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Campaign Announcement

Ellen Smith for Oak Ridge City Council yard signI’ve posted the campaign announcement that went to the Oak Ridge news media on Friday.

It hasn’t appeared yet, but it should show up soon.

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The Friendship Bell is special

20100926173814 The International Friendship Bell in A.K. Bissell Park is special. It’s unique, it has substantial aesthetic value, it symbolizes principles (peace and friendship) that everyone ought to embrace, and it is quintessentially Oak Ridge. If anything erected in the city during the decades I’ve lived here deserves to be revered in the future as a historic landmark, it’s the bell and the structure that houses it.

I was very disappointed by the news that the wooden bell structure had deteriorated and was no longer safe. The bell will be “out of commission” for some time — until the community rebuilds its support structure. I am one of the many people who believe that the structure should be rebuilt according to the original aesthetic design, but with structural members that will not succumb when exposed to the elements. Like the bell itself, which is decorated with images of both Japan and Tennessee, the structure is not purely Japanese in its design — it’s a blend of Japan and Tennessee. Architect Jon Coddington designed the bell house to incorporate elements of traditional temples in Japan and traditional cantilever barns in Tennessee. The blend of Tennessee with Japan in the structure’s design emphasized the bell as a symbol of international friendship — and the design was an important element of the campaign to dispel fears of local residents who saw the bell as a Buddhist religious item or as some sort of “apology” to Japan for Oak Ridge’s role in the Hiroshima bombing. I hope that the original structure can be reassembled around (and disguise) a rugged steel frame that can support the bell for many decades to come.

This is an “interesting” issue for city government. The bell was cast and the structure was built with private donations (here and in Japan), and it was placed on public land as a gift to the city. That makes it a city responsibility now, although the original donors still have a strong sense of ownership. I didn’t donate to the bell when it was created (I was a lot younger then and hadn’t lived in Oak Ridge very long — and this was a project of an older generation of Oak Ridgers), but I will happily donate now to the structure’s restoration because I appreciate the bell’s meaning and value. The bell housing can’t be restored without the help of local donors, but it may not be necessary to find donors to cover the whole cost. I was pleased to see that city government and some citizens with a particular interest in the bell have been creative in seeking additional funds and have discovered a grant-making foundation that looks like an excellent prospect for assisting our community with restoring the bell. The Japanese World Exposition 1970 Commemorative Fund awards matching grants for projects around the world that are related to Japan and that promote international mutual understanding. At Monday evening’s City Council meeting it was reported that it probably is too late to apply for this year’s round of grants, but Oak Ridge should be an excellent candidate for a grant next year.

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Another chance to get rid of hazardous household items

nicadbatteryPeople who have been waiting to safely dispose of hazardous household items have a second chance this year. Anderson County Solid Waste Management is holding a  Household Hazardous Waste Collection on Saturday, September 27, 2014, 9 am to 2 pm, at the Oak Ridge Public Works building at 100 Woodbury Lane (behind the K-Mart shopping center).

According to the announcement, Household Hazardous Waste is anything generated in the household that has a hazardous property. A material is hazardous if it is flammable, corrosive, toxic, or reactive with heat or contact with metals.

What’s accepted:

      HOUSEHOLD: CLEANERS, DRAIN OPENERS, POLISHERS, DISINFECTANTS. HOME IMPROVEMENT / MAINTENANCE: ADHESIVES, STRIPPERS, THINNERS, REMOVERS.

HOME LAWN AND GARDEN:HERBICIDES, PESTICIDES, POISONS, FUNGICIDES, WOOD PRESERVATIVES

AUTOMOTIVE FLUIDS: OIL ADDITIVES & FUEL ADDITIVES, STARTER FLUIDS, SOLVENTS, CLEANERS, REFRIGERANTS, ANTIFREEZE*/COOLANTS, FUEL

MISCELLANEOUS: RECHARGEABLE BATTERIES*, LITHIUM BATTERIES, BUTTON BATTERIES, POOL CHEMICALS, CHEMICALS FROM CHEMISTRY SETS, MEDICINES / DRUGS, AEROSOLS / COMPRESSED GAS, PHOTO PROCESSING CHEMICALS

What not to bring:

    PAINT*, ELECTRONICS*, ALKALINE BATTERIES (they no longer have mercury, so they can go in the regular trash), INFECTIOUS WASTE, EXPLOSIVES / AMMUNITION, RADIOACTIVE MATERIALS (including smoke detectors), EMPTY CONTAINERS, AUTOMOTIVE OIL*, LEAD ACID BATTERIES*

Note: Items marked with asterisks(*) are accepted on a year-round basis at Anderson County’s Blockhouse Valley Road facility.

Don’t show up with commercial or agribusiness waste. However, Conditionally Exempt Small Quantity Generators are eligible to participate by appointment. Contact Clean Harbors Environmental Services at 615-643-3180 with a waste inventory to request a price quote and schedule an appointment.

FOR MORE INFORMATION CALL:
ANDERSON COUNTY SOLID WASTE MANAGEMENT
(865) 463-6845

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Clark Center Park

CarbideparkpicnicareaThe future of Carbide Park (officially Clark Center Recreation Area) is on the city agenda right now.

It’s clear why DOE wants to get out of the business of running a community park, and it makes sense that they are offering it to the city of Oak Ridge. It’s a wonderful public recreation resource — 80 acres on Melton Hill Lake, with boat launches, picnic areas, ball fields, swimming area, fishing pier, and access to the Gallaher Bend Greenway. This is an asset that can’t be allowed to slip away. I believe it needs to remain as a public park — and the city needs to say “yes” to DOE. Trouble is that the city will face the same issues of cost and liability that DOE wants to avoid. There’s no room in our city budget to take on new obligations.

When I spoke at the August 25 public meeting, I commented that this is a regional asset, not just a local park, so the city should not “go it alone” in running it. The region should help support its operation and maintenance — maybe through user fees or an annual membership (much like the old days, when use was limited to employees of the federal agency and Union Carbide). It’s costly to hire people to collect fees, though, but there may be a way to implement electronic access controls (think EZ-Pass). I also recommended that DOE should share some of the money it will save by giving away the park with the city. A chunk of the $300,000/year that the federal government spends yearly to run the park would help the city take on this new responsibility — and DOE would still be saving money. There were many good ideas presented at the city’s public meeting on the park (a model for how a public meeting should run — an unstructured opportunity where people had an open-ended invitation to make comments). I think we can make this work — but the community will need to recognize that the taxpayers of Oak Ridge can’t be asked to pay the full cost of a quality public recreation resource that benefits the entire region.

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Best wishes to Josh Collins

It looks like it’s time to start congratulating Josh Collins on his retirement — he has announced that he’s retiring on October 1 after almost 30 years leading the Oak Ridge Recreation and Parks Department.

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Reason for Thursday elections in Tennessee

The answer to a question that has come up in conversation lately: Why does Tennessee hold its August elections on Thursday? 

It seems that Thursday was specified in the 1796 state constitution — and it’s still in the state constitution. No one knows why that day was chosen.

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Too busy to blog?

Whatever I’ve been up to lately, it’s clear I haven’t been doing much blogging. So what have I been up to? Here’s a partial list.

  • EQAB is about to finalize the first report on Oak Ridge’s progress in implementing the climate action plan and meeting the greenhouse gas reduction goals that City Council adopted in 2009 and 2010. The city and the community are on track to meet the first greenhouse gas goals that we adopted for 2015. That’s good news, but the goals for 2015 were modest ones — baby steps toward what needs to be done over the longer term.
  • I’ve been fretting about events surrounding the May 6 county primary election in Anderson County. The way things used to be, our local newspaper would publish profiles of the competing candidates in local elections — so voters could see a factual  report on who was running (at a minimum, the paper would provide basic facts like name, address, age, and occupation). Apparently those days are over — it looks like our local newspaper is no longer attempting to provide election guides. (I hope I’m wrong on that — but since early voting is almost over, a guide published now would be almost too late.) It used to be that the League of Women Voters would hold campaign forums where people could hear all of the candidates in an impartial setting, but this year one of the county’s political parties decided to schedule its own “forum” the same evening as the LWV’s forum. It used to be that local candidates tried to deliver positive messages about themselves, rather than publishing attacks at their opponents, but this year we’ve even received attack ads from candidates for judgeships. All in all, I think it’s harder than ever for voters to make good, informed decisions about the election.
  • And I joined a volunteer crew that pulled up garlic mustard in the greenbelt behind the Garden Apartments (now known as the Rolling Hills Apartments). Garlic mustard is an introduced plant from Europe that’s an invasive weed in this area — it threatens to out-compete our woodland spring wildflowers. It’s not common around this areas, but there’s a population behind the Garden Apartments, in an area that has a pretty amazing collection of spring wildflowers. After several years of volunteer effort, we just might manage to eradicate this weed.
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A vote of confidence for the ORFD

citysealAt this evening’s City Council meeting, the Oak Ridge Fire Department just announced that the city has received an ISO rating of “2”. That may not mean a lot to people, but it’s good news for all of us. I’ve learned that ISO ratings of fire departments are an indication of a community’s fire protection effectiveness. A “1” is the best possible rating, but “1”s and “2”s are very rare, and a “4” is generally considered to be the best rating that most communities can aspire to. Thus, a “2” means we have unusually good fire protection. Also, because many insurance companies use the ISO ratings in setting their fire insurance rates, this “2” rating is likely to save us money on our insurance! Hurray for the ORFD — and the public works department that maintains the infrastructure that helps make this happen.

Added March 4: Oak Ridge Today has more on the story at http://oakridgetoday.com/2014/03/04/new-iso-rating-orfd-among-best-nation/

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Traffic cameras in Oak Ridge — again

signschool One of the thorniest issues that City Council faced in my 5+ years is back. On Monday, Council decides whether to renew the contract with Redflex (possibly in new form), whether to cancel it, and (with or without cameras) whether to ask the state to let the city install a pedestrian-crossing stoplight in front of Oak Ridge High School (instead of continuing existing safety measures like crossing guards and traffic cameras — and to be paid for with traffic camera revenue).

It’s my impression that the majority of Oak Ridgers support the traffic cameras for their positive impact on traffic safety (something that can’t be proven from the available accident statistics, mostly because we don’t have enough accidents to make statistically significant comparisons). Back in 2008, I voted for the city ordinance that allows the use of traffic cameras in Oak Ridge. However, I voted against the contract with Redflex, largely because the plan to use cameras seemed to be more about cameras than about achieving safety goals — it wasn’t connected to engineering analysis or a program of alternative (non-enforcement) methods for improving driver behavior (such as better signs and traffic calming).  Now the city has a chance to re-evaluate the program and improve it for the future.

What should Council vote to do now?

Stop operating some cameras as “speed traps.” The biggest thing I learned from the camera data recently shared with Council and the public (finally, after nearly 5 years of camera operation and many requests) is that there is a solid factual basis for the complaints that I received as a Council member (mostly from out-of-towners) who claimed Oak Ridge was running a speed trap. Redflex data show that about 1.4% of the vehicles passing through a camera-equipped school zone during school-speed-limit hours get tickets, on average. For westbound traffic passing the high school, that goes up to 2.1% (about 1 in every 50 vehicles), and for westbound traffic on Robertsville Road passing Willowbrook School, it’s a whopping 3.9% (about 1 in every 25 vehicles). Those are the kinds of violation rates that people associate with speed traps. Almost one-quarter of the camera tickets issued are for school-zone speeding — the camera operations that function like speed traps. When one person in 25 or one person in 50 is breaking the speed limit and getting ticketed, and this happens day in and day out, I think it says that the speed limit might be unreasonable — or the city needs to be trying other methods to promote safety. I don’t know if this means reducing the number of tickets by reducing the duration of school speed limits (I’ve talked to quite a few people whose camera tickets came when no children were present — for example, 2o minutes after school started) or upping the enforcement threshold (from 6 miles over to 10 miles over, for example), or if it means something like adding more flashing lights in school zones to remind drivers that children are present.

Add a pedestrian crossing light in front of the high school — thus eliminating or reducing the need for crossing guards, traffic cameras, and/or the school-zone speed limit. A pedestrian light is a feasible and affordable way to resolve the longstanding problem of kids crossing Oak Ridge Turnpike at that location — and it seems to me that a pedestrian light could eliminate the need for those other measures (after a phase-in period for people to get used to the new arrangements). I asked for this for several years (ever since city staff outlined a plan for it), and I was disappointed when city staff shelved the idea (largely because of national guidelines that said school speed zones and crossing guards are the preferred means for protecting school kids).  Council should support this now.

To be continued…

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Coyotes again — or possibly coywolves

Wikimedia-Coyote2008Oak Ridgers have coyotes on their minds again.

The last time this animal was a hot topic was 2006-2007. The city Environmental Quality Advisory Board (EQAB — I was chairman then and I’m a board member again now) had long discussions of coyote sightings, disappearances of pet cats, etc. We learned that the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency (TWRA), not city animal control, has jurisdiction over wild critters like coyotes. EQAB members studied up on the biology of coyotes and their management. We concluded that these animals are here to stay, and that the best way for the City to deal with them would be to help residents get good advice on coexisting with these animals.

It doesn’t look like very much has changed since 2007. The only new wrinkle is the information, based on scientific research in the northeastern U.S., that the coyotes in the eastern states may be “coywolves” — the result of crossbreeding between coyotes and eastern coyotes. (Read all about it at easterncoyoteresearch.com.) Also, now we have an Oak Ridge coyote tracking page on Facebook.
February 5, 2014 update: Warren Webb has supplied the information, from the Chattanooga Nature Center, that genetic research has found that our coyotes have less wolf in them than coyotes in the northeast: “Midwestern and Southeastern coyotes were genetically 90% coyotes, with an average 7.5% dog and 2.5% wolf.” In the northeast, they were “82% coyote, 9% dog, and 9% wolf.”

Back in 2007, EQAB member Liyuan Liang drafted an informational article on coyotes and how to live around them. Her article was submitted to the Oak Ridger as an EQAB contribution and published on May 21, 2007.  I found a slightly earlier draft of that article in my files, plus an information piece produced in 2008 by the Oak Ridge National Lab (ORNL) wildlife management staff, and I’ve pulled out some excerpts that I think are just as good to read in 2014 as they were in 2007 and 2008:

When did coyotes show up in Oak Ridge?

From ORNL: Historically known as an animal of the wild-west, the adaptable coyote has expanded its range into eastern North America while other carnivore populations (e.g. , wolves) have declined. Coyotes are now found in every corner of the United States, and they shift their behaviors to fit new habitats.

The first coyote probably crossed the Mississippi River into Tennessee around 1965. On the Oak Ridge Reservation (ORR) the first reported sighting of a coyote was in 1978, and the first coyote road kill happened in 1984. That same year, a pair of coyotes were observed raising a litter of pups on the east end of the reservation. In 1987 a pair of coyotes were trapped on the ORR and equipped with radio collars. They were radio-tracked for nine weeks during which time they ranged over an almost 4-square mile area. In 1990 ORNL researchers estimated that approximately 12 to 16 coyotes existed on the reservation. … Using known population densities from studies in other areas of the country, it is estimated that the reservation could potentially support as many as 50 or more coyotes.

Why are coyotes here now, when we didn’t have them before?

From the EQAB article: People unwittingly helped coyotes flourish when they exterminated most of the wolves in the United States. Coyotes became top dog, filling the wolf’s ecological niche. Deforestation and agriculture opened up previously dense tracts of forest, and human settlements, with their garbage, vegetable gardens, compost piles and domestic pets, provided food.

Describe the coyote’s “lifestyle” and what they eat.

A typical group of coyotes consists of a breeding pair and their offspring. The family group is largest in the summer when the pups, parents, and non-breeding adults are together at their den. Coyotes den in a variety of places, including brush-covered slopes, steep banks, rock ledges, caves, thickets, and hollow logs. Dens of other animals (such as groundhogs or foxes) are frequently used. In urban areas dens may include storm drains; culverts; holes in vacant lots, parks, and golf courses; and under storage sheds or porches.

Coyotes breed during January through March and typically produce five to six pups 60 to 63 days later. The entire family unit, including the mother, father, and other non-breeding family members, helps raise the young by providing food. Young coyotes begin dispersing in October and may travel up to 100 miles from their birthplace.

Coyotes are active mainly during the nighttime, but they can be moving at any time during the day.  Most sightings of coyotes occur during the hours close to sunrise and sunset.

They communicate through a series of yips, barks, and howls. A common call of the coyote is two short barks followed by a long wavering yodel known as the howl.

Adult males have large territories (15-25 square miles) in which they roam; adult females occupy areas of six to ten square miles. The availability of food affects territory size. Contrary to popular belief, coyotes do not hunt in packs. They are relatively solitary hunters, but they may hunt in groups when food is plentiful. They may also form packs to defend territories.

The coyote will eat almost anything, including rodents, rabbits, muskrats, groundhogs, squirrels, skunks, raccoons, songbirds, insects, watermelons, apples, and persimmons. They prefer fresh kills but will eat carrion. Recent studies have also shown that coyotes eat Canada goose eggs, goslings, and occasionally adults. Coyotes may take as many as 70 to 80 percent of the fawns of urban deer. Unfortunately, in urban areas their diet may also include garbage, pet food, cats, and small dogs.

When we see coyotes in neighborhood streets and yards, in the daytime, does that mean they are desperate for food, and dangerous?

In urban areas where coyotes aren’t hunted or trapped, they may lose their fear of humans. If they associate people with an easy and dependable source for food, they can become very bold. They will come up to the door of a house if food is regularly present. Coyote attacks are, however, extremely rare in contrast to the 4.7 million dog bites recorded in the United States each year. A person is millions of times more likely to get attacked by the family dog than by a coyote.

Wouldn’t it be a good idea to get rid of Oak Ridge’s coyotes by capturing them and killing them?

Eliminating individual coyotes doesn’t control their population. Remember that they produce litters of 5 or 6 pups. They also produce more young when their populations are low. This makes it very difficult to reduce coyote numbers. Scientists have determined that it would require removing nearly 70 percent of the population every year to maintain a sustained population reduction.

If we can’t rid of them, what we do to reduce the problems coyotes cause for our families and our pets?

* Do not feed coyotes!
* Eliminate sources of water. Water attracts rodents, birds, and snakes that coyotes feed on.
* Position bird feeders  so that coyotes can’t get the feed.  Coyotes are attracted by bread, table scraps, and even seed.  They may also be attracted by birds and rodents that come to the feeders.
* Do not discard edible garbage where coyotes can get to it.
* Secure garbage containers and eliminate garbage odors.
* Place trash cans out on pickup day. Putting them out the night before allows coyotes to scavenge under cover of darkness.
* Do not leave barbeque grills outside and uncovered. Food smells from the grill will attract coyotes.
* Feed pets indoors whenever possible.  Pick up any leftovers if feeding outdoors.  Store pet and livestock feed where it is inaccessible to wildlife.
* Trim and clear, near ground level, any shrubbery that provides hiding cover for coyotes or prey.
* Fencing your yard could deter coyotes.  The fence should be at least 6 feet high with the bottom extending at least 6 inches below ground level for best results.
* Don’t leave small children unattended outside if coyotes have been frequenting the area.
* Don’t allow pets to run free.  Keep them safely confined and provide secure nighttime housing for them.  Walk your dog on a leash and accompany your pet outside, especially at night.  Provide secure shelters for poultry, rabbits, and other vulnerable animals.
* Discourage coyotes from frequenting your area.  If you start seeing coyotes around your home or property, chase them away by shouting, making loud noises or throwing rocks.

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