As cities rush to solve major problems with water infrastructure, newer technologies are being touted by city agencies as cheaper, cleaner solutions. In two different local projects, the Metropolitan Sewer District of Greater Cincinnati (MSD) and a City Council task force are looking into green ways to solve the city’s water needs.
On Wednesday, CityBeat covered some of the benefits and downsides of green water infrastructure. According to the report reviewed Wednesday, green water infrastructure is cheaper and does create a boon of jobs, but it faces some funding and education problems. However, it was unclear how the green ideas would translate into Cincinnati.
Tony Parrott, executive director of MSD, says despite the challenges, green infrastructure is clearly the cheaper option. The organization is partnering with local organizations to adopt a series of new projects — among them, green roofs, rain gardens, wetlands — to meet a new federal mandate that requires MSD to reduce the amount of sewer overflow that makes it into local rivers and streams.
“That is a very costly mandate,” he says. “Our belief is that green infrastructure and sustainable infrastructure will allow us to achieve a lot of those objectives a lot cheaper than your conventional deep tunnel systems or other gray type of infrastructure.”
Of course, conventional — or “gray” — infrastructure still
has its place, but adopting a hybrid of green and gray infrastructure
or just green infrastructure in some areas was found to be cheaper in
MSD analyses, according to Parrott.
Plans are already being executed. On top of the smaller projects that slow the flow of storm water into sewer systems, MSD is also taking what Parrott calls a “large-scale approach to resurrect or daylight former streams and creeks that were buried over 150 years ago.” This approach will rely on the new waterways to redirect storm water so it doesn’t threaten to flood sewers and cause sewer overflow, Parrott says.
The programs are being approached in a “holistic way,” according to Parrott. MSD intends to refine and reiterate on what works as the programs develop. However, that comes with challenges when setting goals and asking for funding.
“We think that if you’re going to use a more integrated approach, it may require us to ask for more time to get some of these projects done and in the ground and then see how effective they are,” Parrott says.
If it all plays out, the ongoing maintenance required by the green approach could be good for the local economy, according to Parrott: “With the green and sustainable infrastructure, you’re creating a new class of what we call green jobs for maintenance. The majority of those jobs are something local folks can do as opposed to the conventional process.” Additionally, the green jobs also tend to benefit “disadvantaged communities” more than conventional jobs, according to Parrott.
The argument is essentially what Jeremy Hays, chief strategist for state and local initiatives at Green For All, told CityBeat on Wednesday. Since the green jobs require less education and training, they’re more accessible to “disadvantaged workers,” according to Hays: “They require some training and some skills, but not four years’ worth because it’s skills that you can get at a community college or even on the job.”
While MSD fully encourages the use of rain barrels, recycling will not be a top priority for MSD’s programs. Instead, that priority goes to the Rainwater Harvesting Task Force, a City Council task force intended to find ways to reform the city’s plumbing code to make harvesting and recycling rainwater a possibility.
Bob Knight, a member of the task force, says there is already a model in place the city can use. The task force is looking into adopting the International Green Construction Code (IGCC) in Cincinnati. The code will “prescriptively tell” architects and engineers how to design a rainwater harvesting system. In other words, IGCC would set a standard for the city.
Deciding on this code was not without challenges. At first, the task force wasn’t even sure if it could dictate how rainwater is harvested and recycled. The first question Knight had to ask was, “Who has that authority?” What it found is a mix of local agencies — Greater Cincinnati Water Works, MSD and Cincinnati Department of Planning — will all have to work together to implement the city’s new code.
The task force hopes to give its findings to Quality of Life Committee, which is led by Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls, by the end of November.
It appears there will be 22 candidates on the ballot in November vying for the nine open seats on Cincinnati City Council.
As of today's 4 p.m. filing deadline at the Board of Elections, that's the number of people who had submitted petitions with enough voter signatures. At least five of those candidates, however, haven't yet had the signatures verified by Elections Board staffers because they only filed their final petitions today.
In the letter, the Democrats say they would find voter fraud to be a serious problem if it was happening, but they also note recent studies have found no evidence of widespread voter impersonation fraud. An Oct. 4 Government Accountability Office study could not document a single case of voter impersonation fraud. A similar study by News21, a Carnegie-Knight investigative reporting project, found a total of 10 cases of alleged in-person voter impersonation since 2000. That’s less than one case a year.
Tim Burke, chairman of both the Hamilton County Board of Elections and the Hamilton County Democratic Party, says the faulty voter registration forms, which groups like TTV typically cite as examples of in-person voter fraud, never amount to real voter fraud.
“Those nonexistent voters never show up to vote,” he says. “(The forms) were put together by people working on voter registration drives. Frankly, the intent wasn’t to defraud the board of elections; the intent was to defraud their employer into making them think they’re doing more work.”
In other words, people aren't submitting faulty voter registration forms to skew elections; registration drive employees are submitting the forms to try to keep their jobs.
To combat the seemingly nonexistent problem of voter impersonation fraud, TTV is planning on recruiting one million poll watchers — people that will stand by polling places to ensure the voting process is legitimate. The Democrats insist some of the tactics promoted by the group are illegal. The letter claims it’s illegal for anyone but election officials to inhibit the voting process in any way. Most notably, Ohio law prohibits “loiter[ing] in or about a registration or polling place during registration or the casting and counting of ballots so as to hinder, delay, or interfere with the conduct of the registration or election,” according to the letter.
Burke says state law allows both Democrats and Republicans
to hire observers at polling booths. However, the observers can only
watch, and they can’t challenge voters. Even if the appointed observers see suspicious
activity, they have to leave the voting area and report the activity
through other means.
The tactics adopted by TTV have an ugly history in the U.S. Utilizing poll watchers was one way Southern officials pushed away minority voters during the segregation era. By asking questions and being as obstructive as possible, the poll watchers of the segregation era intimidated black voters into not voting. In the post-segregation era, the tactics have continued targeting minority and low-income voters.
The Senate Democrats make note of the ugly history in their letter: “It has traditionally focused on the voter registration lists in minority and low-income precincts, utilizing ‘caging’ techniques to question registrations. It has included encouraging poll watchers to ‘raise a challenge’ when certain voters tried to vote by brandishing cameras at polling sites, asking humiliating questions of voters, and slowing down precinct lines with unnecessary challenges and intimidating tactics. These acts of intimidation undermine protection of the right to vote of all citizens.”
TTV has already faced some failures in Hamilton County. Earlier this year, the group teamed up with the Ohio Voter Integrity Project (VIP), another Tea Party group, to file 380 challenges to the Hamilton County Board of Elections. Of the 380 challenges, only 35 remain. The vast majority were thrown out.
“For the most part, they tried to get a bunch of UC students challenged because they didn’t have their dormitory rooms on their voter registration rolls,” Burke says. “All of those were rejected. We did nothing with those.”
But he said the group did bring up one legitimate
challenge. Some voters were still registered in a now-defunct trailer
park in Harrison, Ohio. Since the trailer park no longer exists,
Burke says no one should be voting from there. The board didn’t purge
those voters from the roll, but the board unanimously agreed to ensure those voters are challenged and sent to the correct polling place if they show up to vote.
Still, TTV insists on hunting down all the phantom impersonators and fraudulent voters. In partnership with VIP, TTV is continuing its mission to stop all the voter impersonation that isn't actually happening.
VIP is brandishing the effort with a program of its own. That organization is now hosting special training programs for poll workers. The organization insists its programs are nonpartisan, but Democrats aren’t buying it.
Burke says it’s normal for Democrats and Republicans to hire poll workers, but if the Voter Integrity Project program puts the organization’s anti-fraud politics into the training, it could go too far.
“The job of the poll worker is to assist voters in getting their ballots cast correctly,” Burke says. “It’s to be helpful. It’s not to be belligerent. It’s not to be making voters feel like they’re doing something evil.”
He added, “If poll workers are coming in and deciding that they’re going to be aggressive police officers making everybody feel like they’re engaged in voter fraud and therefore trying to intimidate voters, that’s absolutely wrong.”
Faced with the choice between job layoffs or a second round of unpaid furloughs for employees, executives at the financially troubled Gannett Co. announced today they were selecting the latter course.
Gannett, the parent firm of The Cincinnati Enquirer, announced a furlough program that will require most non-unionized workers to take at least five days of unpaid leave sometime in April, May or June. The move is expected to save the company about $20 million.
The ruling means the case could restart, potentially setting Cincinnati Union Bethel, which owns the inn, and Western & Southern on another path of court hearings and appeals that will take up taxpayer money and the courts’ time — all because Western & Southern is bitter it didn’t purchase the Anna Louise Inn when given the opportunity.
By agreeing with the lower court that Cincinnati Union Bethel filed an incomplete application, the appeals court is now asking the owners of the Anna Louise Inn to resubmit their
funding requests to the city of Cincinnati — except this time Cincinnati Union Bethel
will have to include details about previously omitted parts of the Anna Louise Inn and the Off
the Streets program.
But Tim Burke, Cincinnati Union Bethel’s attorney, is hopeful the process will not have to restart. He says Cincinnati Union Bethel already carried out the appeals court’s requirements. After Hamilton County Judge Norbert Nadel handed down his May 4 ruling against the Anna Louise Inn, Cincinnati Union Bethel started a second chain of zoning and permit applications to obtain a conditional use permit that met Nadel’s specifications. So far, the applications have been approved by Cincinnati’s Historic Conservation Board and the Cincinnati Zoning Board of Appeals, but Western & Southern is appealing those rulings as well.
Burke and Cincinnati Union Bethel hope to meet with Nadel Monday to make their case. If they’re successful, they’ll stave off another series of court hearings and appeals.
Burke says the case has been a uniquely negative experience — previously calling it one of the most frustrating of his career. He says Western & Southern’s actions are pure obstructionism: “They benefit from delays, and that’s all they’re trying to do.”
Cincinnati Union Bethel wants to use city funds to help finance $13 million in renovations for the Anna Louise Inn, which are necessary to keep the building open and functional.
The Anna Louise Inn is a 103-year-old building that provides shelter to low-income women. Its Off the Streets program helps women involved in prostitution turn their lives around.
Western & Southern previously supported the Anna Louise Inn and the Off the Streets program with direct donations, but the friendly relations abruptly ended when Cincinnati Union Bethel refused to sell the building to Western & Southern, instead opting to renovate the Inn. At that point, Western & Southern began a series of legal challenges meant to obstruct Cincinnati Union Bethel’s renovation plans.
The zoning debate centers around whether the Anna Louise
Inn qualifies as a “special assistance shelter” or “transitional
housing.” The Anna Louise Inn originally claimed to be transitional
housing, but Nadel ruled the building is a special assistance
shelter. After that ruling, Cincinnati Union Bethel obtained a conditional use permit for the new classification, but Western & Southern is now disputing the approval of that permit.
For more information about this ongoing dispute, visit CityBeat's collection of coverage here.
Humana announced Wednesday that they'll be adding 700 jobs to their Cincinnati operations by 2010. With the struggling economy, this is welcome news.
An organizer of Greater Cincinnati's Tea Party movement is telling its members the Ohio Republican Party chairman is trying to manipulate potential candidates in the race for Ohio auditor to pit two Teabggers against each other and split the vote, clearing the path for the chairman's cousin to be the GOP's nominee in the race for another office.
Republican Brad Wenstrup, a podiatrist and U.S. Army veteran who unsuccessfully ran for Cincinnati mayor in 2009, announced today that he will challenge incumbent Jean Schmidt next year in the GOP primary to run for Ohio's 2nd Congressional District seat.
Wenstrup ran against incumbent Mayor Mark Mallory, a Democrat, two years ago. Wenstrup lost 54-46 percent, but many local Republican leaders were impressed by the showing of the first-time political candidate.