Friday, September 23, 2011

Utilizing Brownfields to Revitalize Economies

The Brownfields Center at the Environmental Law Institute defines a Brownfield as “[a]n industrial or commercial property that remains abandoned or underutilized in part because of environmental contamination or the fear of such contamination.” The Brownfields National Partnership was created in May of 1997, and it brought together approximately fifteen governmental organizations to begin brownfields projects to revitalize communities. One exemplary example is the Brownfield project in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. This project focused on mothballed properties and allowed for previously un-utilized properties to be restored and assisted the local economy of Milwaukee. Six properties were the primary target of the program, and were able to garner or retain 1,604 jobs and leverage more than $199 million in private investment.

Florida has its own brownfield program called the Florida Brownfields Redevelopment Program. This program utilizes economic and regulatory incentives to encourage the use of private revenue to clean up and redevelop sites, which creates new jobs and improves local economies. The Florida Brownfields Redevelopment Program has estimated they have created 2,372 new direct jobs, 3,057 new indirect jobs in 2010, and 1,556 new direct jobs, and 1,312 new indirect jobs for 2011. They also boast new capital investments of $76 million dollars from the program. A total of forty-seven sites have been rid of contamination and improved for public use since the program began.

A particular recent brownfield project in Florida has also had great success. In Ft. Myers, a former brownfield cite has been transformed from a coal gasification plant into the “Imaginarium,” which is a campus which includes a children’s museum, theater, outdoor pavilion, lagoon system, and emergency operations center. This center is allowing a previously contaminated site to become a local center for the City and providing an area that is both child-friendly and a great generator of jobs and revenue.

The Florida Brownfields Redevelopment Program is an excellent example of how environmentally friendly programs can also revive the economy. These sites, previously subject to excess waste, were unusable land. Being able to rid these lands of contamination and expand jobs improves local economies, allows for efficient use of the land, and improves the communities in which they are located.

-Sloan Tate, Legal Intern

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Jacksonville is Unwalkable!

Jacksonville was just recently named the least walkable city in the United States by Walk Score which is a company that evaluates walkability and transportation in major cities. This is the second year that the City has received this dishonor. Jacksonville earned a score of 32.6 on a scale from zero to 100. Our score was low because many neighborhoods in Jacksonville are completely dependent on cars as their only means of transportation. The silver lining is that downtown, San Marco, and Riverside are the most walkable parts of the City. These areas were moderately walkable for those in the residential areas. However, Walk Score found Eagle Bend near Main Street and Yellow Bluff Road, near Interstate 10 and West Beaver Street and Black Hammock Island near State Road A1A, and the Little Talbot Island State Park, as the least walkable. These neighborhoods were basically un-walkable, and it was almost impossible to get around without a car.

Even though the top five walkable cities in the U.S. were larger cities with more resources than Jacksonville, we can certainly learn from cities like New York, San Francisco, Boston, Chicago, and Philadelphia. Walking is an inexpensive and eco-friendly alternative to driving a car, and Jacksonville should make more strides to become friendlier to walkers. There are a number of benefits overall for those who live in walking-friendly neighborhoods. For example they tend to have residents who are up to eight pounds lighter, residents save on energy, and their neighborhoods tend to be worth more. It makes sense that these neighborhoods have these benefits, it’s easier to stay in shape when it is possible to work out in your own neighborhood. With growing concerns about obesity in families, being able to walk could be a fun, cost-effective way to get from point A to point B.

Jacksonville could increase their score by decreasing the distance between neighborhoods and grocery stores, restaurants, schools, parks, and public transit. The easiest way to do this would be to improve public transit. Public transit can be a cost effective alternative to commuting via car. However, many in Jacksonville feel that it’s hard to travel by bus because it doesn’t reach the areas in which they live. Increasing buses could be overly expensive, in a time when our city lacks funding. Perhaps a more cost effective alternative would be to improve sidewalks and create more walkways to make areas more pedestrian friendly. These changes would require minimal costs but could greatly improve the quality of life for Jacksonville residents. It would decrease the number of cars on our highways, which in turn would decrease traffic. Decreasing traffic decreases pollution, and could lead to an improvement in our air quality. Considering that Jacksonville’s air pollution is among the worst in the Florida, and Duval County was named the most polluted county in Florida, it is important that we begin the discussion about cost effective ways to improve.

-Sloane Tait, Legal Intern

Is What's Good for Panthers Bad for People?

Adult panthers have increased in numbers to now as many as 160 in South Florida. When the restoration project began in the 1970’s there were only 20 adult panthers in Florida. This is great progress for a species that was struggling to survive only a few years ago. The panthers have been seen as far not as the Caloosahatchee River and some have even been seen in Georgia.

However, this promising growth has led to the concern that the population has been encouraged too much. The most significant concerns come from the raisers of livestock that are complaining about increases in losses of the amounts of valuable livestock every year to these predators. The recovery plan by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission calls for 240 adult panthers in Florida. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission wants to work with homeowners as the population of panthers increases to prevent danger to both the human and panther populations, for they believe that it is possible for both to coexist. Many landowners are concerned though that this increase will decrease their profitability as they continue to lose more cattle, goats, and pigs, to panthers.

The solution proposed by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission is to reimburse these owners of lost livestock from a $25,000 recovery fund. While this seems inadequate to the amount of livestock lost, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission suggests that there has to be a trade off. They also suggest that steps such as building enclosures, installing lighting or electric fencing around enclosures, keeping pets indoors at night or in covered kennels, securing garbage, and fencing in vegetable gardens, can all assist in aiding people and panthers to coexist. Panthers generally do not pose a direct threat to humans because they are creatures that avoid large populations and prefer not to be disturbed. Panthers were however responsible for 12 livestock deaths in 2010, and this year they have been responsible for approximately 14 more. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission also suggests that one reason why panthers may be targeting livestock is that wild hogs and white-tailed deer, which are the preferred foods for panthers, are not as available due to human hunters artificially maintaining their populations.

There is always a tough balance when animal populations that had been depleted begin to grow significantly after being protected. It is important to protect the interests of livestock owners in Florida, but also to protect the panthers who roamed the land first. As populations of endangered animals increase it is important to re-evaluate the feasibility of them being able to thrive in limited space and with limited food supplies.

-Sloane Tait, Legal Intern