(reprinted from 6 Ways Chicagoland is Cleaner & Greener Than You Think Part I and 6 More Ways Part II featured on Amanda Hanley’s Huffington Post blog)
While the new Showtime series Years of Living Dangerously and recent International Panel on Climate Change report spotlight the troubling impacts of climate change – there is hope!
Right here, in our own backyard, carbon-cutting is alive and well – thanks to a thriving clean energy scene. The span of leading efforts might surprise you! Chicago was recently named the 2014 Earth Hour Capital of the United States. A global panel selected the Windy City in a yearlong competition among 60 cities for efforts in promoting renewable energy and preparing for climate change impact. Wondering what made Chicago rise to the top? It helps that Crawford and Fisk, two of the dirtiest coal power plants in the country, have been closed and the city now purchases a coal-free electricity mix. Mayor Rahm Emmanuel, committed to making Chicago “the greenest city in the world,” has made progress on the ambitious goals set inSustainable Chicago 2015. This comprehensive action plan has accelerated many eco-strides. Other regional factors have also come into play.
Earth Hours superhero ambassador, Spiderman, joined Karen Weigert, Chicagos ultimate Chief Sustainability Officer, on March 29 prior to the great switch-off for the World Wildlife Fund’s Earth Hour. Photo by: SPE Inc/Daniel Boczarksi Copyright: (c) 2014 Getty Images. All rights reserved.
These 12 clean milestones show our region is not only moving in the right direction, but often leading the way to disrupt dirty energy:
1. Epic Clean Energy Ecosystem
The Chicago region has become a prominent cleantech hub. A world-class research cluster includes Argonne National Laboratory, Northwestern University, the University of Chicago, the University of Illinois at Chicago & Urbana-Champaign, and IIT’s Galvin Center for Electricity Innovation. Greater Chicago is also home to many large and international cleantech businesses, and a flourishing entrepreneurial and start up community. When it comes to clean energy venture capital investment and total patents granted, Illinois is a “top 10” state. The Clean Energy Trust is working to accelerate clean energy innovations and start-ups. Their Clean Energy Challenge awards up to $500,000 in grants to the most promising Midwestern entrepreneurs, researchers and students. The new co-working space in the Loop, Coalition, is dedicated to clean energy companies and organizations. It’s home to the Energy Foundry, a $22.5 million nonprofit impact venture fund that backs game-changing grid and clean energy start-ups.
In November 2012, Pres. Obama announced a $120 million grant for the new battery and energy storage hub hosted by Argonne. Partnering with other labs, scientists and businesses, the goal is to improve battery technology to be 5 times cheaper, with 5 times higher performance within 5 years. This would critically transform green transportation, electric grid and renewable energy. Photo source: www.whitehouse.gov
2. Wind Powerhouse
It’s no coincidence that the Chicago region is home to 12 headquarters of major wind power companies. Or that IKEA just bought a wind farm 100 miles south of Chicago. Illinois is a leader in wind energy capacity and manufacturing that supports up to 4,000 jobs in the state. With over 2,195 turbines at 46 wind projects, the American Wind Energy Association ranks Illinois 4th in the country for total megawatts installed. This wind power will avoid 5,550,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions annually, the equivalent of taking 980,000 cars off the road. In 2012, about 4% of Illinois’ electricity was provided by secure, clean, affordable wind. Illinois renewable portfolio standards (RPS) law requires that a certain percentage of our power come from renewable sources, ramping up to 25% renewable power by 2025.
The Twin Groves Wind Farm in central Illinois has 240 operating wind turbines, and is the largest utility-scale wind farm east of the Mississippi River.
3. Solar Uprising
Yes, you can power up with Illinois sunlight! In fact, innovative installations can be found on residences to big box businesses to industrial brownfields throughout our area. Some notable projects include Testa Produce, Shedd Aquarium, Oak Park Parking Garage, Kohl Children’s Museum and the upcoming University of Illinois solar farm. Photovoltaic (PV) power has been steadily rising as the price of panels has plummeted. Illinois rebates and Chicago’s one-day residential permit turnaround have also sweetened the deal. More than 87 solar companies exist throughout the value chain in Illinois, employing 1,700 people. Nearly 250 schools with solar panels throughout the state are learning firsthand how sunlight is converted to electricity, and numerous universities have formidable teams competing in the Solar Decathlonhome design and The American Solar Challenge solar powered car design challenges.
Chicago is home to the countrys first and largest urban solar farm. The 40-acre Exelon City Solar in West Pullman powers 1,500 homes and was built on an industrial brownfield. Photo by Josh Mogerman/Flickr.
4. Green Building LEEDership at #1
Currently, Chicago has the most LEED-certified buildings in the world. This voluntary certification program by the U.S. Green Building Council requires buildings to meet exceptionally high green building performance standards, especially with regard to energy use. While many extraordinary buildings dot the city and suburbs, some exciting new projects are in the works. Method, the world’s largest green cleaning company, is aiming to build a LEED Platinum manufacturing facility in Pullman with solar panels, wind turbines and a sprawling green roof. The highly anticipated Vosge’s “chocolate temple” is seeking LEED Gold status to house its corporate headquarters, manufacturing plant and tasting café. The Academy for Global Citizenship, a green public school near Midway, is planning to build the first net positive, urban farm campus in the country designed by Living Building Challenge standards.
Deerfield-based Walgreens new store in Evanston debuts the nation’s first net zero energy retail store in the country thanks to 800 solar panels, wind turbines, geothermal technology, LED lighting and energy efficient design. This green leader plans to have 350 solar-powered stores throughout the U.S. with help from Chicago-based SoCore Energy. Rendering from www.cityofevanston.org.
5. Sexy, Skinny, Smart Energy Efficiency
Energy efficiency usually doesn’t get the recognition it deserves. It’s the cleanest, cheapest energy source we can invest in. Fortunately, Illinois ranks in the nation’s top 10 energy efficiency, thanks to energy efficient building codes, smart grid modernization efforts and energy efficiency standards. Electric and natural gas utilities are required to reduce demand by 2% each year by offering various programs to encourage energy consumers to do more with less. They offer consumers a range of incentives, such as rebates on lighting and HVAC upgrades, retrofit loans, and energy audit services. Chicago now requires large buildings to disclose their energy performance, and is targeting energy reductions in residential zones, large commercial businesses and municipal buildings. Retrofit Chicago’s Commercial Buildings Initiative now has 32 large existing commercial buildings pledged to cut energy by 20% over five years, equivalent to 28 million square feet of space. Considering all of these efforts, it’s not surprising that 62% of Illinois clean energy businesses primarily focus on energy efficiency.
Iconic skyscrapers that have signed onto Retrofit Chicago’s Commercial Building Initiative include (clockwise) Wrigley, Hilton Towers, AT& T, The Rookery, Shedd Aquarium and the Merchandise Mart.
6. Nearly 100,000 Green Workers Strong
The clean energy industry is a significant employer and an economic engine in Illinois with huge potential for continued growth. In 2010, Chicago was ranked the third-largest center for clean economy jobs in the nation. As highlighted in the newly released Clean Jobs Illinois report, Illinois’ clean energy industry is putting an astounding 96,875 people to work. This prospering workforce related to energy efficiency, renewable energy, green transportation and greenhouse gas management work is expected to grow by 9% in 2014. Although a relatively new sector, it is now larger than the real estate and accounting industries combined. Importantly, many of these good jobs are in demand and cannot be outsourced.
Clean energy employment by sector includes energy efficiency (62%), renewable energy (21%), professional services (12%), alternate transportation (5%) and greenhouse gas emissions (1%). Image source: Clean Jobs Illinois infographic
7. Surging Electric Car Sales & Charging Infrastructure
With a choice of over 25 electric cars available in 2014(!), these cool new wheels depend on places to plug in. Electric vehicle (EV) charging opportunities are popping up at residences, parking lots, high rise apartments, universities, and so on. Even 6 solar canopy trees allow electric cars to drive on sunshine. Officially there are 263 charging locations in Illinois, excluding private stations. Since 2012, the Illinois Department of Commerce & Economic Opportunity has awarded rebates for approximately 450 residential and non-residential charging stations. The expansion of stations is welcome news, as Illinois ranks 12th in the number of EVs per capita. In case you are looking, Tesla opened its fourth and largest Chicagoland showroom in Highland Park this past December 2013. A $7,500 federal tax credit and up to $4,000 Illinois rebate for EVs are other great incentives to ditch the gas pump.
8. Top Spots in Alternate Transit
Among cities across the nation, Chicago is currently ranked #6 for transit friendliness,#5 for bike-friendliness, and #6 for overall walkability. Beyond freeing up city traffic, each year Metra saves area travelers about 34.8 million gallons of gasoline – the same amount of fuel consumed by more than 61,000 cars annually. Metra has 240 rail stations accessible to more than 8 million people in 100 communities. The mass transit fleet is also getting greener. The CTA currently operates more than 250 hybrid buses, which achieve 20% greater fuel efficiency than standard diesel buses. Even 72% of the city’s taxi fleet are “green” vehicles, either gas-electric hybrid or alternative fuel vehicles.
All CTA buses inluce a bike rack, and hybrids make up 15% of the fleet. Photo by Steven Zance/Flickr.
9. Sharing Economy Lovefest
Chicagoans are finding less need to own a car with plentiful bike and car share options. The Divvy bike sharing network has been wildly successful in Chicago. Since starting in June 2013, Divvy currently has 300 stations with 3,000 bikes, and another 175 new stations are planned for this next year. As of this month, more than 15,000 annual members and 146,000 day-pass holders have taken more than 950,000 trips and have collectively ridden an estimated two million miles. Popular part-time car sharing programs, including Zipcar and Enterprise CarShare (formerly I-GO), are continuing to expand reach as well. Zipcar now has 350 convenient locations throughout Chicagoland and offers a variety of fuel-efficient coupes, hybrids and carpool-friendly vans. It’s estimated that each and every share-car takes 15 personally-owned vehicles off the road.
Divvy bike docks are even solar powered.
10. Biofuels Advancing
French fry grease, cow waste and algae include some local materials used in producing biofuel. Loyola’s Institute for Environmental Sustainability is the first and only school operation licensed to sell biodiesel in the United States. The student-run biodiesel lab collects waste vegetable oil from oil from Loyola, Northwestern, DePaul, and other cafeterias and converts it into biodiesel used in campus shuttle service. Not too far away, trucks run on biofuel harvested from cow manure generated at the Fair Oaks Dairy farm in Indiana. This largest on-farm anaerobic-digestion-to-renewable-CNG project in the U.S is owned and operated by Chicago-based New Frontier Holdings. In Peoria, Solazyme’s algae biorefinery is producing algae-derived fuels. On a larger scale, the Midwest Aviation Sustainable Biofuels Initiative is a public-private collaboration working to develop alternatives to petroleum-based jet fuel and position the Midwest as a national leader in the advanced aviation biofuels market. In November 2011, a Continental Airlines plane powered by jet fuel derived partially from algae landed at O’Hare, marking the first U.S. commercial flight powered by biofuel.
Bringing new biofuels to town…
11. Good Food Revolution
Local, sustainably grown food = less fossil fuel miles, less petrochemicals and more carbon sinks. Estimates have suggested that Illinois businesses only supply around 4%of our food, with most produce traveling an average of 1,500 miles to our plate. Thanks to an exploding food movement over the past 10 years, more food than ever is now being grown in backyards, rooftops, vacant lots and abandoned factories throughout Chicagoland. A slew of urban farms are following the footsteps of City Farm. Ag training programs, such as Windy City Harvest and the Prairie Crossing farm incubator, are grooming local organic farmers. With a broader supply of locally sourced fruits, vegetables, dairy, meat and artisanal foods now available, new food hubs, such as Local Foods, are connecting farms and producers to wholesale markets. Consumers can consult with The Local Beet to find growing lists of CSAs, famers markets and local artisanal foods. Also, the Chicago Green Restaurant Coalition is helping the food service industry become more sustainable and locally sourced. Noticed the trend of locally roasted coffee, craft micro-breweries, and restaurant menus that identify local purveyors? Or visited Uncommon Ground‘s Devon restaurant with the nation’s first organic certified rooftop farm? Food and farm entrepreneurs are feeding the growing demand. Working to improve the local food system for the past 10 years,Family Farmed, serves as a good food business accelerator and hosts the annual Good Food Festival, the oldest sustainable food trade show in America.
Jolanta Hardej is CEO of FarmedHere, the nations largest indoor vertical hydroponic farm in Bedford Park. Nothing beats fresh organic greens! Photo courtesy of Farmed Here LLC.
12. Tireless Environmental Defenders
We are lucky to have many dedicated folks in Illinois working hard to promote clean energy through state and national policy. Gratitude is due to elected officials, environmental groups, non-profits, foundations, businesses, trade groups and citizens that devote countless hours to make a low-carbon, clean energy a reality. This is no easy task. Keep in mind, super-funded Big Oil/Coal/Power is fighting to protect its turf and maintain the status quo.
Kudos to Illinois legislators rating 100% on IEC’s environmental scorecard and environmental groups moving along smart, clean energy policy in Illinois.
Let’s build on our momentum!
While these 12 achievements are to be celebrated, a great deal of work lies ahead to scale up. We need to prioritize strong policies that spur clean energy growth to deliver vital economic and environmental benefits throughout the state. Critical items on the policy agenda include: fixing the Illinois Renewable Portfolio Standards to maximize the full potential of a 25% renewable power by 2025 goal; developing a robust statewide implementation plan to comply with forthcoming carbon pollution standards for existing power plants; and a permanent Production Tax Credit, so renewable energy investors will have the same business certainty that the entrenched fossil fuel industries have enjoyed for over a century. Let’s tap the tremendous potential of clean energy in Illinois to meet the significant challenges we face with a changing climate.
To learn more on how clean energy can drive the Illinois economy, join a lively discussion on Monday, May 5, 5:30 – 7:30pm, at the Arts Club of Chicago. Hosted by NRDC, the Clean Energy Trust and the Institute of Politics at the University of Chicago. Details here
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Written by Amanda Hanley
Many thanks for input from Karen Weigert/City of Chicago, Kate Tomford/DCEO, Nick Magrasso/NRDC, Kevin Borgia/Wind on the Wires, Lisa Albrecht/Solar Service, Jim Slama/Family Farmed, Alena Morrissey/Loyola Institute for Environmental Sustainability student – and countless others that have inspired this piece!
My wonderful tour guides at the Academy For Global Citizenship petting a schoolyard hen, Daisy.
During my first visit to the Academy for Global Citizenship (AGC), Daisy, a black hen, laid an egg at my feet as the students eagerly acquainted me with their vegetable beds. Just one of many astonishing firsts Ive experienced at this innovative green public school on the Chicagos underserved southwest side.
AGCs mission is to empower children to be mindful leaders in their community and the world beyond. Schoolyard chickens and edible gardens are examples of how environmental sustainability is embedded throughout AGCs curriculum, daily practices and culture. Math and science are taught through solar panels, a demonstration wind turbine, rain barrels and vermicomposting bins. Students take part in daily yoga, wellness and nutrition instruction and enjoy healthy, organic, scratch-made breakfast and lunch in their zero-waste cafeteria.
Now in the sixth year of operation, this tuition-free, open-enrollment school currently serves 350 K-6 grade students, composed of 91% minority, 79% low-income and 20% special-ed children. An International Baccalaureate school committed to academic excellence, AGC students have outperformed their nearest public school by 33% in state testing. I first learned about the school while writing a series about pioneering green women in Chicagoland, which featured Sarah Elizabeth Ippel, AGC’s founder. Recognized by Forbes in 2013 as one of the nations top five gamechangers in education,
AGC founder, Sarah Elizabeth Ippel near organic produce family bags, and a worldmap highlighting their global partners.
Ippel notes, Our larger vision is focused on systemic change and inspiring the way society educates future generations. The Academy incubates innovations and is committed to open sourcing best practices with bold plans to positively impact 20 million students by 2020. AGC has welcomed over 6,000 visitors from around the world, developed a Sustainability Schools Handbook, and helped create the first school garden food safety manual adopted by CPS. Ippel and her world-class team advance AGCs vision widely, from TEDx talks to global forums. Accolades for AGC include the Healthier U.S. Schools Challenge Gold with Distinction Award from Michelle Obama, one of the nations first Green Ribbon Schools Award, and recognition by Mayor Emmanuel as an exemplary model for Chicago.
A showcase school for learning in the 21st century, AGC is planning to build the first net-positive energy, urban farm campus in the country. This dream campus will include vegetable gardens, fruit orchards, a greenhouse, and a native forest with walking trails. Power will be generated by wind, solar and geothermal energy, and water will be collected and reused on-site. An engaging indoor and outdoor learning environment will follow The Third Teacher philosophy outlined by Winnetka designer Bruce Mau and CannonDesign.
So captivated by this groundbreaking school and its nurturing of next generation changemakers, my initial blogpost turned to personal action. I joined AGCs board of directors, co-chair the upcoming Chefs Playground gala, and our family foundation has donated a challenge grant to encourage others to join this cause. My enthusiasm is shared by Bon Appétit Management Companys CEO Fedele Bauccio, 14 top chefs including Tony Mantuano, Paul Kahan, Stephanie Izard and Jeff Mauro, and 2 rave mixologists who will come together to celebrate this school and movement at Chefs’ Playground on May 15th. While Daisy won’t be there to egg us on, join the party to eat up all that AGC has to offer!
Make It Better is a proud media sponsor of Chefs’ Playground and encourages your support. Learn more about taking a tour and getting involved with the Academy for Global Citizenship.
See this video from Chefs’ Playground in 2013:
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Written by Amanda Hanley. This post was first featured on Make It Better here.
When it comes to a complicated, controversial $41+ million municipal project, lets dig a little deeper for good information. Lately my inbox has been bombarded with ironic “THE TRUTH ABOUT…” e-mails from a pro-tunnel group. While they have been long on folksy, fact-ish viewpoints, I’ve noticed they are short on expertise, source links, authorship and accountability. One that predominantly featured the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) logo and letterhead was especially misleading and wrong. As co-chair of NRDCs Midwest Council, Im familiar with this organization’s highly respected water protection work and was shocked to see the shameless, unauthorized use of their logo connected with bogus stormwater pollution conclusions. Instead of contacting NRDCs science, law or policy professionals (or any environmental expert ever??) to get the facts straight on water pollution they cherry picked information to incorrectly imply that stormwater pollution is responsible for only 1% of beach closings in Illinois. See NRDCs rebuke Winnetka Stormwater Tunnel: What About The Other 99 Percent of Pollution?, once again reaffirming the legitimate problems of stormwater pollution.
The Village has also downplayed stormwater impacts. Their recent “What is Stormwater” e-blast noted, “Even in studying sources of pollution at impaired beaches, the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency (IEPA) did not conclude stormwater was the primary cause of elevated E.coli levels.” Interestingly, the actual 2013 IEPA report stated (page 45), “Stormwater is likely to have a large impact on the impaired beach segments” of suburban Cook County, which includes all of Winnetka’s beaches. In case you may not realize this, beaches are closed or considered impaired when bacteria counts from animal and human waste exceed public health standards No matter the spin, nothing can change the fact that stormwater is tainted from many nasty contaminants and causes a host of adverse impacts. According to the Winnetka’s Stormwater Master Plan, water testing confirms that water discharged at Winnetka beaches and the Skokie Lagoon currently has elevated levels of fecal coliform (e-coli), nitrogen, phosphorus, total dissolved solids, and total suspended solids.
Graphic from the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency, Total Maximum Daily Load: Shoreline Segments in Suburban Cook County, May 15, 2013
Discounting water pollution risks does us no favors.
The health of the beaches our kids play on and the quality our communitys drinking, bathing and recreational water is too important to mess with. The Willow tunnel project would radically boost the velocity and volume of stormwater entering the Lake from large rain events, and it’s questionable if the design would “maintain or enhance our water quality.” But dont take my word for it. See why numerous water experts, including the Natural Resources Defense Council, Environmental Law & Policy Center, Center for Neighborhood Technology and Chicago Wilderness (a consortium of more than 300 public, non-profit and corporate organizations) have raised red flags on the super-sized Willow tunnel, a dangerous precedent in our region. Also, just because Winnetka has contracted $2 million to design engineer the project and prematurely issued bonds, there’s no guarantee the regulatory agencies will approve the permits. Committing this large sum without proper open review of real alternatives, and skirting how stormwater impacts beach pollution makes a viable permit less certain.
Beyond echoing the Village’s talking points, the pro-tunnel group has offered a simplistic solution to keep our beach water safe. Hello? Diaper patrols at dog beaches! Based on this logic, since the tunnel would discharge runoff that has picked up “outputs” from surfaces throughout Winnetka, should we diaper all of Winnetka’s dogs? And squirrels, racoons, birds and other wildlife too? What about wrapping big diapers around all construction sites that release sediment, yards that use fertilizers and pesticides, cars that drip motor oil and emit tailpipe exhaust, piles of black snow, and any other source of toxic chemicals, heavy metals, sewage (from improperly connected pipes) and trash?
We dont need dog diapers. What we really need are watchdogs.
Who is looking out for our community? Instead of blind support, we need critical examination of the biggest public works project in Winnetka that has bypassed citizen consent and will force property owners to pay one of the highest stormwater fees in the country. Why is the pro-tunnel group historically against rising municipal taxes and fees now in lockstep allegiance with the Villages boldly expensive $41 million plan with no questions asked about fiscal responsibilty? Why arent they demanding vigorous public debate, a range of technical choices from diverse experts, and a thorough cost benefit analysis to ensure we are pursuing the best stormwater solutions and that our money is well spent?
Our home flooded badly in 2011 and again 2013, and I absolutely agree that we must pursue effective solutions to protect our homes and community. But throwing money at an outdated, unchecked plan isnt smart. There are better solutions. Unfortunately, our village elders have blinders on. And so do their cheerleaders. Lets get past selective facts and get serious about faster, less risky, cost effective solutions. A modern green infrastructure approach, nationally recognized as one of the best ways to manage stormwater but largely overlooked in Winnetka’s Master Plan, can reduce run-off AND filter pollutants.
For these reasons, and more fully described in my previous post Winnetka’s Tunnel Vision, I am voting NO on the March 18th Winnetka Stormwater referendum:
Should the Village of Winnetka implement the portion of the Villages Stormwater Management Program that includes building a tunnel under Willow Road to discharge stormwater into Lake Michigan, at an estimated project cost exceeding $30 million (plus substantial bond financing costs)?
And to elect these Winnetka Caucus-slated Village Trustee Candidates:
On Tuesday, MARCH 18, please consider doing the same, and passing on the word.
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Written by Amanda Hanley
In response to severe storms and significant flooding in Winnetka, the Village has proposed a new, controversial plan to manage stormwater. Based on researching reports, attending meetings and talking with several experts, I will summarize my concerns about the Willow Tunnel (click links for back-up sources).
Let me start off by stating, I’m a 17-year resident of Winnetka. We are one of the estimated 1,100 homes in town that flooded badly during the July 2011 heavy storm. And once again in April 2013. This happened in our new “flood proof” house that we carefully designed with seven storm sewer drains, swales, two 6 x 54 retention tanks under our driveway, and 3 sump pumps. After dealing with our drenched basement, I’m all for effective solutions to prevent flooding damage. Weve worked with a waterproofing specialist to shore up our home, constructed a floodwall near window wells, and meticulously maintain our sump pumps and drains. We’ve also added green infrastructure to better manage wet weather on our property. Last fall we installed Winnetka’s first porous concrete driveway and we are disconnecting downspouts to rain barrels and rain gardens. This is in addition to our extensive tree canopy and native plantings with deep absorbent roots. These best practices help rain soak into the ground instead of an overburdened sewer system or our basement. I expect the Village to address our community’s stormwater problems in an integrated fashion as well. However, our village leaders seem to be fixated on grey infrastructure, particularly the super-sized tunnel under Willow Road that will discharge polluted stormwater into Lake Michigan. Despite recent talk, to date Winnetka has dodged green infrastructure solutions, nationally recognized as one of the best ways to manage stormwater and increasingly embraced in local communities (see wren’s North Shore Green infrastructure Tour). These practices provide flood control and filter pollutants, lending to healthier local waterways. Heres a rundown of missed opportunities and legitimate issues that lead me to believe Winnetka is proceeding in the wrong direction:
High Costs & Uncertainty
The proposed Willow Tunnel plan is expensive. Starting in July, we will be assessed one of the highest stormwater utility fees in the country, that will escalate over time. With financing costs, the project could run to nearly $70 million over 30 years. Other taxes and costs will likely rise to absorb passed on school district, park district and other public building’s stormwater user fees. For example, it’s estimated that School District #36 will be assessed $53,000 per year. Assuming there are no snags, this expensive project will not be complete until 2018. Despite massive investment, there’s no guarantee this long lasting, inflexible, oversized tunnel project will stop basements from flooding.
Backwards, Narrow Gray Approach
Winnetka has not provided a comprehensive, integrated Stormwater Master Plan. Initially, after the July 2011 storm, Director of Public Works Steve Saunders remarked at a Village Council meeting, We need to vigorously pursue open space for detention
This is not a piping solution. This is a detention solution.” The Flood Risk Reduction Assessment recommended working with New Trier High School, Winnetka School District #36, the Cook County Forest Preserve and the Winnetka Park District to detain stormwater. But the Village turned to piping and dumping stormwater into Lake Michigan as the exclusive flood control approach. An estimated $41 million in capital improvements is proposed to expand sewer capacity for 100-year storm events. At the centerpiece is the 8-foot diameter, 9,700 foot Willow Road Tunnel.
The problems with this default, single bullet approach? First, the plan did not start with robust data assessment of flood damages (on-site inspections by trained professionals vs. counting trash piles and written surveys) to determine the root and extent of problems; the potential for flood prevention strategies by retrofitting at risk homes, businesses and neighborhoods; and a true cost-benefit analysis of the different options. See Thinking Outside The Pipe on Urban Flooding: The Case of Winnetka, IL by the Center for Neighborhood Technology for more on this localized approach.
Second, the plan doesnt prioritize best management practices and green infrastructure as a precursor to large scale grey infrastructure. There is a good reason the U.S. EPA, Illinois EPA, FEMA, Illinois Department of Natural Resources, Cook County Watershed Management Ordinance, nearly every planning agency and environmental group emphasize the use of green infrastructure, offer grants for these best management practices and/or require these practices for permitting. And why regional, national and international communities are turning to these nature-based solutions, most notably the City of Chicago’s $50 million investment in green infrastructure improvements. These measures reduce run-off, improve water quality and provide a host off other community and environmental benefits. The Village maintains that green infrastructure is not sufficient to reduce run-off for a 100 year-storm, but necessary for the tunnel project to meet water quality requirements. The Master Plan lacks specifics on the implementation of best management practices, does not include green infrastructure in budget estimates, and only recommends 3 meager action items. After several years and $3 million in engineering contracts primarily devoted to the expansion of sewers and tunnel design, MWH consultants will conduct a 2- hour green infrastructure workshop with Village staff. Based on this, MWH will develop alternative model scenarios with green infrastructure and tunnel sizing impacts. Unfortunately, this insufficient study will not include the input of regional green infrastructure experts for a more in-depth analysis. As further described below, the Village has shown the Willow tunnel project makes little room for wide ranging green solutions. Instead of putting a risky, expensive, long to complete, least flexible gray option first, why not pursue a modern, all-of-the-above approach that nurtures green partnerships (large- and small-scale) and eliminates the need to discharge into Lake Michigan?
Real Water Pollution & Significant Obstacles
Stormwater is highly polluted. As described by the EPA, runoff from roofs, roads, and paved surfaces can pick up a wide range of contaminants, including toxic chemicals, pesticides, heavy metals, used motor oil and exhaust from vehicles; pet and wildlife waste; human waste from improperly cross connected sewage pipes; bacteria and pathogens; nitrogen and phosphorus (from fertilizers); construction sediment; and debris. The Village’s recent misleading “What is Stormwater?” e-blast failed to mention most of these contaminants. Discharge of polluted run-off into Lake Michigan threatens our valued beaches and drinking water supply, causing a host of adverse environmental impacts. Currently, most of our stormwater goes untreated into the Skokie River, which clearly is not very clean. According to the Master Plan, water testing confirms that water discharged at Winnetka beaches and the Skokie Lagoon has elevated levels of fecal coliform (e-coli), nitrogen, phosphorus, total dissolved solids, and total suspended solids. The Willow tunnel would radically boost the volume of stormwater pollutants entering the Lake. While the Village is careful to say they will adhere to Clean Air Act, stormwater discharge is weakly regulated and will not assure “maintained or enhanced water quality,” a stated objective of the Master plan. The State and Federal permits needed for the Willow tunnel, involving five regulatory agencies, are not pre-approved. There’s no certainty these hurdles can be overcome. Leading environmental organizations have serious concerns about pollution discharges into Lake Michigan from the Willow tunnel, a troubling precedent for our region, as outlined in this joint Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and Environmental Law & Policy Center letter. A legal challenge by these formidable groups could slow or stop the tunnel project. Stricter water quality regulations on e-coli total daily maximum loads (TMDLs) and other forms of stormwater pollution are also looming, which would require retrofits at Lake Michigan and the Skokie Lagoons, driving future costs even higher. We need to be mindful of long term and regional implications.
Squandered Grant to Help Retrofit At-Risk Homes?
Back to the localized approach mentioned above, in March 2012, the Center for Neighborhood Technology (CNT) helped Winnetka and other communities obtain a $500,000 IKE Disaster Recovery grant (later reduced to $200,000). This funding could be used to inspect at-risk homes, buildings and neighborhoods to discover the root of problems, and recommend swift and low-cost retrofit measures to prevent flood damage. Unfortunately, it looks as if this valuable funding may be lost due to the Villages lack of follow through. According to Linda Bowen with Illinois Disaster Recovery on 2/14/14, Winnetka has had no official response since the second RFP was posted. The grant funding expires on April 30, 2014 and it is doubtful this grant will be extended. Especially when the Village’s Master Plan’s stated objective is to reduce future flood damage to existing buildings by helping property owners retrofit flood-prone buildings, losing this immediate support for affected neighborhoods would be incredibly unfortunate.
Stormwater Fee Structure that Inhibits Best Practices
Contrary to the Master Plan’s stated objective to encourage best management practices and listing of various financial incentive strategies, the Village’s approach is more likely to hinder adoption. Starting in July, Winnetka residents will begin to pay a stormwater user fee calculated by the propertys impervious surface. These fees will feed the Stormwater Utilty Fund, designed to pay off debt on capital improvements for the tunnel project. For properties that have have taken measures to reduce stormwater run-off and their “use” (thereby reducing the burden to the community) – stormwater user fees discounts are typically offered. After sitting through a Village study session that discussed stormwater free credits, it was clear the trustees were largely uninterested in anything that interfered with financing of the Willow Tunnel project. As part of the Stormwater Ordinance, they eventually agreed to individual and partner credits with restrictive criteria and limited availability, capped once tunnel construction begins. So if a church hopes to reduce their stormwater bill by installing permeable pavers, or a homeowner with rain gardens and rain harvesting, unless these projects can detain at least 50% of the property’s stormwater during a 100-year storm and installation occurs before the tunnel, they will get zero credit. Furthermore, the trustees rejected green infrastructure and engineering evaluation/drainage improvement rebates and incentives financed through the stormwater utility fund. Other local communities already offer these incentives. For example, Glenview offers 50% rain garden rebate, Northbrook offers a 50/50 drainage rebate, and Chicago’s Sustainable Backyard Program offers residents rebates on purchases of trees, native plants, compost bins, and rain barrels. It’s all about the tunnel. Without user fee discounts and incentives to promote best management practices, it’s hard to imagine how green infrastructure will progress in Winnetka.
Failure to Inform, Demonstrate & Adopt
Despite a difficult history of flooding in Winnetka occurring long before 2008, 2011 and 2013, the Village’s public education efforts on stormwater best management practices, including green infrastructure solutions, have been negligible. Other local communities, have made a stronger effort. For example, the Village of Wilmette is co-hosting the massive Going Green Matters Fair: “Water Matters: Stormwater Management, Conservation, Water quality and Recreation” on Sunday, March 9, 2014; fully cooperated in League of Women Voters Stormwater Study; and offers easy access information on their Website regarding rain barrels, rain gardens, permeable pavement and flood protection. In 2011, volunteers installed a demonstration rain garden at Wilmette’s Village Hall to encourage residents to follow suit (rain gardens are also showcased in Highland Park, Northbrook, Evanston, Glenview, etc.). Wilmette and Glenview offer engineering evaluation drainage programs. Winnetka does not have a rain garden demonstration, passed up a donation of permeable pavers several years ago, and does not offer drainage assessment assistance. When it comes to public improvements, such as green alleys, sidewalks or parkways utilizing permeable pavement and bioswales, none of these best management projects have been attempted by the Village.
Lack of Community Consensus & Collaboration
The Village Council did not have a two-way dialogue with residents about flood protection options. They simply presented an all or nothing plan. For the biggest public works project in Winnetka and one of the highest stormwater fees in the country, trustees did not seek voter consent, a valued tradition in our community. For some perspective on the Villages lack of public engagement on this major project, see this post by former Village President Jessica Tucker. As I have personally experienced, the Trustees have been generally averse to residents offering comments about tunnel concerns and green infrastructure alternatives. Trustees disregarded the Winnetka Environmental Commissions input on green infrastructure and did not consult with them while devising the Stormwater Master Plan. The Commissions chairperson, Debbie Ross, who has long studied green infrastructure solutions in her national role with the Garden Club of America, resigned in frustration. Chicago Wilderness, a regional alliance of more than 300 public, non-profit and corporate entities, wrote a letter to the Village stating their concern over the Willow Tunnel Project and potential negative impacts to Lake Michigan ecosystem. And offered they “stand ready to work with the Village to explore alternative approaches that utilize a combination of green and grey infrastructure. Unfortunately the Village did not respond. Winnetka would likely encounter less resistance by addressing residents’ concerns and partnering with trusted, knowledgeable groups such as Chicago Wilderness, Center for Neighborhood Technology and others to create a leading, visionary plan could benefit our community and regional natural resources.
We have been down this road once before, and unfortunately the Village Council took the least economical, least environmental path. When it came to contracting with our electricity provider, Winnetka gambled on coal power and the new Prairie State coal mine/plant and signed a long-term contract with IMEA until 2030. Winnetka residents now pay one of the highest electric bills in Illinois for the dirtiest source of power. See more at Chicago Tribune’s Towns Pay a High Price for Power, and wren’s Winnetka Pays Top Dollar For Dirty Power & Winnetkas Dirty Secret.
I don’t want our home to flood ever again, or anyone else’s for that matter. But I also dont want the remedy to create a slew of other problems. We need a better, faster, effective mix of solutions to prevent flood damage, that is both fiscally prudent and environmentally sound. On Election Day, Winnetkans have a chance to say NO to the myopic, risky Willow tunnel plan. Lets instead demand a forward thinking, wide-scope approach with scaled-up green best management practices to offer both flood protection and clean water resources, a plan our entire community can rally behind.
On the March 18 (early voting starts March 3), as a vote of no confidence, I am voting NO to the Winnetka Stormwater referendum:
“Should the Village of Winnetka implement the portion of the Village’s Stormwater Management Program that includes building a tunnel under Willow Road to discharge stormwater into Lake Michigan, at an estimated project cost exceeding $30 million (plus substantial bond financing costs)?”
And to elect these Winnetka Caucus-slated Village Trustee Candidates:
Please consider doing the same, and help get out to VOTE!
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Written by Amanda Hanley. Thank you for input from Karen Hobbs/Senior Attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council, Harriet Festing/Director of Water Program with Center For Neighborhood Technology, and Steve Saunders/Village of Winnetka Director of Public Works.
Lately there’s been lots of buzz about green infrastructure. Yet, I’ve found most people have no idea what it really is. I admit it wasn’t on our radar when we built our new home in 2008. Then we flooded badly in 2011, and again in 2013. Since then we’ve sought out a variety of options to better manage stormwater on our property. Last fall we installed Winnetka’s first permeable concrete driveway and some adjacent rain gardens, in addition to previously incorporating more trees, native plantings and rain barrels on our property. There’s good reason these best management practices are a growing trend regionally and across the country. As it stands, increasing impervious surfaces – roofs on buildings, driveways, streets and parking lots – prevent rain from naturally soaking into the ground. From connected downspouts and street sewers, stormwater is tunneled and discharged into local waterways, for Winnetka the Skokie Lagoons and to a lesser extend Lake Michigan (this is not the case for communities with a combined sewer for sewage and stormwater run-off). There are two major problems with this. Heavy storms can overburden sewer systems and lead to localized flooding. Also, stormwater run-off is heavily polluted and threatens the water quality of local waterways. In contrast, green infrastructure uses vegetation, soils, and natural processes to soak up rain where it falls. As stormwater infiltrates the ground, pollutants are removed. In addition to reducing the volume of stormwater run-off and protecting local waterways, green solutions also help clean the air, prevent erosion, replenish aquifers and provide wildlife habitat. Best of all, these nature-based solutions beautify neighborhoods. Green solutions work best when thoughtfully designed, cost-effective, quick-to-implement, easy to maintain and attractive. Fortunately, homeowners, businesses and public bodies can find a variety of wonderful examples locally, 30+ green solutions are shown below.
Nature-based stormwater solutions around town:
Rain gardens are slightly sunken areas filled with water-loving, long-rooted native flowers and grasses. They are designed to collect and absorb stormwater, often captured from rooftop downspouts, sump pump outlets or other impermeable surfaces pathways. A properly designed garden holds and soaks runoff, naturally filters the pollutants from the water, protects against erosion, and replenishes ground water supplies. Simple, low cost rain gardens can beautify a landscape, attract birds and butterflies, and require little maintenance once established. For more information, see Rain Gardens: A how-to manual for homeowners, the Illinois Rain Garden Initiative and the Rain Garden Network. Also learn more about flooding prevention strategies using rain gardens with the Center for Neighborhood Technology Wetrofit program.
Clockwise: Julia Bunn from The Spirited Gardener installing our new rain gardens in Winnetka. This rain garden in Evanston, also by The Spirited Gardner, shows retained stormwater inside the fencing. Natural stone and moisture-loving, shade-tolerant plants beautify this Evanston side yard swale and capture rainwater on site, designed by Greenwise. As part of CNT’s Wetrofit program, flooding was alleviated by channeling stormwater to an attractive rain garden at this Highland Park home.
Instead of downspouts, lovely rain chains are connected with rain gardens at this Glencoe home designed by architect Nathan Kipnis.
Check out a rain garden for yourself at (clockwise) the Chicago Botanic Gardens Rainwater Glen; Mooney Cemetery under construction in Highland Park: and Wilmettes Village Hall which was installed by volunteers (photo from www.wilmette.patch.com) Demonstrations can also be found at Highland Park City Hall, Northbrook Village Hall, Evanston Howell Park and Glenview (Waukegan & Dewes).
Man-made wetlands are designed to reduce, detain and treat stormwater runoff. Water is stored in shallow vegetated pools that are designed to support wetland plants and simulate natural wetland ecosystems. Constructed wetlands have many of the same ecological functions as natural wetlands and are beneficial for flood control and water quality improvement.
In Glenview, the Taylors constructed native prairie is full of life when dry and retains stormwater during flood events.
Similar to rain gardens, bioswales are retention areas. A linear design helps regulate the flow of run-off from impervious surfaces nearby. Native vegetation slows and filters pollutants in the water as it infiltrates the soil. Bioswales are often used to manage and treat stormwater runoff from parking lots. Learn more about bioswales and where to visit them here.
Boy Scouts installed 2,600 native plants in a bioswale at the Skokie Playfields in Winnetka (image from Winnetka Talk).
At the Kohl’s Children Museum in Glenview, native plantings within bioswales were used to drain the parking areas allowing for the reduction of hard surfaces and storm sewers (photo from www.eea-ltd.com). The Ryerson Woods Welcome Center parking lot utilizes bioswales to absorb and filter pollutants from run-off (image from www.upperdesplainesriver.org).
The shallow roots of typical lawns do little to slow polluted runoff racing into street sewers and local waterways. Native plants and shrubs have large, porous roots which are better suited to absorb rain and moisture. For example, the clay-busting Red Switch Grass in our yard has roots that grow up to 10 feet long, which help drain the soil. Thanks to their beauty, hardiness and low maintenance, North Shore landscapes have been transitioning to native, deep-rooted perennial, grasses, shrubs and trees. Suited to our local soil, climate, and wet-to-dry conditions, native plants require no fertilizers or pesticides, less water and enrich the soil rather than deplete it. For more information and local resources on native plants, see The Midwestern Native Garden (Adelman/Schwartz) and wren’s Nurture Our Land.
Native plant species have extensive root systems which improve the ability of the ground to absorb water. Image from www.alivestructures.blogspot.com.
Enhanced Tree Canopy
Preserving existing trees and planting new ones increases the natural canopy of leaves that catch rain drops before they hit the ground. Tree roots also break up tightly packed soil, increasing the amount of water absorbed by the ground. The larger and more appropriate tree, the more stormwater it can manage. Mature white swamp oaks, like the ones in my yard pictured below, are estimated to absorb 11,000 gallons of water per year. Especially when combined with rain gardens permeable pavement and other green practices, yard and street trees play an important role in reducing stormwater runoff.
Solid waterproof surface materials, such as blacktop asphalt, concrete or impervious pavers, send dirty runoff into street sewers and local waterways. Permeable hardscapes are designed to allow water to seep though. While providing the structural support of conventional pavement, it’s made of a porous surface and an underlying gravel layer for temporary storage and infiltration. When it comes to driveways, walkways, patios, parking lots, sidewalks and streets, there are many attractive and durable options. Permeable surfaces include porous asphalt, porous concrete, permeable interlocking pavers and turfstone. Gravel, wide-gapped stones, woodchips and mulch (assuming they are not covering asphalt) walk paths and driveways also allow varying degrees of infiltration. Learn more about the City of Chicago’s visionary green streets and alleys here.
Clockwise: The Slotnicks Whitacre Greer Boardwalk pavers on their walkway in Glencoe, Paveloc Aqua Brick herringbone style pavers on this Glencoe driveway by Krugel Cobbles; and the Taylors permeable paver driveway in Wilmette.
The Slotnicks Platinum LEED home in Glencoe features an Ozinga Filtercrete porous concrete driveway. We were thrilled to remove asphalt in front of our Winnetka home and replace it with Ozinga Filtercrete pavement, installation shown above. Water drains right through the texture resembling Rice Krispies Treats and de-ices quicker than porous surfaces.
This Unilock Turfstone found at this Lake Forest home is typically used for more natural looking part time parking. GrassPave2 installed in Lakewood allows a drivable lawn area. Both projects by Kruguel Cobbles.
Clockwise: The North Glenview Metra parking lot is constructed of pervious concrete in the front portion (with wet asphalt behind) and integrated with bioswales. The Wilmette Public Library chose permeable pavers to replace an asphalt parking surface to reduce stormwater run-off. In Deerfield, the Ryerson Woods Welcome Center has a porous asphalt parking section in the background, as opposed to the puddling conventional asphalt pavement in the foreground (photo from Lake Country Forest Preserve District). The Ravinia South parking lot in Highland Park changes the size and shape of the permeable pavers to help mark a pedestrian walkway through the parking area (photo from Sarah Alward/ Landscape Architecture Foundation).
Green roofs, or vegetated roofs, are composed of multiple layers including a waterproof membrane, subsurface drainage pipes, engineered planting soils and specially selected plants. Beyond collecting and divert rain water, they can reduce heating and cooling costs and last twice as long as a conventional roof. Green roofs can be installed on many types of roofs, from small slanting roofs to large, flat commercial roofs. Extensive roofs, covered with a thin layer of drought-tolerant vegetation, are less expensive, easier to convert and dont require watering. Intensive roofs are deeper, more elaborate garden landscapes that can expand a propertys green living space, but require more engineering, waterproofing, irrigation and maintenance. The good thing is, thanks to Chicagos acclaimed rooftop efforts, installation costs have been declining.
In Highland Park, the Stones cost-effective green roof holds plants in one big metal edged tray, which allows microorganisms in the soil and a larger growing area for roots, designed by Intrinsic Landscaping in Glenview. Below, the Slotnicks green roof terrace in Glencoe was designed by architect Nathan Kipnis, and utilizes a modular vegetated system from GreenGrid and downspouts are discharging to Rainwater HOG rain barrels and rain gardens.
The sloped green roof at the Tyner Center in Glenview makes viewing easier from the ground (photo from www.lakecountyil.gov). At the Chicago Botanic Garden, the Daniel F. and Ada L. Rice Plant Conservation Science Center rooftop features a lovely patchwork of plants (photo from Oehme van Weden & Associates).
Stormwater can be collected and temporarily stored on-site with rain barrels or cisterns. This free water can be reused to benefit the property. Simple rain barrels can be used to water plants or wash cars. More sophisticated systems can be tied in with irrigation, waterfall ponds and toilet flushing. The Metropolitan Water Reclamation District (MWRD) of Greater Chicago sells rain barrels to Cook County homeowners for $58 available here. Learn more about the benefits of rain barrels at Recycle the Raindrops.
Our 55-gallon rain barrel made from 80% recycled HDPE plastic. The Kunkles more comprehensive system in Winnetka is a version of the Aqua Scape rainwater harvest system shown above. Thanks to this system, they now enjoy a lovely stone koi pond, harvested water used in irrigation, and improved drainage on their property.
Fields Volvo Silver LEED facility in Northbrook has two cisterns that collect 468,000 gallons of rainwater a year that is used in irrigation and for toilet flushing. A 60,000 gallon cistern, funneled from downspouts, is used at the Ryerson Woods Welcome Center in Deerfield.
For more ideas on how to collect water on your property, prevent water pollution, reduce flooding and use less water in your daily life, visit the Going Green Matters fair on Sunday, March 9, 2014. In addition to presenting information about transportation, lawn and garden, food and farm, renewable energy and energy conservation by local businesses and non-profits – this year “Water Matters” is the theme of the Talk It Up session. This brainstorming exchange will be held with participants and representatives from the Natural Resources Defense Council, Center for Neighborhood Technology, Conservation Design Forum, Glenview Stormwater Task Force, Alliance for the Great Lakes, Metropolitan Water Reclamation District, and US EPA. A wonderful opportunity to learn more from water experts and share your thoughts.
Also see an NRDC case study of Chicago’s green infrastructure and the full national case study report Rooftop to Rivers, as well as 8 Shades of Green Infrastructure for other regional, national and international examples.
If you happen to live in Winnetka and prefer to see green infrastructure more comprehensively integrated in stormwater planning, as opposed to the Willow Tunnel plan, please see Winnetka’s Tunnel Vision before heading to the ballot on March 18.
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Thanks to everyone who contributed photos and details on their green improvements! Unfortunately, several wonderful rain garden and green roof projects are currently under snow, so they could not be shared here. I will add them in at a later date. This post is an update of wren’s Got Soaked? posted in 2012.
Old “school” graphic designed by the amazing Jason Rutter (my brother)
What started off as a green home and alternative energy talk for my son’s science class has evolved into an epic eco tour of Illinois and Chicagolandss flourishing clean energy scene. Last year, Ms. Goldberg asked me to give a few 30 minutes talks to her sixth grade classes. Since I’ve come across SO many compelling clean energy projects, I put together a jam-packed slideshow. The students seemed keenly interested and asked super smart questions. Over the summer, a mom mentioned my presentation was the only thing her daughter came home and spoke about passionately the whole year. I couldn’t resist upping my game when Ms. Goldberg asked me back to class this year. After boiling down even more cool information, over 70 slides now include the drawbacks of fossil fuels(16 slides), clean energy today (23 slides), energy saving features of our home (19 slides), and green jobs (18 slides/40+ changemakers featured). Best of all, most everything and everyone featured is local. Students love to hear that Illinois is #4 in the U.S. for wind power, Chicagoland’s rooftops and brownfields are going solar, Illinois is #1 in the country for green building, 25+ electric car models will be available in 2014, and biofuel is locally made from french fry grease, algae and cow waste. Following more enthusiastic response from this year’s science classes, I’ve converted my iPhoto slides to Powerpoint with side notes, so now you can see it and share it too. The possibilities of clean energy are truly exciting, and hopefully these examples will inspire way more to come.
Click HERE to see the PowerPoint and CLICK “NOTES” in the lower right corner (unfortunately my zillion links/sources did not come through in this format, but are available upon request)
Student tested & approved. Some rave reviews from Ms. Goldberg’s class:
… it was really fun to listen about the alternative energy sources
… I liked many cool green energy substitutes like algae
… I really liked the mini wind turbines for more urban areas
… we particularly liked the french fry grease converter
… I didn’t know you could do that many things around your house
… I liked your roof with the solar panels
… it was exciting to see the rug made from plastic bottles
… I might try to do some of those things in my house
… we liked how many cool things that people are doing to make a difference in the environment
Some wonderful eco-artwork included in thank you notes from Ms. Goldberg’s class this year.