August brings the eleventh anniversary of the most notorious stream pollution incident in Arlington County history. In the years since golf course runoff poisoned the Donaldson Run and Gulf Branch streams, residents and county officials alike have stepped up their protection of our region’s waterways.
In August 2001, an herbicide applied to 12 fairways at the Washington Golf and Country Club washed into Donaldson Run and Gulf Branch after a storm. Eight thousand pounds of this herbicide, Basamid G, had been applied to kill all plant and animal life in the top two inches of the fairways’ soil. However, it did a whole lot more than its intention. The runoff killed an estimated 1,000 American eels. No living organisms were found in the streams following the storm.
Jen McDonnell, a Stormwater Outreach Specialist at Arlington’s Office of Sustainability and Environmental Management, said the incident “brought attention to the impacts that runoff can have on our streams.”
After this event, golf course officials agreed to halt the treatment of the remaining six fairways, which would drain into Gulf Branch. In 2005, facing civil charges, the golf course agreed to a consent decree in which it paid $145,000 to reimburse the costs incurred by the federal government — specifically, the National Park Service and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service – in responding to the incident.
Arlington County code makes it unlawful for “any person to discharge directly or indirectly into the storm sewer system or state waters, any substance likely, in the opinion of the County Manager, to have an adverse effect.”
McDonnell said that she is “not aware of any other penalty fines which have been paid for stream pollution.” However, she does know that polluters oftentimes have to pay for cleanup activities following a spill.
Despite the threat of financial consequences, pollution still continues, often unknowingly, from residents applying pesticides and fertilizers onto their lawn. The county and some environmental groups have been trying to counter the contamination with various stream-friendly projects.
Earlier this summer the Urban Libraries Council honored Arlington Public Library as its 2012 Top Innovator for Sustainability.
The council singled out the library’s “Bikes, Buildings and Broccoli” approach to transportation, energy and food sustainability as one of the factors that helped it win the award. Urban Libraries Council CEO Susan Benton spoke about the award at the July 24 County Board meeting, as seen in the video below from the county’s Arlington TV channel.
Democratic U.S. Senate candidate and former Virginia governor Tim Kaine spoke about his economic development record during a Thursday afternoon campaign stop at Clarendon-based clean energy company GridPoint, Inc.
The company sells efficiency-monitoring software to electrical utilities, government agencies and private corporations. According to CEO John Spirtos, it employs about 100 people between its corporate headquarters (2801 Clarendon Boulevard) and its manufacturing facility in Roanoke.
In a statement, Kaine touted GridPoint as an industry leader in energy efficiency solutions.
“GridPoint’s innovative energy management systems are saving companies up to a fifth of their total energy costs per month,” Kaine said. “These are dollars that can be invested back into the business to expand and hire new workers. Their advancements in energy efficiency and conservation technology are absolutely essential to ensuring our businesses can compete in an increasingly competitive global economy.”
Kaine also touted his own record of helping to bring GridPoint to Arlington. In 2007, Kaine approved a $500,000-incentive package from the Governor’s Opportunity Fund to entice GridPoint to move its headquarters to Arlington from Washington, D.C.
“My economic development team played a big part in bringing GridPoint’s headquarters here. We considered it a big victory because of the kind of business that it has and the kind of talent that it has,” Kaine told a roomful of GridPoint employees on Thursday. “Where we really have thrived is we just try to bring the best talent here. If you win the talent race, you win the economic race.”
Kaine toured part of the company’s 30,000-square-foot space at the corner of Clarendon Boulevard and N. Edgewood Street with Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Spirtos to highlight his “Strengthening Our Economy Through Energy Innovation” plan.
“Oregon and Virginia are really kind of innovation economies and we know that today we aren’t just competing against people sort of 20 miles down the road, or in my case, California or Seattle. But we are competing against the Chinese. We are competing against the Indians,” Wyden said. “The governor is proven in terms of some of the energy investments he’s been able to invest in and make.”
Professional and technical services accounted for a fifth of Arlington County’s jobs, according to the county’s annual profile. Spirtos said that local base of highly-trained workers is one reason why GridPoint fits among Clarendon’s high-end retail shops and restaurants.
“D.C. is a great place to be but it’s a tough place to get [computer] developers to go to work. We needed access to the talent. There’s a lot of folks who won’t cross the river to go into D.C. There’s a lot of folks who won’t cross the river to go into Maryland,” Spirtos said. “And in this location, we have the Apple Store and the Whole Foods and the whole thing and that’s great. This is a great neighborhood. It’s an ideal neighborhood.”
It was revealed this week that Gridpoint has received another $23 million in venture capital funding, bringing its total funding to $263 million, according to GigaOm. In addition to its Virginia locations, Gridpoint has offices in Austin, Texas; Ottawa, Ontario; and Seattle, Washington.
An Arlington catering company is boasting about being the first in the D.C. metro to use a non-traditional technology — aquaponics, a combination of hydroponics and aquaculture — to farm its own fish.
Main Event Caterers (3870 S. Four Mile Run Drive) recently began using the urban farming technique. Aquaponics is the practice of using a closed-loop ecological system to grow both fish and plants in one body of water. Water circulates through fish tanks, moves through filters and plant beds, then heads back to the fish tanks.
The catering company says the process benefits the business as well as the environment.
“Less water and fertilizer use, the ability to grow a large volume of crops in a small space, and the value of our clients knowing exactly where their food comes from are just a few of the benefits we’ve experienced,” said Joël Thévoz, CEO of Main Event Caterers.
Main Event Caterers has a history of operating a green business. In addition to the aquaponic farming, it uses compostable materials, wind and solar powered electricity and rain water reclamation.
“Our commitment to sustainable initiatives runs deep,” said Nancy Goodman, Co-Founder of Main Event Caterers. “Everything we do within our daily operations is motivated by our dedication to protect and preserve the environment while providing an entirely green experience to our clients.”
As summer travel season ramps up, a lot of money will be put toward filling up the car with gas. But a new report claims the average Virginia family could save $560 at the pump this summer by using more fuel efficient cars.
The Environment Virginia Research & Policy Center, an organization aimed at promoting cleaner energy options, released the report. It highlights President Obama’s proposal to increase fuel efficiency to 54.5 mpg by 2025.
Organization representatives presented the findings today at a press conference at the River House Apartments (1400 S. Joyce Street) in Pentagon City. There, they highlighted the electric car charging station in the parking lot, and urged Arlington residents to consider purchasing an electric car.
The report claims that the improved standards would save the equivalent amount of pollution as taking three coal power plants offline for the summer, on top of the $560 each Virginia family would save.
“Not only could you take that trip to Virginia Beach while burning much less oil along the way, but you could book the family a hotel for a couple of extra days with the money you’re saving,” said John Cross, Federal Transportation Advocate for Environment Virginia.
Congressman Jim Moran (D) backs the proposed standards mentioned in the report.
“From an economic, environmental and national security perspective, we must reduce our dependency on oil,” said Moran in a statement. “This new report from Environment America highlights the importance of moving forward with cleaner, more fuel efficient cars.”
Cross noted that buying an electric car now has a positive environmental impact, even though the standards aren’t yet to the 54.5 mpg mark.
“Drivers do not have to wait until 2025 to reap the benefits of cleaner cars,” Cross said. “A bumper crop of fuel efficient cars have already started coming to the showroom floor.
International developer and construction company Skanska is working on the five story building at 1776 Wilson Blvd, which will contain both retail and office space.
To earn LEED certification, a developer must earn credits in six categories called Sustainable Sites, Water Efficiency, Energy & Atmosphere, Materials & Resources, Indoor Environmental Quality, and Innovation in Design & Regionalization. The rating system has a total of 110 points, and 80 are necessary to receive platinum certification.
Some of the green features included in the new building are ultra-efficient plumbing fixtures that offer a 40 percent reduction in the typical amount of water used, and water efficient landscaping that doesn’t require a regular irrigation system. Solar panels will be part of the effort to reduce the building’s annual energy costs by 24 percent, and high performance glass will prevent heat gain in the building.
There will also be a green roof terrace on the fourth floor. The garage will feature preferred parking for fuel efficient vehicles, and will be outfitted with power outlets to accommodate electric cars.
The building is scheduled to be mostly completed by August, and the hope is that tenants can move in this fall. Already, the building is 50 percent pre-leased.
The internet has made many things easier, including looking up businesses and phone numbers. If you don’t feel the need to receive those big phone books on your doorstep anymore, there’s a way you can opt out.
Two trade groups have teamed up to create a phone book opt-out website. It was set up to reduce the amount of waste and costs associated with delivering unwanted directories.
The site determines which phone books you are eligible for based on your ZIP code, and allows you to choose which you do or do not want to receive.
Arlington’s Department of Environmental Services didn’t have specific stats on how many phone books are recycled in Arlington each year, but officials remind anyone who still wants to receive the directories that they can be recycled in the standard county recycling bins.
Arlington is installing energy performance labels on 14 county buildings today.
The green labels are intended to tell citizens the buildings’ carbon footprint, current energy use and planned long-term reductions in energy use (by 2050). The stats are all relative to the square footage of each building.
The county’s main administrative building, at 2100 Clarendon Boulevard, is one of the buildings that will be receiving the labels. The building is 30 percent more efficient than the average U.S. office building, according to its label. Its 17.9 pounds of carbon dioxide per square foot carbon footprint compared favorably to the U.S. office average of 26.1 pounds.
The labels also state when each building was built.
Among the other buildings expected to receive energy labels today: Central Library, Cherrydale Library, Glencarlyn Library, Shirlington Library, Westover Library, Court Square West, Drewry Health Center, fire training facility, 1810 N. Edison Street, parks and cultural affairs office, parks operations office, solid waste and traffic engineering office, and the Water Sewer Streets Bureau.
“We will post labels in the rest of the county buildings over the next couple months,” said Arlington County environmental planner Joan Kelsch.
It may be the most exciting thing to happen outside Ballston Common Mall since this happened last year. The Virginia Sierra Club is planning a made-for-TV rally tomorrow at the corner of Wilson Boulevard and Stuart Street.
With the help of some interesting visuals, environmental activists will be calling for policies that support cleaner air in Virginia. Specifically, the Sierra Club is asking for public hearings regarding Dominion Virginia Power’s long-term energy plan. They’re also asking for the State Corporation Commission to approve Dominion’s plan to retire two coal-fired power plants in Virginia.
To help put an exclamation point on their message, demonstrators will be bringing along “a 6-foot cardboard asthma inhaler… 6-foot tall mock wind turbines…. pinwheels symbolizing desire for wind energy… and posters and signs calling for a transition from dirty coal to clean energy.” In addition, rally bystanders will be encouraged to place phone calls to the State Corporation Commission requesting public hearings about Dominion.
“Switching to cleaner energy sources can not only reduce dangerous air pollution, but also create high-skill, high-wage jobs for Virginians,” the Sierra Club said in a press advisory. “Activists seek public hearings so citizens may voice their strong support for clean energy and clean air in person”
Flickr pool photo by Tim Kelley
Northern Virginia residents were exposed to “dangerous” levels of smog on 33 days last year, the report said. There were also “3 ‘red-alert’ days, when the air quality was so poor that anyone could experience adverse health effects,” according to a press release.
The report was released locally by Environment America offshoot Environment Virginia. Rep. Jim Moran and Del. Patrick Hope were among the speakers at a press conference yesterday at the Langston-Brown Community Center in Arlington.
Environmental Virginia spokeswoman Sarah Hyman said the report is troubling for local residents — particularly children and the elderly, who are a higher risk of adverse health effects from air pollution.
“Virginians deserve clean air. But on far too many days, people in the D.C. Metro area, including Northern Virginia, are exposed to dangerous smog pollution,” Hyman said. “For the sake of our children, we must make every day a safe day to breathe.”
Hyman went on to criticize the Obama administration’s decision to put off updating the Environmental Protection Agency’s national smog pollution standards until at least 2013.
“We must make every day a safe day to breathe,” Hyman said. “Unfortunately, rather than acting decisively to protect our kids from dangerous air pollution, President Obama chose to kick the can down the road. Virginia’s kids, senior citizens and those suffering from respiratory problems will suffer as a consequence and certainly deserve better.”
An American Lung Association study released in April said the D.C. area has the 14th worst smog levels in the country.
Photo courtesy Anne Hughes/Office of Rep. Jim Moran
Arlington is launching a ‘Retail Doors Campaign’ as part of its ongoing Green Games business sustainability competition. The campaign encourages individual shops and restaurants to save energy by closing their doors.
“The Campaign is a voluntary effort through which retailers pledge to keep their doors closed if the air conditioning or heat is running,” said county spokeswoman Shannon Whalen McDaniel. “Arlington is asking retailers to make this commitment to close their doors, which will help save them money, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and create a more comfortable indoor environment for staff and customers.”
It’s “a win-win situation all around,” Whalen McDaniel said.
Businesses that want to join the campaign can sign up on the Arlington Green Games website.
(Updated at 12:25 p.m.) The GenOn power plant along the Potomac River in Alexandria will be retired next year, in a victory for local environmental advocates who railed against the coal-fired plant’s carbon emissions.
The 62-year-old plant is expected to close by Oct. 1, 2012, according to a City of Alexandria press release. Alexandria will release $32 million that was being held in escrow to pay for environmental controls at the plant, in order to facilitate its closure.
“Today’s announcement is a path forward for both Alexandria and the power company that works for everybody, and truly reflects the interest of both parties,” Alexandria Mayor William Euille said in a statement. “Both the Alexandria City Council and community have worked extremely hard toward this goal, and we are very proud of the final result. This news strengthens Alexandria’s future and opens the door to an enhanced quality of life for our residents.”
No word yet on what might eventually happen to the prime waterfront property on which the plant is located. The land is owned by Pepco, according to the Washington Business Journal, but there has been talk of using the land for a nearly half-billion dollar mixed-use project.
Rep. Jim Moran, meanwhile, released a statement praising today’s announcement.
This was a long fought but well won victory for the citizens of Alexandria and the nation’s capital. What once was the largest stationary source of air pollution will be no more. Through citizen involvement and committed city officials, the Potomac River Generating Station and its 1949 coal-fired boilers will finally be shuttered.
Forced to reduce its emissions and scale back its operations to comply with the Clean Air Act as a result of a lawsuit and enforcement actions, Mirant and GenOn were ultimately unable to compete with cheaper and cleaner natural gas powered electricity. Tougher federal regulations now in development may have also convinced GenOn’s management that the $28 million in settlement funds that had been set aside to meet the cleanup terms of the settlement were better than the losses their shareholders were taking trying to keep the outdated plant in operation.
Northern Virginia stands as an example of a prosperous and environmentally-conscious community. Today’s action maintains our commitment to a better, cleaner environment for our region’s next generation. The extinction of this dinosaur of a facility is heartily welcomed.
Del. David Englin, who represents parts of Alexandria and Arlington, also released a statement.
“Every human being has a basic and fundamental right to breathe clean air, which is why so many of us have fought for so long to shut down this dirty, old coal-fired power plant in our midst. This is a major victory for the people of Alexandria that will strengthen our quality of life, and I congratulate all of the officials involved.”
“Our community owes a great deal to the citizen activists who have worked with such unfailing dedication and perseverance to get us to this point. While there is reason to celebrate, the agreement does allow some wiggle room on the closing date, which means we must continue to be vigilant until the day the plant finally and permanently closes its doors.”
Flickr pool photo by Chris Rief
Since holiday weekends are excluded, July’s paper shredding event will take place this Saturday. Residents — not businesses — can take their sensitive documents to the county’s Solid Waste Bureau (4300 29th Street S.) to be shredded, for free, from 8:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
“A County employee will process the materials while you observe,” according to the Arlington County web site. “100% of shredded material is recycled.”
Residents are limited to two boxes or paper bags of documents each month. Stapled and paper-clipped documents are okay, as are checkbooks, but magazines, catalogs, binders, phone books and credit cards are prohibited.
The three-month old restaurant will soon be launching delivery service, and co-owner Joel Mehr says the newly-purchased Segway will allow his delivery staff to serve residents of Arlington’s dense urban core faster than traditional delivery methods.
The Segway — once it’s outfitted with a custom pizza-holding basket — will be able to transport multiple pies at a time, unlike deliveries by foot, and will be able to park anywhere, unlike deliveries by car. Plus, Mehr said, it’s cheap and eco-friendly — only requiring a $0.20 overnight charge for eight hours of operation.
“We just thought this would be an extremely efficient way to deliver to urban residents within a mile radius,” said Mehr, who noted that the original idea for Segway deliveries came from an offhand suggestion from a customer.
The personal transportation device will not be the only vehicle in the delivery fleet, however. While the Segway will handle deliveries within a mile of the store, a gas-powered scooter will handle deliveries within two miles. Cars will be used for more distant deliveries and during bad weather.
Segways can travel up to 12 miles per hour. Expect to see the Pete’s Segway, decked out with stickers and other decorations, out and about in Clarendon in a couple of weeks.
Can-Scrubbers LLC recently started operating in Arlington, Falls Church and McLean. The company has a small, oddly-shaped blue truck that uses “high pressure hot water and highly effective degreasing cleaners” in an automated process to clean out filthy trash cans.
Can-Scrubbers says their process is “eco-friendly” since cleaning your own cans will likely “send contaminated waste material into the street and ultimately down storm drains and into our precious streams and rivers.” The company says it stores waste water in the truck, then filters it and sends it through the sanitary sewer. Also, the company says that its cleaning agents are biodegradable.
The service starts at $10 per month.