I recently spent the morning at Ecovillage at Ithaca, a co-housing neighborhood on West Hill in District 12. Ecovillage is a three-neighborhood village with about 100 homes, where families also share a common house, laundry, meals, play space, and many acres of undeveloped forests and fields to enjoy.
I lived in Ecovillage for a few years back in the early 00's, and have lived a short five minute walk away ever since. I felt great support from these neighbors last year as I was campaigning for the Legislature, and spent many hours knocking on doors and getting to know more residents.
The reason for my visit this time was not just to check in with friends and constituents or reminisce about the ole neighborhood, but to participate in a workshop for municipal officials called "Asking the Right Questions," co-sponsored by the Park Foundation, Taitem Engineering, and the TC Planning Board. The questions we were learning to ask related to the ins and outs of green building.
Liz Walker, one of the founders of Ecovillage, and Ian Shapiro, of Taitem Engineering, led the discussion. We learned about LEED ratings, the NYS stretch code, net zero building, green technologies like solar panels, heat pumps, and LED lighting, and more.
The newest neighborhood in Ecovillage, TREE, has a four story common house, inside which are apartments of all sizes on the upper three levels. But the TREE common house is not just any old building, it was designed and built at passive house standards. This means that per square foot, the heating, cooling, and general energy demands of the building must be under a certain level - a level about 90% more efficient than the average currently standing building.
With the County's goal of reducing carbon emissions 80% by 2050, there is a lot of work to do. Greening the buildings in our community is one major way to do it.
I'm not a designer or developer (though I am married to a home builder who built some of the houses in SONG- the Second Neighborhood Group at Ecovillage), and I don't decide what projects come in to Tompkins County. I'll never know every detail of all green energy systems; we have stellar people in all the municipal planning departments who know all that. The whole point of the workshop was to give those of us who sit at the table and deliberate on those projects, the tools to ask the right questions. My job is to ensure that when developers propose their projects in Tompkins County, I can determine if they are heading in a green direction, and how much greener they need to get.
I'm grateful for the chance to participate in this event. It's inspiring to see what can be done with new technologies and dedicated efforts. I only hope I get a chance to use some of what I learned and I look forward to seeing just how green buildings in Tompkins County can get.
One of the things we new Legislators are working on during these first months on the job is getting to know the 30+ County departments and the people who run them. Four months in, we have almost completed this task, which is enabling us to understand more about what each department faces. A few months back, we sat down with Barb Eckstrom, Director of Tompkins County Recycling and Materials Management Center (TCRMMC). But today, Leo Riley, Assistant Director, and Nancy W., Waste Reduction and Recycling Specialist, led us on a tour of the facility. It was great to get up close and personal with Tompkins County's Recycling and Solid Waste Center (RSWC), where about 13,000 visitors stop by each year to drop their waste.
Of particular interest to me is the food waste program. You may remember that back in April, the TC Legislature voted to support Governor Cuomo's proposed Legislation, and urge the State Legislature to enact a statewide ban on food scraps entering the waste stream. It's unsure what the outcome will be at the state level, but if the state can't get it together, I support a local ban. This means that large producers of food waste--restaurants, grocery stores, colleges, the hospital, etc.-- would be required by law to keep food waste out of the trash.
Think about that can of beans you bought last week to make tacos. Think about all the water, fossil fuels, and human energy that went into growing, harvesting, shipping, and packaging them, then shipping them again. Then you spent your hard-earned money at the grocery store for those beans, drove them home, ate a few tacos, and the rest is growing a smelly green fuzz in the back of the fridge. If those fuzzy beans go into a plastic bag and out to the curb and get shipped to a landfill (using more fossil fuels), they will produce methane gas, a greenhouse gas much more potent that carbon dioxide. Now image your one can of beans multiplied by hundreds, by thousands, and all the energy expended to deal with such vast quantities of green fuzz. Food waste is exactly that, wasteful. We could be saving money, time, and so much energy if that food waste is simple taken out of the stream altogether.
Cayuga Compost in Trumansburg deals with large amounts of food waste, with Tompkins County's help. Residents can bring food waste to the Recycling Center, or there are regular food drop locations all over the county every month. The collected scraps are hauled to Cayuga Compost to be recycled into food for the soil! A much better outcome than trapped in a landfill for all of eternity.
Once things enter the landfill, they are there forever. Period.
The mission of the TCRMM is to prevent as many things as possible from going to the landfill to begin with. And Tompkins County is ahead of the curve here. Our Center accepts far more than I ever knew. Here are a small few of the items you can recycle:
-Button and rechargeable batteries, regular AA and AAA batteries go in the landfill stream
-Used cooking oils and fats, which is purchased by Buffalo Biodiesel
-Plastic films, such as bread and veggie grocery bags
-Electronics, from blenders to cell phones to fax machines
-Propane tanks, large ones for your grill or small ones you use for camping
Check out the full list here.
The facility is pretty damn cool. The hopper, the conveyor belts, the sorting machines, the giant spools of wire to tie bales together, the massive machines driving all over the place. We humans are so incredibly ingenious and inventive. We have used our smarts to build all this. Surely was can use those same smarts to create ways to stop the excess waste we produce and protect this one and only planet we have to live on.
Clearly, I could ramble on about garbage for some time. I may have missed my true calling. I am happy to say that as a member of Tompkins County's Environmental Management Council, I am a part of the newly formed subcommittee on waste reduction, aka Zero Waste. We plan to tackle the local plastic bag ban. Beyond that we're looking at food waste and microplastics.
One of my goals in my time on the Legislature is to work on encouraging our residents bring less eventual garbage items into their homes, put less in the landfill stream, and put more into reuse and recycle piles. But I'm only scratching the surface. It's folks like Leo, Nancy, Barb, and all the others who work at TCRMMC who are real leaders in the field, getting their hands dirty to make change in our County. I'm learning from them. My hope is that my support on the policy side of things can be of some help along their way.
After four months on the job, I've finally gotten a few moments to change my website from a campaign site to a Legislator site. It's been an intense and busy winter and I haven't had much chance to reflect on what I've been doing. The steep learning curve has kept me running fast.
This story of regular-mom/citizen-runs-for-office-and-wins is not something that happens to me (or most people) everyday and I want to remember this experience. As a writer, I figured what better way to do that than keep a blog. Maybe it will help people understand what the job is all about. Maybe it will be a way for me to connect with constituents. Maybe it will help me find more insight. Here's hoping it'll be at least slightly entertaining for all involved.
The four other new Legislators and I have been spending a lot of time getting to know the County. That means meeting with every Department and Agency head, reading at least as many documents as I read in Grad school, and visiting facilities and touring buildings that are integral to County functioning. As I said, it's been busy, but I have to say that it has also been great fun. Deb Dawson, Shawna Black, Anne Koreman, and Henry Granison have made this hard work worth all the effort. We have gotten to know and appreciate each other well. I think I'm very lucky to have joined the Legislature with such a knowledgeable, active, involved, dedicated crew. I'm so grateful for them.
Here are a few highlights from the past four months...
As election day approaches, Amanda shared her thoughts in another op-ed in the Ithaca Times. Thanks to the Times for the opportunity to publish!
"The power of canvassing is in connecting. It’s about reaching out to the community to hear concerns and have conversations. But it’s not enough to live here for only a few months. The power comes from reaching into the past to pull on the loose threads of the canvas and using our common history to see how we can sew them back together."
In early October, current District 12 Legislator, Will Burbank, endorsed Amanda over her competitor. He said:
"I will be leaving the Legislature at the end of this year and am glad that Amanda is running for this seat. She is a thoughtful, intelligent person with strong progressive values.
I know that she will do an excellent job of representing District 12."
Ithaca.com and WHCU published articles about the endorsement.