As I walked the halls of the offices of our US Senators, I admired the sturdy woodwork, marble floors, ornate railings and lovely light fixtures of the Russell Senate Building.  The workings of a democracy should be housed in a beautiful setting, I thought.  Suddenly I was struck by the large bronze plaques posted at the entrance of  every office, each bearing the name of the Senator to whom the office “belonged”.   

“Those plaques look awfully permanent for a democracy,” I mused.

Someone else in my party asked, “did I pay for those?”

“Those names should be written in chalk;” noted another, “as in ‘Today’s Senator is…”

I was in DC this week on behalf of two national organizations to try to generate support from my Senators for climate change legislation.  The mission was to demonstrate to the Senators my and my organizations’ concern over the devastating impact global climate change is having on people, particularly poor women and children all over the world, including the US.  I believed so strongly in this mission, I took two days leave without pay to make the trip.  The appointments with the Senators’ offices were made by the organizations I represented, although I would be speaking to the Senators as their constituent.   For some reason, however, neither of my Senators nor most of the Senators of the other women who’d come from across the country on the same mission were able to meet face-to-face with their Senators.  I can understand why it is difficult to meet with a US Senator when they are visiting the state they represent.  But how far in advance does one need to make arrangements to meet her Senator in DC?  What difference does it make to meet with a Senator’s staff in DC versus the Senator’s staff back home? 

The staffers I met were prompt, mostly cordial and one of the three I met with actually took notes. But the staffers gave me the impression neither of our Senators wants to take a leadership role and do the right thing in the face of this global crisis. Neither of them at this time seems willing to explain to the people back home it is time to pay the piper for our disproportionate contribution to greenhouse gases and that Hoosiers can counteract incremental increases in our energy bills by using less electricity and fuel.  Instead, the staffers told me calls to the Senators run heavily against climate change legislation, which makes the current legislation untenable for the Senators.  This seems a convenient screen when one considers the current state of campaign finance in this country; there’s surely a lot of money flowing from the carbon-burning companies to help sway powerful decision makers as well as an ill-informed public.  Furthermore, today’s story on fake letters from respected organizations being produced by anti-climate change lobbyists gives me pause to question the validity and source of the anti-climate change calls the Senators’ staffers are purportedly fielding.

This, then, it seems, is the system that provides for the name of a senator to be cast in a large, permanent-looking bronze plaque just outside their office door.  The question is, does protecting the plaque’s position impede real leadership?


Sustainability and Innovation: The Natural Step to Prosperity

Thursday, October 29th 2009

8:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

South Bend Marriott Hotel 

IUSB’s Center for a Sustainable Future will be hosting an all day sustainability workshop in downtown South Bend.

Learn how to use sustainability and innovation to strengthen your business and make Michiana more prosperous as part of the newly emerging green economy.  Make vital connections in the growing regional network dedicated to learning and helping each other along the path of sustainability.

Generous grants have made this workshop a very affordable $35.00 per participant, including lunch.  Register online.

See you there!


Indiana University at South Bend’s Society for Physics Students invited Gary Gilot, Director of Public Works for the City of South Bend, and myself to present on the hydroelectric generator project for the dam at Century Center. 


I gave a brief overview of my interest in the project starting with my “green” sensibilities and how I was able to research hydroelectric power in South Bend for my Masters degree in Liberal Studies at IUSB.  In my presentation, I enjoy asking the audience my trivia question: “What natural resource on our river did the early French settlers exploit to make their fortunes,” for which I offer anyone with the answer a bar of fair-trade, organic dark chocolate.  I’m always amazed how long it takes someone to come up with this piece of history on our city.  The audience seemed to appreciate my narrated slide show on the history of using water power in South Bend leading up to the current hydro project under consideration. 


Mr. Gilot followed up with his presentation on some of the “green” initiatives underway in South Bend, including upgrading the sewer system to reduce combined sewage overflow into the river, diverting heat from supercomputers on the campus at Notre Dame to the desert dome of the municipal greenhouse and, of course the hydroelectric project.  Mr. Gilot reported the windowed concourse is still in the design plans and that the city is pursuing “economic stimulus” package money as a possible funding source.  He reported the city is also in contact with private entities to try to find funding sources there.  The city continues to seek public support for this and other “green” initiatives, including a proposed wind-farm co-op if an appropriate site can be found in the area.




Last night, the St Joseph County Council held a public hearing and vote on the tax abatement revision bill 90-08.  This proposal, which would benefit the community by setting specific environmental and hiring standards before granting tax subsidies to businesses, is good public policy.   Taking my place in the line of supporters to voice my support for the bill, I implored the council-members to remember, like the people who may live next door, businesses are also neighbors in a community.  We must not give away tax abatements for jobs at any cost.   Do we actually want to entice a company that’s going to dump toxic waste into our waterways for the promise of a few jobs?   What is the point of prostituting our community to embrace John Doe, Inc who will treat their workers like chattel?  Doing so and trying to compete with other communities to see who can give away the most tax breaks is nothing less than a race to the bottom. 

As I prepared to leave the podium, Mark Root, District I Councilman asked me “didn’t you run for a seat on the city council in 2007?”

What, I wondered, does this have to do with Bill 90-08, but I answered, “Yes”.  

“Wouldn’t you say, then, that this ordinance would not have any affect on the people in your neighborhood?”  Root asked.

I was too shocked to answer.   Of course what businesses do affects everyone in a community, the state, the country, the planet!  Every time China builds another coal-burning power plant without regard for air quality, the winds bring those clouds of cancer-causing soot over the Pacific and onto our western states.  When a factory farm in St Joe County dumps millions of gallons of pig sewage into a lagoon that seeps into our groundwater, we all suffer the effects of that contamination; how far that goes out, no one can know for certain.  When we accept products made from the sweat of poorly treated workers, how does that make our community, state, country a better place?  How could an elected official not see the lines connecting these dots?  Does my concern for my neighbors stop at the end of my city block?

It seemed Mr. Root was insinuating that because I lived within the city limits and not in unincorporated county districts, I didn’t have the right to speak for all of us who are adversely affected by poor public policy!

While all this was roiling in my head, someone from the back of the room shouted something in my defense.  Then my councilman, Heath Weaver, asked me if I was his constituent.  When I answered affirmatively, Mr. Weaver retorted to Mr. Root that the latter’s insinuations were wrong, bringing applause from the audience.

Bill 90-08 passed; Mr. Weaver voted in favor of the measure, Mr. Root, against.

Next to us is an old empty house. When I walk my dog, I pick up any trash that may have blown onto that house’s yard and watch for any activity. It would be nice to have someone living in that house, someone who would wave “hello”, keep up the yard, put a coat of paint on its stucco exterior and a swing on it’s grand front porch.   But there’s no guarantee whoever moved in would do those lovely things.   An “absentee landlord” could buy that house and rent to nuisance tenants who would sell drugs to the neighbor children, play loud music and leave trash everywhere.  I’d like to have neighbors but NOT at any cost.

The same goes with businesses who want to be neighbors in our community. Of course we want businesses set up shop here, but at what cost?  Will they be polluting our air and water with impunity?  Will they treat their workers poorly?  Will the products they produce be something that our community members can safely use?

The St Joseph Count Council  must remember jobs at any cost is a race to the bottom; before giving tax abatements to incoming businesses, let’s demand they be good neighbors first.

Today I received an email from Gary Gilot, South Bend’s Director of Public Works.  He is seeking letters from citizens to be sent to Congressman Joe Donnelly in support of the city’s request for funding to finance the hydroelectric generator on the dam at Century Center.

Below is the letter I forwarded to Gary to include in the city’s proposal to Congressman Donnelly.  Feel free to write your own letter to the congressman for this important project:

The Honorable Joe Donnelly

United States House of Representatives

1530 Longworth House Office Building

Washington, DC  20515

 13 March 2009

Dear Congressman Donnelly,

I am writing to express my strong support for the installation of a hydroelectric generator on the St Joe River on the dam at Century Center. 

The city of South Bend owes its existence to the natural resources of the river that runs through us.  From the early French fur trappers, who made their fortunes on the river’s wildlife to Alexis Coquilllard, who oversaw the construction of the dam and races providing water power for South Bend’s first industries, our river has been the heart of the city’s life-source.

Now, as humans face the dire consequences of global warming as a result of burning fossil fuels, every person and every community must do all they can to reduce the production of the greenhouse gases that trap the sun’s heat on our planet.  For my part, I walk, take the bus and ride my bike to work, the grocery store and the market as much as possible.  For her part, the city of South Bend has made a commitment to reduce our community’s impact on global warming by pursuing the construction of a 1.5 Megawatt hydroelectric generator on the dam at Century Center.

This project has multiple benefits:

·         The construction of the generator will employ many skilled laborers in our local workforce; a true blue-green initiative.  

·         The generator will provide enough electricity to power South Bend’s water treatment facility, one of the city’s biggest energy consumers, with the city realizing significant savings on energy costs.

·         Harnessing the emission-free energy of the river will reduce the city’s reliance on coal-fired electricity, thus reducing the city’s contribution to global warming.

·         Reducing our reliance on electricity from coal will reduce the necessity of ecologically devastating mining practices that are irreversibly stripping this country’s natural heritage.


·         The plans for South Bend’s hydroelectric project includes a wheelchair accessible windowed concourse, allowing visitors to go below the river’s surface to watch the turbines on one side and fish migrating up the ladder on the other.  Modeled after a hugely popular design of a hydro generator and fish ladder in Seattle, this feature will attract thousands of visitors to South Bend’s downtown every year.   I know many families who would delight in visiting such an attraction in South Bend; as you can imagine, the educational and economic impact of this project is completely in the city’s favor.

I urge you to support South Bend’s fiscal 2010 appropriations request for this project.


President Obama is pushing for an “economic stimulus” package that reportedly includes provisions for green energy projects.  I can think of few better investments of taxpayer dollars than in hydroelectric, solar and wind energy projects that will reduce our dependence on dwindling supplies of carbon-emitting fossil fuels, fuels that are often wrested via socially and environmentally reprehensible means.


South Bend, which made a commitment to reduce our carbon footprint, recognized the potential of hydroelectric energy and had begun to re-visit plans for a hydroelectric generator on the dam at Century Center.  Initially proposed and designed by Lawson-Fisher Associates in the 1980’s, a hydro generator would generate construction and maintenance jobs for green energy powered by the St Joe River.


At this time, an updated feasibility study needs to be completed.  The city sought partners in financing the feasibility study, partners who would also be interested in adding green energy to their portfolios.  Gary Gilot, Public Works Director for the city of South Bend, reported he has had “encouraging conversations with key Notre Dame staff” regarding funding for the feasibility study for the hydro generator.  James Mazurek, Director of Sustainability at the University of Notre Dame, concurred he has met with Mr. Gilot and that he will be meeting with the University’s Executive Vice President later this month to determine if funding for an updated design study of the hydro generator can be secured.



Hydro Generator for Dam at Century Center Part of Request as City Seeks Feasibility Study Assistance



In response to my question about tapping President Obama’s economic stimulus plan for funding for South Bend’s hydroelectric generator, Mr. Gilot reported he had drafted an “Economic Stimulus” request package, which South Bend Mayor Steve Luecke shared with our legislative delegation.  The overall request would stimulate the local economy with a $187 million investment in public infrastructure and creating nearly 3,000 construction trades jobs.  The request package includes:



·        $12 million for a hydroelectric project on the municipal dam that could produce 1.8 megawatts of power to reduce energy bills by $1.5 million per year.


·         A demonstration project for a wind turbine farm coop at $ 1 million.


·        About $12 million worth of combined sewer overflow projects in the City’s long-term control plan to separate storm and sanitary sewers to reach EPA mandates.


·        Improvements totaling $10 million at the Wastewater Treatment Plant to maximize wet weather flow and improve energy processing.


·        Installation of smart valves for $8 million to make the City’s CSOnet to fully control sewer system functions in real-time.


·        Creation of a $2 million(2 year at $ 1million/year) fund of seed capital for green projects, including green roofs, LEED-certified buildings, porous pavement, alternative fuel fleets, etc.


·        Restoration of the Bowman Creek watershed to revitalize an economically-challenged neighborhood $5 million.


·        Improvements to Howard Park in support of the East Bank Village master plan at $ 5 million.


·        Storm water reclamation project at Erskine Golf Course. The retention areas and water features on the golf course could run as high as $2,000,000.         


·        East Race Waterway renovations. Upgrades consisting of lighting and fence replacements. We would also replace the main head gates and all related equipment. Activate the hydro, major repairs to the pedestrian bridge, and replace the existing obstacle molds. The cost to do these repairs will be $600,000.  Concrete channel and wall improvements along the channel would be another $2,000,000.


·        Animal Care and Control Facility – a new 11,888 Sq ft facility.  The current shelter is over 100 years old and inadequate.  The increased size (8,752sf) allows  more pets for adoption. Increase dog kennels from 19 to 74 and cat cages from 32 to 112.  This will decrease the number of animals being euthanized. The project is ready to bid and construct. The shelter will be located on property currently owned by the City with adaptive reuse of an existing vacant  building.  The new shelter will have the newest innovations and expectations for a modern animal care & control facility (spay-neuter clinic, expanded lobby, reception area, an adoption preparation area (bathe and groom), 2 interaction rooms for families to meet with prospective pets, a confined area to unload animals from vehicles, secure area for the quarantine of bite cases and aggressive animals, treatment area for sick and injured animals, a secured area that is protected from the elements for after-hours drop-offs, and a training/meeting room to bring in accredited education).