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A solar powered Ypsilanti?

They may be baby steps, but a group of local residents are moving toward making solar energy a bigger and more visible part of life in Ypsilanti.

The group has raised $900 of the $3,800 needed to install a series of 12 solar panels on the south side of City Hall. City officials are also working to land several thousands dollars in state grants to buy and install another $19,000 worth of solar panels.

This same group was also able to add a fifth solar panel to the existing solar system of the Ypsilanti Food Co-operative.

A monitoring system is expected to be up and running this spring on the co-op's Web site that will monitor how much electricity it produces. A similar system is being proposed for the City Hall solar project.

This is on top of the city's efforts to add a solar water-heating system to the Rutherford Pool that will heat the showers. The projects won't supply all of the energy needs of the two facilities because they are so big but will demonstrate to the public how the systems work, are cost-effective and can significantly offset energy costs in smaller buildings, such as single-family homes.

The group is looking for $50 pledges to fund the City Hall solar project. For information on giving, click here.

Source: Dave Strenski, an Ypsilanti resident helping spearhead Ypsilanti's solar efforts
Writer: Jon Zemke

Wyandotte school goes solar with new project

Wyandotte maybe Metro Detroit's best kept secret when it comes to keeping ahead of the curve. Its downtown maintains a vibrancy that rivals Royal Oak, works to redevelop inner-city property faster than Ypsilanti and develops green energy avenues with the tenacity typically identified with Ann Arbor.

Add another feather in the cap of that last one with the Wilson Middle School solar project. Kulick Enterprises and CRESIT Energy, both based in Wyandotte, are working to install 54 solar panels on the roof of the Wyandotte Public School this month.

"This is forward thinking and now we're trying to get some builders on board with it," says Robert Kulick, president of the Kulick Enterprises.

Kulick's company will begin installing a 10-kilowatt system on March 17 and finish within a week. A 10-killowatt system means it can produce 10 kilowatts of electricity per hour on a clear, sunny day. It can produce as much as 30 to 60 percent on an overcast day.

The $100,000 system (paid for with grants from the state and Johnson Controls) will go up on the school's southwest wing. Students and staff will track the amount of electricity it generates and monitor it from a webcam. Local officials are also looking at launching a Web site that will track the system's electricity production.

Source: Robert Kulick, president of Kulick Enterprises
Writer: Jon Zemke

Ferndale considers more LED lights for streetlights

It's not easy becoming green, but that's not stopping Ferndale from trying. City officials are looking into switching in LED lights into the inner-ring suburb's street lights next year.

Why not this year? Money.

"It's quite expensive, but we're looking at it," says Jack Crowly, superintendent of Ferndale's public works department.

The expense is worth it in the long run. LED lights use a fraction of the electricity of normal light bulbs because 95 percent of the energy they utilize creates light the human eye can see. In comparison, only 50 to 60 percent of energy used by regular light bulbs makes visible light.

LED lights also last several years longer than the normal life-span for normal street lights. LEDs are currently used in traffic lights, TV and brake lights for car; as well as many other products.

Ferndale put LED lights into all 25 of its traffic lights last year. Switching out the incandescent bulbs in all 170 or so of the city's street lights is not as easy because the LEDs have a higher up-front cost than normal bulbs.

Other Metro Detroit communities are also looking into making the switch to LED. Ann Arbor is in the process of changing its downtown streetlights and Ypsilanti is also looking into doing the same with its downtown. Oxford-based Relume Technologies is working with a number of other Metro Detroit communities to make the switch.

Source: Jack Crowly, superintendent of Ferndale's public works department
Writer: Jon Zemke

Wyandotte plans to build wind turbines along the Detroit River

Wyandotte is looking to take advantage of the holy trinity of alternative energy generation: wind, water and sun. The latest project will capitalize on the former of those three now that the city is looking to build wind turbines along the Detroit River.

The city is planning to erect five wind turbines that could cost between $13 and $15 million. However, when complete each turbine could produce enough electricity to power 500 homes each year. That's a big-time payoff for a large investment.

"We want to demonstrate that you don't need to be in the middle of a field in Minnesota to make this work," says Jim French, assistant to the general manager for Wyandotte Municipal Services. "We want to show that this is viable in an urban and brownfield setting."

So far the city, which owns its own utility company, has spent $300,000 (mostly U.S. Department of Energy money) to study the proposal for the last year. The idea is to reduce the city's carbon footprint and bolster the city's reputation as a leader in developing alternative energy sources.

The wind turbines would be built at the BASF plant, two at the Wyandotte Shores Golf Course and two more on city-owned property at 8th Street and Central Avenue. The construction time would be to start late next year and have them installed within six months, which would put it in early 2010.

Source: Jim French, assistant to the general manager for Wyandotte Municipal Services
Writer: Jon Zemke

Ann Arbor launches Recycling Right program

"Recycling: Good for the Earth And You"

Or so the saying goes. We know to put paper, plastics, glass and metal into our recycling bins, but often everyday people don't know much more beyond the slogan how recycling really works.

Recycle Ann Arbor, which runs the city's recycling program, is looking to do something about that with its "Recycle Right!" TV spot set to broadcast beginning 8:30 p.m. Saturday on CitiTV Channel 19.

The educational program will detail the ins and outs of recycling in Tree Town, explaining what can be recycled, how to properly recycle it and what happens to the recycling after it's picked up.

The idea is to encourage more and better recycling in the city by educating people about the subject. The more people know beyond the cliché "Recycling, good!" the more they will be able to help improve the system.

Not that there's anything wrong with the city's current system. More than 90 percent of city households recycle on a regular basis. City residents recycle or compost about 50 percent of their household waste, which is double the national average. However, local officials would like to get through to the 10% who don't while teaching the rest of Ann Arborites more about the realities of recycling.

The 15-minute program will air periodically into early May on Channel 19. For information on the program, email or call (734) 769-7422. For information on recycling in Ann Arbor call (734) 662-6288.

Ann Arbor's residential recycling collection service is contracted to Recycle Ann Arbor. If you have questions about your home recycling, please call Recycle Ann Arbor directly at or visit the city's Web site at

Source: City of Ann Arbor
Writer: Jon Zemke

University Village developer holds public meetings on student housing project

People with an opinion about the proposed University Village development in Ann Arbor (and there seems to no shortage of them) will get a chance to make it known on March 5 and March 6.

The developer behind the student housing project will host open houses to discuss the brownfield aspect of the proposal on March 6 and all other aspects of it on March 5. The development calls for building two residential towers (22 and 18 stories respectively) above ground floor retail. There will be 421 total housing units on a 1.6 acre parcel at South University and South Forest streets.

The developers, Hughes Properties and partner Omena Real Estate Investments, recently shrunk the first proposed tower from 26 stories to 22 stories. It's only the latest high-rise student housing development in University of Michigan's Central Campus area. Among the others are university's North Quad (its first dorm in 30 years), upgrades to a number of other dorms, 4 Elevel Lofts and Zaragon Place Lofts.

University Village would incorporate environmentally friendly construction techniques, materials and systems, such as passive solar technologies, advanced water recapture systems and a green roof. The developers are going for LEED certification from the U.S. Green Building Council.

Each tower will be able to house about 850 students each in loft-style apartments. Each unit will come furnished with amenities like flat screen TVs and floor-to-ceiling windows. There will also be a café, fitness facility, business center and a landscaped roof garden.

The project would replace a handful of buildings at the corner of South University and Forest, including the Village Corner party store. City officials are reviewing the plans, which must be approved by city council before the project can move forward.

The brownfield meeting will be held at 8 p.m. in the auditorium of the Burns Park Elementary School, 1414 Wells St. The general town hall meeting will be held at 6:30 p.m. in the MITC Conference Center, 1000 Oakbrook Drive, which is behind Howard Cooper car dealership off State Street just north of Eisenhower.

For information, contact Jill Thacher at (734) 994-2797 or Tracy Koe Wick at

Source: Tracy Koe Wick, principal of Kirkwood A Marketing Group
Writer: Jon Zemke

Transit-oriented development proposed for U.S 23 commuter rail line




Get used to hearing those words (or the acronym TOD) and the millions of dollars in investment that comes with them when it comes to development in Metro Detroit in the near future.

The first rail-based example of transit oriented development for the planned U.S. 23 commuter rail line is being proposed in Whitmore Lake. The Whitmore Station project looks to redevelop 24 acres of an old industrial plant into a combination of commercial and residential space centered on the proposed station.

The commuter rail line would connect Ann Arbor to its northern neighbors Whitmore Lake, Hamburg Township, Genoa Township and Howell using existing train tracks that mirror U.S. 23.

Originally proposed to help alleviate congestion during construction along U.S. 23 last year, local leaders are now pushing for it to relieve chronic backups along the highway where rush hour traffic often goes beyond its capacity. Although starting service has been pushed back a few times, those behind the effort are still confident it will become a reality.

"I am confident that this is a very real project," says Earl LaFave, the developer behind Whitmore Station. "I am also convinced that it will happen in the near future. I am not talking years. It could happen within the next year."

If that turns out to be the case, he says he will move full speed ahead with the Whitmore Station project. The acreage at the corner of 8 Mile Road and U.S. 23 served as a Johnson Controls plant for years before going idle recently. Today it's minimally used for storage.

Although LaFave's development team is still in the preliminary stages of designing Whitmore Station, he envisions about five acres being put aside for the station while the rest could be developed into a mix of residential and commercial space or just commercial.

LaFave, a Livingston County developer behind the Hidden Lake development, says the project is not dependent on the commuter rail but the line would be a big boost for it. He adds that such development is common throughout the rest of the country and its time is definitely right for southeast Michigan.

"This is the real deal," LaFave says. "This has moved so far so fast in the short span of one year it's unbelievable."

Organizers behind the initiative, commonly known as WALLY for the Washtenaw and Livingston Line, are going after federal grant money and are hopeful they will get a good chunk of it after the train is up and running. The project has enjoyed near unanimous support from federal, state and local officials.

The Michigan Department of Transportation pledged $1.4 million on top of the $375,000 it has already committed to the line. Other local governments are pledging money ranging from the $150,000 from Washtenaw County to $10,000 from Northfield Township. Organizers are putting together an authority to run the line and assembling the final funds to make it happen.

A three-car passenger train would make six trips during the morning rush hour and another six trips in the afternoon/evening rush hour. Each stainless steel bi-level car could carry between 500 to 600 people per trip. A train would take about 20 minutes one way, saving commuters about 45 minutes in transport time, officials say.

It is estimated the cost to passengers could be kept in line with what they pay for gas. The initiative has an enthusiastic partner in Great Lakes Central Railroad, also known as the Tuscola and Saginaw Bay Railway, which is willing to set up the service and provide the trains. Great Lakes Central is also interested extending the line as far north as Traverse City and as far south as Milan in the long term if the initial project proves successful.

Source: Earl LaFave, developer of Whitmore Station
Writer: Jon Zemke

Austin Catholic Academy High School goes green with new building

When building a Catholic High School, the architects must have asked themselves, "What Would Jesus Do?"

Build green of course. And that's just what the new Austin Catholic Academy, which broke ground last week in Macomb Township, is planning to do.

The new $32 million high school will feature a number of environmentally friendly features, such as utilizing renewable energy and a store water management system, along with installing extensive insulation throughout the structure.

The building, going up on north side of 23 Mile Road, just west of North Avenue, was designed with plenty of strategically placed windows to provide more natural sunlight. Artificial lighting was designed so no more than 1 watt per square foot will be used. Lighting will be further optimized by modulating photoelectric daylight and occupancy sensors so no light will be accidentally left on.

The school, run by the Augustinian Fathers and Brothers of the Catholic Church, will house up to 800 high school students from Northern Macomb County. The building will feature a number of state-of-the-art technology features such as wireless Internet access and SMART Boards.

"Austin Catholic Academy will provide residents in Macomb County and the surrounding area a unique opportunity to build upon the current strengths of the Catholic school system, implementing the latest educational, technology and strategies to provide a state-of-the-art education within a Catholic learning environment," says Leonard Brillati, president of the volunteer group that helped make the school's construction possible.

Construction began on the 107-acre site last week and is expected to wrap up by the fall of 2009. The school will open to just freshmen and then welcome in a new class each year until all four high school grades are filled.

Source: Archdiocese of Detroit
Writer: Jon Zemke

Ann Arbor hybrid buses officially in service, AATA looks to add more

More hybrid buses are on their way to Ann Arbor. The Ann Arbor Transportation Authority expects five more hybrid buses to join its fleet by March and will order another seven before the end of the year. These will join the 15 hybrids already in service in the AATA's fleet of 72 buses.

"We have had a great response from both our customers and the general public," says Mary Stasiak, manager of community relations for the AATA, adding that two of the biggest compliments are how much quieter and better smelling the hybrids are than regular buses.

The hybrid buses are built by Hayward, California-based Gillig Corp. and the price difference between the hybrids and regular buses was paid for by a federal grant. The AATA plans to replace its older buses with hybrids as they are decommissioned, however, it won't take another order for new buses until at least 2010.

The hybrid buses are significantly more fuel efficient and produce lower levels of pollution. The AATA expects to buy 80,000 fewer gallons of B10 bio-diesel this year. That represents more than a 10% decrease because of the hybrids.

This project is part of the mayor's initiative to make Ann Arbor more environmentally friendly. Early last year, Ann Arbor started a campaign to promote renewable energy by moving all its facilities to 30% renewable energy by 2010.

Source: Mary Stasiak, manager of community relations for the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority
Writer: Jon Zemke

Amici's Pizza in Berkley specializes in going green

If it isn't easy being green then it definitely isn't easy becoming green either. That is the lesson Jennifer Stark and Maureen McNamara are learning while making their Amici's Pizza store and adjacent Living Room lounge in Berkley as environmentally friendly as possible.

"It's all a learning curve for us," Stark says. "We're doing everything we can."

Take recycling for instance. The business, 3249 W 12 Mile Road, produces a large amount of waste that was regularly carted off in a garbage truck to a landfill. Stark and McNamara, both environmentally conscious people, decided they could at least change that and start recycling some of their refuse.

"We use a lot of disposable products here," Stark says. "The amount of garbage we produce is ridiculous."

The problem was they soon discovered that they could recycle a lot of it. Almost half, actually. However, the city only gave them the normal residential recycling containers to use, which were way too small. After complaints from neighbors and some finagling they got a couple of 95-gallon bins to handle their recycling.

They also took pains and a little expense to make what they did throw away more environmentally friendly. For instance, items like plates and cups are 100-percent biodegradable, which makes them more eco-friendly than washing permanent plates when you count the energy and chemicals used to clean them. The knives and forks are even made of Tater Ware, a natural material.

"They will decompose in a landfill in two weeks," Stark says. "They're actually stronger and more pliable than plastic."

They just started using biodegradable take-out containers made of corn and are looking into biodegradable garbage bags.

But their green credentials go beyond managing waste. The store uses simple fixes such as energy efficient light bulbs and more expensive ones like high-efficiency heating and cooling systems.

It's paying off in more ways than one. Not only is the business reaping lower energy bills but it is also experiencing more than its share of good press and public goodwill because of its eco-conscious choices.

"Customers appreciate what we're doing," Starks says. "People come out here and do business because they heard about what we're doing.

Source: Jennifer Stark, co-owner of Amici's Pizza

Writer: Jon Zemke

Plymouth green fair showcases new eco-friendly projects, products

Going green is going to be coming to Plymouth in a big way when the Green Street Fair sets up in early May.

The fair will help spread the word about the benefits of green, organic and eco-friendly products and services. It will be held in downtown on May 3 and May 4 and is expected to draw up to 100,000 people.

The event will combine businesses, artisans and entertainers to promote the idea of becoming more environmentally friendly through everyday activities and purchases. Among the major institutions participating in the event are Whole Foods, Lawrence Technological University and Great Lakes Renewal Energy Association.

For information, call (734) 259.2983 or send an email to

Source: Green Street Fair and The Kirkwood Group

Writer: Jon Zemke

UofM environmental awareness study marks first year progress

One year down, a lifetime left to go. That's the way University of Michigan officials are looking at the school's environmental stewardship in light of its first Annual Environmental Report.

The report shows that UofM's total energy use declined slightly while recycling increased, along with alternative transit use. The university is recycling 30 percent of its solid waste while its van pool program logged 9 million miles last year.

The figures were compiled in Environmental Data Repository an Excel-based database developed by university students, faculty and staff.

"The EDR is useful to see trending over years," says Henry Baier, associate vice president for facilities and operations. "It is a comprehensive collection in one place and helps focus our environmental efforts."

University staff is working with DTE Energy to identify renewable energy sources and a Web site that allows staff to access green purchasing options. New campus construction and renovation projects are being built to exceed industry environmental standards.

The university announced a campus-wide initiative last spring to become more involved in campus environmental and energy conservation efforts. The six-point enterprise calls for, among other things, improving the energy consumption of the university's facilities by creating "Wolverine Teams," composed of operations and facilities management staff and the occupants of the buildings.

The pilot phase of this initiative targeted five university buildings of varying degrees of age with the goal of making them greener. Those buildings include: The Institute for Social Research, Chemistry, Space Research, Rackham and Fleming. Furthermore, to compliment the program's goals, university leaders are seeking ways to purchase more power from green sources like wind and solar power.

Source: Diane Brown, spokeswoman for the University of Michigan
Writer: Jon Zemke

Walsh College moves forward with green building in Troy

Lots of colleges are working to enhance their eco-friendly credentials, but Walsh College is making a significant move to set itself apart from the rest with its newly opened environmentally sustainable Jeffery W. Barry Center in Troy.

The new 37,000-square-foot building (named in honor of Jeffery Barry, Walsh's President from 1970 to 1991) incorporates a enough recycled materials and green systems to make a tree hugger blush.

The $10.5-million structure incorporates recycled and environmentally sensitive materials, captures rainwater and uses solar power for climate control. Its terrazzo floors contain 20,000 pounds of recycled glass and will be a key point when it goes for bronze-level LEED certification.

Stephanie Bergeron, president and CEO of Walsh College, says the new building speaks to the college's commitment to its students and its community because it is investing for the long-term to improve the area and educational experience. The Barry Center will serve as a template to make the college's other buildings more environmentally friendly.

"I think we're at the cutting edge of how construction will be done in the future," Bergeron says.

The building has nine classrooms, three conference rooms, two seminar rooms, a 135-seat auditorium, a marketing focus group room with one-way glass and a library. The center was built to help to accommodate Walsh College's 40 percent growth in enrolment.

Walsh College, founded in 1922, offers upper-division undergraduate and graduate business education programs to 4,430 students at campuses in Troy, Novi and Clinton Township.

Source: Maribeth Farkas, Caponigro Public Relations and Stephanie Bergeron, President and CEO of Walsh College
Writer: Jon Zemke

State designates Academy of Sacred Heart in Bloomfield Hills as a green school

Going green isn't just a way of life for the Academy of the Sacred Heart in Bloomfield Hills, it’s a religious mission. Therefore it's no wonder the state designated it as one of Michigan's Green Schools.

The Academy has been making environmentally friendly choices, such as recycling and building energy efficient systems, for decades. Leaders of the Catholic school say the institution's mission centers on respecting creation and being stewards of the earth, making environmentally friendly choices easy ones.

"We see these types of activities as embracing all of the parts of our mission," says Sister Bridget Bearss, RSCJ, head of the schools at Academy of the Sacred Heart.

Although the school has been doing right by the earth for decades, it didn't seek recognition until it formed a green committee last year. It was little overdue according to Michigan Green School’s program administrator Kristine Moffett. Moffett noted the school's “impressive achievement," pointing out how the Academy is not only the first of the 85 Michigan Green Schools to use recycled carpeting but also the state’s first independent school to receive the green school designation.

Among the K-12 school's green credentials is building student awareness of environmental issues, supporting wildlife habitats on its campus, reducing paper use, recycling, conserving water and creating high-efficiency energy systems.

The Academy is also looking to restore its nature trail, create a farm on its 14-acre campus and possibly install green roofs on some of its buildings.

"I hope there are other schools that will join us in this mission," Sister Bearss says. "It will create more awareness for the future."

The Academy of the Sacred Heart is Michigan's oldest independent school, founded in 1851. For information on it, call (248) 646-8900.

Source: Sister Bridget Bearss, RSCJ, head of the schools at Academy of the Sacred Heart
Writer: Jon Zemke

Detroit-Ann Arbor commuter rail line studies look to wrap up in April

As sloth-like as it seems at times, the commuter rail project connecting Detroit, Ann Arbor and Metro Airport is not on a slow boat to China. But then again, it's not using Maglev technology either.

Regardless, officials close to the project expect infrastructure capacity and fare-box studies to wrap up by April, giving the project a big boost toward becoming a reality.

"That's key because we're trying to nail down the cost of the project," Saundra Nelson, director of special projects for Wayne County, said in a speech to Transportation Riders United earlier this week.

Nelson pointed out that finishing these studies will get the project closer to concluding the second stage of a largely three-step assessment. The first two (what it is and what it takes) will be done, leaving the third (what it costs) left to be determined. Nelson was quite optimistic that the proposal will become a reality sooner rather than later.

The Southeast Michigan Council of Governments, which is spearheading the project, is negotiating logistics and improvements with the railroads that control the tracks and Amtrak for providing the trains. Organizers behind the proposal are looking at picking stops, arranging a shuttle service between the Metro Airport stop at Merriman Road and the airport's terminals and making sure delays are kept to a bare minimum.

Carmine Palombo, director of transportation for SEMCOG, gave a prognosis last year of establishing service by late 2009 or early 2010 while SEMCOG and the railroads sort out logistical issues.

The commuter rail line would utilize existing tracks with stops at Metro Airport, Detroit, Ann Arbor, Ypsilanti and Dearborn. It’s possible it could also be expanded to connect Royal Oak, Ferndale, Troy/Birmingham and Pontiac.

Source: Saundra Nelson, director of special projects for Wayne County
Writer: Jon Zemke

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