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Advertise on the Tentacle

June 24, 2010

Going in the Red for Green

Adam Avery

Our Frederick Board of County Commissioners and Frederick County Board of Education recently held a joint meeting. One of their agenda items was the proposition to install a green roof on a portion of the new roof constructed at Lincoln Elementary School. Such a project should be cost prohibitive during good economic times. Such a project shouldn't even be discussed during bad times.


This is the same Lincoln Elementary School that – we were told until recently – the money wasn't available through the Capital Improvement Program (CIP) to rebuild at this time.


The proposal aims to set aside 6,000 square feet of the roughly 35,000-square-foot roof and make it “green.” Not paint it green. Rather, to construct it to meet green technology standards. Proponents are giddy over the proposition. They shouldn't be.


The green pitch started with Hilari Varnadore, director of Frederick County's Office of Environmental Sustainability, cheerfully recapping the field trip she and others made to Washington to participate in a partisan and unscientific tour sponsored by the Chesapeake Bay Policy Group with the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments. A slide titled "Benefits of Green Roofs" became the basis for participants of the joint meeting to share with us their incredible gullibility.


The slide presentation stated that green roofs: “Hold and delay major rainfall flows that trigger combined sewer overflows, filter pollutants that affect storm-water releases to rivers, reduce loads on sewage treatment plants, and save energy in buildings.” These seem like worthy and noble benefits that anyone would want to achieve.  Unfortunately, like most green technology rhetoric, they are entirely misleading if not outright falsehoods, especially when taken in the context of what is practical.


Frederick County is 665 square miles in area. That equates to approximately 18.6 billion square feet. That's billion with a "B". The green roof being proposed is 6,000 square feet or 0.00009%, or 9 hundred-thousandth of a percent of the total area of Frederick County. Lost on this board is the absurd claim that any green technology on an area that small is going to have any effect on Frederick County's environment. For the sake of argument, though, let's play along with their silly assertions in order to point out other absurdities.


Greenies claim that these roof systems filter pollutants that affect storm-water releases to rivers. They are referring to nitrogen, an inert diatomic gas that makes up 79% of the air we breathe, an element that environmental activists claim poisons our water, an element that is evident in small traces in the rain that falls from the sky.


These same people claim that vegetative roof systems reduce loads on sewage treatment plants by absorbing rainfall instead of funneling it through the conventional gutter and downspouts to the ground surrounding the roof. One might be able to make an argument that cities could benefit, albeit immeasurably, from such technology since the area beneath the roof is typically impervious concrete or asphalt. The ground surrounding Lincoln Elementary is grass and soil, easily able to absorb buckets of rain.


The economic reasoning behind proponents of green roofs is that it will reduce energy costs. Our own Commissioner David Gray exclaimed, "The add-on (savings) is heating and cooling."


Not so fast, professor. Even proponents of green roofs admit that there is no "R" value in green-roof technology and, therefore, no savings during winter months. Any cooling-cost savings could be achieved for far less money by simply painting the roof white and adding more insulation during construction. The opposition’s best argument against the economics of green roofs is articulated by Ms. Varnadore herself when she explained that "It (green roof technology) has been used for decades in Europe and we are still doing a lot of tracking on the savings."


Translation: There is no measurable savings.


The final argument in favor of installing a green roof at Lincoln Elementary did not show up in the slide presentation, instead it came from the mouth of Commissioner Gray as he excitedly pointed out that, "Just being on the roof adds to the experience for the children. Besides that, we can do experimental things like grow small trees and sell them for a project." He added exuberantly, “we can make it part of the curriculum."


Will the curriculum include teaching our children that green roof technology is an unscientifically proven method for a myriad of environmental activist claims?


Will we teach our children that 50 years of experience has produced no data to support reckless claims of economic advantages?


Will the curricula include the only common sense observation of this discussion, whereby Commissioner Blaine Young noted: "We aren't short on green space in Frederick County, so children aren't being deprived of green space. I can see why D.C. may want it since they don't have green space."


Our county is facing tens of millions of dollars in budget deficits for the next several years. We haven't addressed the $200 million dollar unfunded liability for long-term retiree benefits. We didn't even have the money to rebuild Lincoln Elementary a month ago.


Now, somehow we are having a discussion about paying at least four times more for the installation of a green roof. Somehow we are discussing the possibility of building a roof that will require additional costly maintenance to keep grass cut, plants pruned, and soil moist. Our elected officials are considering planting grass and other vegetative material on a roof to teach our children something we could teach them at ground level.


Commissioners Gray and Jan Gardner aren't concerned at all about funding for such a project; they offered the taxpayer funded solution. Mr. Gray showed us his appreciation for free money by stating: "I bet if we called Rebecca, she could point us in the direction where we could likely find some grant money."


Do you think so Commissioner Gray? Wouldn't it be swell if we could take advantage of taxpayer money to fund your silly roof system so children could view the parking lot from above?


As expected, Commissioner John L. “Lennie” Thompson rebuked Gray's proposed taxpayer raping with the only fiscally responsible statement of the day when he replied: "If there are folks out there that want to make contributions from their (personal) wealth, I would be interested. If the Fed is financing everything for everybody....if that is the source (of funding), I will not be interested."


Frederick County residents must stop electing officials who waste our time and money discussing feel good projects that have no proven environmental or economic advantage.



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