higher rates for users.

There also have been whispers that lawmakers — sensitive to “pork” claims and the state’s dismal debt picture— might try to shrink the $11.14 billion bond approved as part of the deal, a bid to help it win voter support next November.

Both issues reflect the loose ends and lingering discomfort in the wake of the landmark deal, meant to stabilize the state’s water supply and rescue the fragile delta after decades of futility. Together, they raise questions about whether the package will wind up as far-reaching as billed. [read more…]

Friday, November 20th, 2009
Minnesota: Northstar commuter line hits the (rail) road

Star Tribune (Minneapolis) — It took nearly 13 years, $317 million and a few political derailments, but the Northstar commuter rail line made its initial run this morning, moving full speed ahead out of Big Lake at 5 a.m.

Avoiding congestion along Hwy. 10 in Sherburne and Anoka Counties, the sparkling blue, gold and white cars with red trim left Big Lake for the new Target Field station in Minneapolis, with 45-second stops along the way in Elk River, Anoka, Coon Rapids and Fridley.

But unlike the test rides of recent weeks that often carried politicians and rail officials, this morning’s train rides were the real deal — used by commuters expected to make rail travel to and from work a daily habit.

Metro Transit reported that 1,207 paying customers rode Northstar trains this morning. On a typical day, the line is projected to have 1,700 passengers each way. [read more…]

Friday, November 20th, 2009
GAO calls for clearer guidance for reporting use of stimulus funds

The Washington Post — A government audit set for release Thursday urges the Obama administration to provide further guidance on how recipients of economic stimulus dollars should report jobs created with the funding.

The administration has struggled to clearly define how to report new or saved jobs since it’s difficult to know what role the funding played. Further complicating efforts, state and local governments have used much of the money to pay for temporary, part-time or seasonal work, making it unclear when and how such jobs should be reported.

The Government Accountability Office found that almost 4,000 designated recipients who have not yet received stimulus funding reported creating or saving more than 58,000 jobs. Another 9,200 recipients reported no job creation, despite receiving a total of $965 million. The findings demonstrate the difficulty of counting jobs created by the stimulus. [read more…]

Friday, November 20th, 2009
7 senators back 6-month extension of transportation bill — A bipartisan alliance of senators agreed to extend the transportation bill by six months instead of delaying the bill until 2011. Seven senators sent a letter to Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., asking them to limit debate on the proposal. The current extension on transportation funding expires Dec. 18. [read more…]

Friday, November 20th, 2009
US Infrastructure Funding To Drop Without Action – Official

The Wall Street Journal — U.S. funding levels for highway and mass-transit construction could drop by as much as 30% from existing levels in coming months without congressional action to fix an accounting quirk, a Transportation Department official said Wednesday.

“When is a little unclear,” Roy Kienitz, undersecretary of policy for the Transportation Department, told members of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. “We’re trying to figure that out.”

The anticipated drop is due in part to Congress’s failure to pass a long-term transportation spending bill. Instead, Congress has passed two short-term extensions of the existing law as it has turned its attention to health-care legislation. Sen. Barbara Boxer (D., Calif.), chairwoman of the Public Works Committee, said she would push for a six-month extension of the current transportation law that would include a measure to prevent the drop in funding. [read more…]

Friday, November 20th, 2009
Santiago, Chile installs green walls in subway stations

Daily Commercial News and Construction Record — Rush-hour commuters in Chile are breathing easy thanks to new green walls being installed in subway stations in the capital city of Santiago.

Green walls are gaining popularity the world over. The younger and perhaps more daring siblings of the more common green roofs are really not terribly different except that they’re often located indoors and have a vertical perspective.

Ignacio Espoz Babul, director of LatinGreen, a green wall installer in Santiago, described the benefits of platform-level gardens at Cities Alive!, the first annual congress of the World Green Roof Infrastructure Network, hosted last month by the City of Toronto and Green Roofs for Healthy Cities. [read more…]

Friday, November 20th, 2009
Op-Ed: What the Future May Hold

The New York Times — What will the United States be like in 20 years when today’s toddlers are in college or trying to land that first job or maybe thinking about starting a family?

The answer will depend to a great extent on decisions we make now about the American infrastructure. [read more…]

Tuesday, July 28th, 2009
Senate Begins Debate on $34.3B Energy and Water Appropriations Bill

The New York Times/ Greenwire – The Senate this afternoon will begin debate on a $34.3 billion fiscal 2010 energy and water spending bill as environmental groups press lawmakers to strip provisions they say will damage wetlands and fish habitat in Missouri.

Overall, the Senate bill, S. 1436 (pdf), would provide $27.4 billion to the Energy Department, $5.4 billion to the Army Corps of Engineers and $1.1 billion to the Interior Department’s Bureau of Reclamation.

The amendment picture was not clear at press time, however a coalition of environmental groups was pressing for changes they say are necessary to protect fish and wetlands near the Mississippi River in Missouri.

In a July 23 letter (pdf), the groups urged Senate leaders to remove two bill riders that would shift $3.9 million from a fish restoration project in southern Missouri to the Mississippi River and Tributaries Project, a flood control program.

“These provisions would obstruct compliance with a federal court order by rescinding FY 2009 funds the corps intends to use to deconstruct structures to restore the habitat and the channel of the St. Johns River,” said the letter, which was sent last week to Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Appropriations Chairman Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii) and signed by officials from the Environmental Defense Fund, National Audubon Society and eight other groups.

The corps should use the money to undo environmental damage caused by the initial construction of a floodplain project that a federal judge later ruled illegal, the letter said. [read more…]

Tuesday, July 28th, 2009
Denver’s Spire condo focused on “attainability and sustainability”

The Denver Post – When the Spire condominium building in downtown Denver opens in November, it will be among a handful of high-rise residential towers that achieve Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design certification.

Short translation: It’s green.

The designation, coupled with the building’s affordable prices, is a key selling point for the 41-story project at 14th and Champa streets, said Chris Crosby, executive vice president of the Nichols Partnership, which is developing the project.

“Our focus is on attainability and sustainability, in that order,” Crosby said.

Spire’s green features include a LEED-compliant air-filtration system, trash-recycling chutes on all floors and products made of recycled materials.

For Lindsay Smith, buying a condo in a green building is key.

“When I was looking, the LEED aspect of Spire was one of the things that really stood out to me,” the sustainability manager for the Colorado Convention Center said. “It’s a passion of mine, both professionally and personally. They have a lot of innovation that I don’t think we’ve seen so far inDenver buildings.”

She’s selling her car and plans to participate in the Connect by Hertz program Spire will offer, a pay-as-you-go car club that allows members to book a car, pick it up and drive away for an hour, a day or more.

Though they’re more expensive, dual-flush toilets and fixtures designed for water conservation are higher-quality than those typically installed in residential projects, Smith said.

“It’s hopefully setting a bar for other buildings,” she said.

There are 94 LEED-certified multi- unit residential projects nationwide — the first in Pittsburgh in 2003 — according to the U.S. Green Building Council. Of those, 44 are Silver, the level Nichols wants to achieve for Spire.

LEED is a point-based system where building projects are graded for satisfying specific green building criteria in six categories. Platinum is highest, gold next, then silver.

Despite the additional cost to attain LEED certification, the developer remains focused on keeping units affordable. About 60 percent of Spire’s condos are priced at less than $400,000, far lower than most large condominium projects.

With 496 units, Spire will be the largest multifamily LEED-certified building in the metro region. [read more…]

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