Adam Fletcher

adam.fletcher.2.20.18At the steering committee meeting of February 20, our guest was Adam Fletcher, currently the Director of Community Development in Harrisonburg.  He has also been City Planner, so he has a grasp of much of what is happening in Harrisonburg just now.  WARNING!  Adam speaks very very fast!  So what follows may only resemble what he had to say!

His department has much to do with regulations:  with property, land use, engineering, planning and zoning as well as building inspections.  They are the ones who help us all avoid nasty surprises in public places as well as on private property.

They have adopted International Building Codes as well as Virginia Building Codes to ensure that what’s put up doesn’t fall down.  There are 25 people working in the department.

Listed in the Department’s section of the City of Harrisonburg website are both “By Right” uses as well as those closely regulated by the Commonwealth.  Virginia is a “Dillon Rule” state:  established in the 1860s and never overturned:  Whatever the state says you can do is OK.  If there is no mention, no ruling applicable to your question, you can’t!  Other states reverse that.

By state code, localities have the ability to control land use (zoning: 1939) i.e. what you can or cannot do.  “We list permitted uses.”  All others are prohibited, governed by zone:  residential, commercial, industrial. This includes set-back regulations, how close you can build to the property line.  However, state institutions like JMU don’t have to abide by local zoning:  observe how close the new Madison Hotel/parking lot is built to the curb and property lines.  Streets and water/sewer are controlled, so they have to abide by rules of interconnection.  All have to abide by environmental rules that come from the state, such as storm water management, air quality, etc.

Zoning such as “R-1“ means that to create a new lot, there must be at least 10,000 sq.ft. of land, and no more than 4 units/acre may be built.  B-1 (such as downtown) has the highest density, mixed use, in that you can both live and work in the area with no minimum space requirement. In B-1 zone there are no set back requirements and no parking requirements.   “Special use” permits may be requested and issued in an area zoned for another use.  That is a rule that is circumstantial, based on the characteristics of the property as well as the surrounding neighborhood.

Annexation is the only way political entities may grow.  In 1983 the state outlawed “hostile annexations” after Harrisonburg annexed the most highly valued commercial area of the county: Valley Mall. But if both entities agree, “friendly annexations” still occur.

Following a question about the Comprehensive Plan for the City, Mr. Fletcher replied that the current required periodic update is expected to be completed by late fall of this year.  These recommendations are only suggestions.  The voting is left to elected officials.  Updates of data, on the other hand, are staff originated.  Then the community gets involved.  Community involvement is aspirational and may run into legal barriers and previous regulations.  “Ordinance amendments” are of critical importance.  Pay attention!

Planning staff do respond to community groups that persist in petitioning change, and staff reports are an important “change detection tool”, posted online.  At the state level, “loopholes” are more often created by specific entities rather than community groups.

In closing he said “The democratic process does work if people get involved.”

– Anne Nielsen, for the CAAV Coalition-Building Committee, February 2018

Most months, the CAAV Coalition-Building Committee invites a community member or group to present to the CAAV steering committee about projects with which they are involved. We are grateful to be working with so many other groups and individuals passionate about creating a more resilient, healthy and just world.

Joshua Vana

CAAV Coalition Partner of the Month:  Joshua Vana of RAPTORS
January 16, 2018

JoshuaVana.1.16.18A native of Maryland, Josh arrived in Harrisonburg to acquire a degree in Justice Studies from James Madison University.  A fine guitarist, he currently performs with Nora Jane Struthers’ supporting band, The Party Line.  A little over a year ago, Appalachian Voices’ Virginia Field Organizer Lara Mack held a couple of anti-pipeline solidarity interest meetings in Harrisonburg. Out of these was born the Rockingham Alliance for the Protection and Transformation of Our Resources and Society (RAPTORS) with Josh as a founding member and chief organizer. Josh knew Lara from their days of working together at the iconic Little Grill Collective, of which they have both been worker-owners. RAPTORS was formed to address concerns over the Standing Rock pipeline conflict in the Dakotas, and to bring those concerns to the local area to fight the proposed Atlantic Coast and Mountain Valley Pipelines.  The goal of the group is to increase awareness of these issues locally and to act in solidarity with all those working on pipeline issues statewide and possibly beyond into North and South Carolina.

He notes that long term, it is difficult for the group to maintain the sense of urgency with which they began, but the fact that communities and owners of land that the pipelines will cross now have their backs against the wall helps to keep them focused.  The agencies in place ostensibly to protect communities appear instead to have “railroaded” the issue to support Dominion Energy and other corporate and private interests.

That said, the pipelines have not yet been built, and construction is not yet certain.  Until they are constructed RAPTORS is still attempting to delay and prevent that.  One piece of good news is that Senator Kaine recently recommended that the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) re-conduct hearings on both pipelines.  At the time FERC gave approval, the Board was down by two members, and it was a 2 to 1 vote.  Kaine also asked about “tolling orders” on the pipelines:  a set of FERC guidelines for the preconstruction work that must be done.  These orders are unclear, especially as regards eminent domain issues.  They are also contradictory:  by example, they prohibit “land disturbing activity” but allow felling trees, which is certainly “land disturbing”.

Recognition of the political muscle of Dominion Energy is increasingly recognized and opposed, particularly by aspiring young politicians like Sam Rasoul and Brent Finnegan.  (Note:  CAAV steering committee member Alleyn Harned intends to research allies of Dominion and legislative bills on the pipeline issue).   A packed house at the Augusta County Board of Zoning Appeals hearing on January 4 caused the tabling of a decision on a 34 acre Dominion pipeline construction yard on route 42 near Churchville that would fatally impact an innovative and productive, well-established sustainable family farm. They are likely to make a decision at the February 1, 1:30pm meeting in Verona. A petition against the zoning approval generated over 30,000 signatures within a couple of weeks.

Josh feels these pipelines may still be defeated, and that there are still many legal hurdles to their successful operation, regardless of whether they are constructed or not.  Letters can still be written, and he urges all who will write to do so, and to keep the issue local. (More things you can do below.)

– Anne Nielsen, for the CAAV Coalition-Building Committee, January 2018

Most months, the CAAV Coalition-Building Committee invites a community member or group to present to the CAAV steering committee about projects with which they are involved. We are grateful to be working with so many other groups and individuals passionate about creating a more resilient, healthy and just world.

From Josh: a few notes on some simple actions anyone can take to support pipeline fighters in our region.

Our next RAPTORS meeting will be Wednesday, January 31st at 6:45PM, Lucy Simms Center music room. For anyone who’d like to join our email list, send a message to RaptorsOfTheValley [at]

The next day, Thursday, February 1st, Augusta County will be holding their Board of Zoning Appeals meeting and presumably will be deciding on the Blosser issue. Meeting’s at the Augusta County Government complex in Verona, 1:30PM. Here’s the FB event link and Petition to stop the rezoning of a 34 acre lot in Churchill, VA for use as ACP’s construction staging yard.

In the case of Mountain Valley Pipeline, I believe the comment period is still open for the Virginia Marine Resources Commission, which holds a permit that MVP must obtain concerning state-owned subaqueous bottomlands in Virginia. Their public hearing is January 23rd, 9:30AM at the VMRC in Newport News. I’ll be attending. More info on commenting here. Also, FB event link here. You might notice that this hearing will be extremely difficult to attend for anyone in Western VA – the VMRC has apparently not taken much from our petition to hold hearings along the route, closer to those affected. I’ll be driving down early that morning.

You may also have seen that Tim Kaine recently made a statement asking for rehearings from FERC on ACP and MVP. You can sign the Sierra petition to legislators supporting the statement here. Calling legislators here to follow up and amplify the cause would be great.

Also, you can Vote for Bold Alliance to receive charitable donations from CREDO this month – Bold Alliance is an allegiance group of pipeline fighters combating KXL, MVP, ACP, and a number of other pipelines. Their organization has spread from Nebraska to Appalachia, from Iowa to Oklahoma, and now to Louisiana in their fight against Bayou Bridge. Bold Appalachia is the wing fighting MVP & ACP primarily.


Ben Meredith

ben.meredithThe Climate Action Alliance of the Valley’s long-time friend Benjamin Meredith, founder and owner of Building Knowledge, a company that does energy audits and guides energy efficiency improvements, came to present to the November 21 steering committee meeting. Benjamin is one of 10 persons selected for a new committee established by Harrisonburg City Council in 2016, the Environmental Performance Standards Advisory Committee, or “EPSAC”. Two elected officials, Richard Baugh representing City Council, and Deb Fitzgerald, representative for the School Board, are among the group. Ritchie Vaughn was elected chairperson of the group to present back to the City Council. City planner Thanh Dang gives overall guidance.

EPSAC began functioning this year. In only three meetings they have reached consensus on a substantial number of issues and possible actions. Excellent minutes are available online at City of Harrisonburg/EPSAC. The purpose of the committee has been established and many ideas have been submitted. Chris Brown, the city attorney, was brought in to explain how Dillon’s Rule governs what can be done by the city independent of state approval. At this point, much research is going into what is getting done and by whom on the issues of interest. The lofty ideals in evidence at the first meeting have been trimmed somewhat by the political climate in which we live. They are reaching out to both Roanoke and Charlottesville for input from their sustainability officers.

Members of EPSAC have now divided into three groups based on their particular interests and expertise: Water Quality, especially concerning the Dry River watershed; Sustainability, led by Tom Benevento; and Building Standards, led by Ben. As so much work has been done already by various city departments on water issues, Ben says that committee appears to be dissolving, although there is no city-wide conservation plan that he knows about. Underway is a plan to draw water from the South Fork of the Shenandoah River in the future. Currently Harrisonburg water comes about equally from Dry River at Switzer Reservoir (the original source) and North River in Bridgewater.

The Sustainability/Integrated plan under development by Tom Benevento’s subcommittee, after hearing from Roanoke and Charlottesville sustainability personnel, are working on a first draft action plan to include many environmental initiatives: greenhouse gas emissions inventory, energy efficiency for buildings, affordable renewables, transportation issues, water, and waste and recycling. The draft will be submitted to city council for feedback in January, after which an action plan and monitoring program will be developed.

The Building Standards subcommittee, led by Ben, will be developing proposals for city properties, including schools, and private commercial properties. They have met with building managers of many of these, and there are complications. While the city has little latitude on how state building codes are enforced, it also isn’t surprising that builders don’t like being pushed to change what they are doing. All MUST build to a minimum standard, but that is rarely more than the Code dictates. There have been recent attempts to track energy usage by city buildings, and all agree on the need for more data collection.

The new Bluestone Elementary School was built “solar ready”. The school board is interested in adding solar panels, and hopes to have the new high school built to the same standard. EPSAC members are encouraging that.

There is a lack of state incentives for energy efficiency, improvements for which often drive up building costs; but, Harrisonburg owns its buildings, so this is in their control. This subcommittee is working on how they can do that without substantial greater expense, and calculate the payoff from improvements.

Ben suggested that the subcommittee would like to create a working group among city operations staff to allow them to upgrade energy efficiency each time repairs or remodeling are done. THAT MAKES EMINENT SENSE TO US, BEN!

– Anne Nielsen, for the CAAV Coalition-Building Committee, November 2017

Most months, the CAAV Coalition-Building Committee invites a community member or group to present to the CAAV steering committee about projects with which they are involved. We are grateful to be working with so many other groups and individuals passionate about creating a more resilient, healthy and just world.

Matthew Wade

Matt Wade at the October 17 CAAV meeting.

About the biggest thing to happen lately in the world of Virginia Clean Cities (VCC) is the allocation of $14 million from the Volkswagen emissions scandal settlement to establish a network of electric vehicle (EV) charging stations in Virginia. This dramatic expansion of the state’s EV infrastructure stands to support and encourage putting a million EVs on the state’s roads over the next decade.

But this was an aside to the discussion Matt Wade, Deputy Director of VCC, brought to the CAAV meeting on Tuesday, October 17 as our invited Coalition Building partner of the month. Matt brought us up to speed on the current use of ethanol in fuels for gasoline engines. Ninety-seven percent of all fuels at the pumps are at least a 10% blend of ethanol with gasoline (E10). All cars made since 2001 can use E15, a fuel blend with 15% ethanol. E85-enabled vehicles have a yellow gas cap and can accept any blend up to 85% ethanol.

The use of ethanol in gasoline offers a locally made product that utilizes the carbon short term cycle and therefore reduced greenhouse gas emissions.

E85pumpsSince 2015, VCC has been involved with the Mid-Atlantic Biofuels Infrastructure Partnership which was granted $5.8 million in federal funds to expand the number of E15 and E85 fueling stations in Virginia, Maryland and Washington DC. Waynesboro and Mt. Jackson each have an E85 pump at a Sheetz Store. These are the closest to Harrisonburg. Find them all here.

Hopewell, VA, on the James River about 20 miles south of Richmond is home to the only ethanol plant on the east coast. It operates 24 hours a day using corn grown by Virginia and Maryland farmers.

Thanks to Matt for his work on climate-friendly transportation and for sharing his enthusiasm for clean air with CAAV.

– Adrie Voors, for the CAAV Coalition-Building Committee, October 2017

Photo below is from the Harrisonburg July 4, 2017, celebration at Turner Pavilion. CAAV and VCC along with members of Renew Rocktown showed off EVs and staffed tables with information about renewable and clean energy initiatives.


Most months, the CAAV Coalition-Building Committee invites a community member or group to present to the CAAV steering committee about projects with which they are involved. We are grateful to be working with so many other groups and individuals passionate about creating a more resilient, healthy and just world.

Fred Kniss
Fred Kniss

We were delighted to have Eastern Mennonite University Provost Fred Kniss as our Steering Committee speaker this month.  He brought a surprise in the form of Doug Graber Neufeld of the EMU Biology Department, who has recently been named Director of the Center for Sustainable Climate Solutions (CSCS).  CAAV committee members have been greatly anticipating more information about how the Center is developing, and what the role of the Center is expected to become.  We learned all that and a great deal more that has transpired in the past year from Dr. Kniss who has been the interim director for the CSCS.

A very important meeting was held last spring and several important partners have joined on the CSCS venture.  Right now those include not only the founding collaborators (EMU, Goshen College, and Mennonite Central Committee), but also representatives from various other Anabaptist stakeholder groups, including Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary, Mennonite Mission Network, Everence, and the Mennonite Creation Care Network.

Begun with a generous gift from EMU alumnus Ray Martin, as a “visible statement to the larger world that Mennonites are serious about climate change,” the Center is intended to advance thinking and action in faith communities to mitigate climate change through fostering research, innovation, education and collaboration to promote sustainable living on earth in the context of environmental justice and creation care.

Dr. Kniss pointed out that a sustainability component is already a part of all majors at EMU.  An energy audit by Siemens Corp. found little at the university to critique, as they have been working on energy efficiency and renewable energy for years, installing the first solar panels on their library before other universities in the area found that impetus.   They have completed a broad survey of 33,000 Mennonites, starting with clergy, on behaviors and practices.  They describe the results in terms of Yale University’s  “Six Americas” with the 6,000 responses in categories ranging from “alarmed” about climate change to “dismissive”, but were pleased to learn that Mennonites already appear more concerned than other faith groups or Americans in general in surveys of a similar nature.

A big question for both staff and the oversight board is the role of advocacy in the Center.  This is a school where students and donors don’t all agree, and there will have to be work to bring them along. Also should they focus on mitigation (the founding donor’s intent) or, at this point, adaptation or both, since the climate has already changed in many parts of the world?  Should they focus on one or two things where they might have a real impact, or spread resources more widely?–focus on their own efforts or on supporting those of others?  These are big and important questions, and it is obvious that the necessary focus and study—and probably a lot of prayer—have been put into beginning to discern the answers that will guide the future of the Center.  We congratulate all those who have brought the Center this far in a very short time, and feel thankful for major help in the endeavor to fight Climate Change in still beautiful but increasingly challenged Earth.

D.Graber.9.19.17.anNew CSCS Director Doug Graber Neufeld (photo at right) had just one remark to make at the end of the meeting.  He has recently returned from a two year sabbatical and research period in Kenya, and says “There are no climate change deniers there”.

There is a wonderful website at where many questions may be answered; you are encouraged to check it out.  A lovely and informative brochure is also available upon request.

– Anne Nielsen, for the CAAV Coalition-Building Committee, September 2017

Most months, the CAAV Coalition-Building Committee invites a community member or group to present to the CAAV steering committee about projects with which they are involved. We are grateful to be working with so many other groups and individuals passionate about creating a more resilient, healthy and just world.

Andrew Grigsby

LEAP—Local Energy Alliance Program
Executive Director Andrew Grigsby’s Presentation May 23, 2017

AndrewGrigsby-e1487166309633Andrew Grigsby began with an overview of his organization’s history and current activities.  From the LEAP website:

Our story began in the fall of 2009, when the City of Charlottesville and County of Albemarle jointly applied for and won a competitive grant to fund a community-based energy efficiency organization. After the formation of our Governance Board, the Local Energy alliance Program (LEAP) was incorporated as a 501c3 nonprofit in 2010. LEAP began its highly successful path of home energy upgrades by launching its Home Performance with ENERGY STAR program in July 2010, followed by a program for commercial property owners in 2011, and the start of renewable energy services with the first Solarize campaign in 2014.

In 2012, LEAP added a second office in northern Virginia and began offering a variety of services there. While our focus is on the greater Charlottesville and Northern Virginia regions, we’ve worked with partners and provided services and programs across most of Virginia. As we like to say, “every community needs a LEAP.” So, we go where we’re needed.

Since its inception, LEAP has established itself as a trusted leader in Virginia for home and business energy efficiency and renewables thanks to the relationships we have developed with our customers, contractors, local governments, and many other partners.

Residents struggling with high energy bills or uncomfortable homes and business owners seeking to cut energy costs come to LEAP for building science expertise and, when available, special rebates and loans to make energy upgrades more affordable.

LEAP’s mission is to lead the effort in local communities to implement energy efficient and renewable technologies in buildings; to promote cost savings for families and businesses, job creation, energy self-reliance, and local economic development; and to mitigate climate change.

At this point, with the ending of the stimulus funding from the Recovery Act, LEAP is down from 23 employees to 7 but has added an office in NOVA.  Instead of being fully funded with federal grant money, only 8% of its income is from grants and it is following a more entrepreneurial model.  Now the majority comes from acting as a ‘contractor’ for Dominion and other local utilities and its home energy audit rebate program and weatherization program for low income residents.  It also serves as a sub-contractor for Community Housing Partners (CHP).  Grigsby is hopeful that Dominion will re-establish its home energy checkup program later this year.  If so, he expects greater incentives for both LEAP and Dominion customers—e.g. recovery by LEAP for both walk-through and for direct installs and no income limit for customers.  He noted that for Dominion an advantage to a customer’s improving a home’s energy efficiency is reduction in demand, often during peak load times.

When called up by a customer, LEAP sends a specially trained “energy analyst” to any home more than 4 years old. In addition to the usual Dominion practice of switching out incandescent bulbs, wrapping water heaters, and adding weather stripping to doors, with the rebate covering the basic costs, LEAP gives a separate audit report to the customer with an itemized list of needed improvements in increasing order of cost and suggests competent reliable contractors.  Apartment buildings can be made more efficient through the VA Multi-family Energy Efficiency Coalition of the Virginia Housing Alliance.  As LEAP tells the landlords, doing this “will improve your property, make your renters happy and better able to pay their bills.”  Grigsby also noted two other entities with a focus on energy efficiency:  VA Housing Alliance and Energy Efficiency for All.

Grigsby suggested that what is needed now are companies that would offer turn-key services from audit to weatherization plus financing.  Some solar energy companies such as Sigora Solar and Altenergy are beginning to offer financing and the idea may spread.  Both companies are also including energy efficiency audits as part of their business models.

One of LEAP’s goals for the future is to get all municipal utilities to put money into energy efficiency incentive programs like Appalachian Power has in southwest Virginia, West Virginia and Tennessee. Grigsby noted that Elkton is one of the several municipal utilities in VA, and, of course, Harrisonburg Electric Commission (HEC) is another.

When asked about building codes (for new construction), Grigsby said the meaning and enforcement of “air-tight” is at the crux of the matter. Currently, “air-tight” can be determined either by a blower door test or by visual inspection and the usual choice is obvious.  However, inspectors in the Blacksburg area are requiring builders to supply real data, the kind that doesn’t come from a quick visual examination.  He added that the VA Building Code is currently undergoing revision and he is watching this closely as well as making recommendations.

Attendees asked about utility service areas and, following the meeting, Grigsby provided one. Find it here.  We also told him about the VA SUN campaign to ask Shenandoah Valley Electric Cooperative member/owners to encourage the co-op to improve its use of solar and its renewable energy policies.  In addition, we told him we were working with Renew Rocktown on ways to propose some win-win ways for HEC to do the same.  Further, we made him aware of Renew Rocktown’s current energy audit project.

From what we learned thanks to Andrew Grigsby’s presentation and responses to our many questions, attendees concluded that LEAP has been an admirable addition to the Charlottesville area and would make huge difference in Harrisonburg if the city could be convinced it was in their best interests to forego the additional income from the HEC that arises from wasted energy sales and require energy efficiency incentives to be offered.  We also think that LEAP’s having an office in Harrisonburg would facilitate efforts such as CAAV’s weatherization promotion program and Renew Rocktown’s energy audit project, if we can make any headway with HEC and the city through our upcoming collaborative effort noted above (that kicks off May 31).

Joni Grady and Joy Loving, for the CAAV Coalition-Building Committee, May 2017

Brenda Mead

CAAV Coalition Partner of the Month:  Brenda Mead, Director of Valley Conservation Council

BrendaMeadBrenda Mead comes to the Valley Conservation Council with lots of useful experience, wisdom and energy to burn.

She’s on a mission to get younger people into leadership roles…something all of us associated with nonprofits need to keep in steady view.  Two new hires lately fit the bill: one in marketing, another in land trust issues.

Valley Conservation Council is a land trust.  They work to preserve clean streams and farmland and the biodiversity they bring with them. With those come the bucolic viewscapes typical of the Shenandoah Valley.  They do that by acquiring conservation easements from those who love the land enough to place acreage into legally binding status.  In turn, VCC has a perpetual obligation to manage the conservation values of the land or the riparian buffers of streams, to protect soil and water and all the intrinsic values those entail.  Often the land is co-held with state soil and water conservation districts.  They do have a few “whole farm” easements, but many more riparian easements with 50ft. buffers along a stream through the land.  A familiar easement in Harrisonburg is the riparian buffer along Black’s Run in Purcell Park.  With the help of partners, the stream has been restored to natural curves that handle the occasional flooding better, and heavily planted with native streamside trees and shrubs.  CAAV helped several years ago in straightening young trees knocked over soon after they were planted by the force of flood water and debris it carried.

It’s not a simple operation.  It requires financial reserves sufficient for legal defense in case of a challenge, and also continuity of the trust, even if VCC should hit hard times and go out of existence.  Challenges most often occur when the original donors are deceased, and an heir (or purchaser) is not in sympathy with the intention.  Subdivision of the property or addition of more impervious surfaces affecting streams add major challenges requiring negotiation.

Responsible management requires regular, usually annual, monitoring visits.  Occasionally a new owner has not read the paper work, and doesn’t know about the requirements—and may object vigorously, requiring delicate handling.

With the gift of the easement comes a tax advantage.  If a parcel is worth $100,000 without an easement, and after acquiring one is worth $75,000, there is a $25,000 difference which is an allowed charitable deduction.  At the state level, tax preferences also grant tax credits, and allows the sale or transfer of those credits, but there are caps on both amounts and timing of awards.  One additional advantage comes with selling development easement rights to a government entity, such as a county.  When the county takes ownership, the easement becomes permanent.

With Dominion’s eagerness to traverse easements with new pipelines have come very attractive offers to the owners.  Dominion is offering a land trade to purchase land elsewhere in exchange for allowing a pipeline route.  In Highland Co., of eight easements, the owners of six have accepted Dominion’s offer, although the county does not agree that the deal is any advantage to the community. There will be new jobs, but only short-term for installation, and most of those jobs will be filled by people from elsewhere experienced in pipeline work. The Virginia Outdoors Foundation with a similar mission to the VCC is fighting back; VCC also plans to be around to do their work, regardless of the challenges.

Brenda says VCC is a 501c-3 nonprofit and welcomes donations.  They also welcome partnerships in the work of fulfilling their responsibilities to land and water.  Currently they have active partnerships with the Friends of Middle River, Friends of the North Fork, Shenandoah Valley Pure Water Forum, and the Battlefield Foundation.  You can also be added to their E-news list, if you wish.  Sign up!

– Anne Nielsen, for the CAAV Coalition-Building Committee, May 2017

Each month, the CAAV Coalition-Building Committee invites a community member or group to present to the CAAV steering committee about projects with which they are involved. We are grateful to be working with so many other groups and individuals passionate about creating a more resilient, healthy and just world.

Cornelius Frantz

Cornelius.4.18.17Those attending the Climate Action Alliance of the Valley’s steering committee meeting on April 18 had the pleasure of hearing from Vine & Fig gardens manager Cornelius Frantz. He has been here less than a year and already making great strides to create edible food forests and composting opportunities accessible to area residents.

CAAV steering committee member Charlie Strickler introduced Cornelius having gotten acquainted with him during many hours of driving together last winter to spend time at Standing Rock to protest the North Dakota Access Pipeline.

With roots in Michigan, stints in Seattle and Pittsburg, and three years in Sarajevo, Bosnia working for the Mennonite Central Committee, Cornelius brings a diverse background to his endeavors here. Connecting with Vine & Fig’s work to
create “… sustainable systems that care for the earth, empower people, educate and inspire, and build the foundation for a nonviolent lifestyle,” he uses phrases like “voluntary poverty,” “downward mobility,” and “questioning cultural burdens,” as good things to strive toward. He lives in the Vine & Fig house on N. Main St. with his wife Shauna. He pedals the compostables from the Food Co-op and the Little Grill up to three times a week to the Vine & Fig gardens to enrich the soil there for the extensive gardens which he is transitioning to perennial crops through permaculture design processes.

Along with some recent graduates of a weekend-long fruit tree school held at Vine & Fig last February, Cornelius hopes to create a demo edible forest garden on some unused Harrisonburg Parks and Rec property along Blacks Run and establish a tree nursery to supply other neighborhoods and churches with perennial food orchards. To that end the group has been grafting fruit and nut trees.

Cornelius has identified 12 potential sites to host combination fruit gardens and compost collection sites to nourish the gardens.

There are many challenges to accomplishing his goals, but we’ll be rooting for him and his hard work to help make our community more resilient and equitable.

– Adrie Voors, for the CAAV Coalition-Building Committee, April 29, 2017

Each month, the CAAV Coalition-Building Committee invites a community member or group to present to the CAAV steering committee about projects with which they are involved. We are grateful to be working with so many other groups and individuals passionate about creating a more resilient, healthy and just world.

Remy Pangle

CAAV Coalition-Building speaker 2/21/17: Remy Pangle

The steering committee had a real earful today of great news from Remy and the Center for Wind Energy at James Madison University.  This high energy person is well suited to her job of helping to push renewable energy forward against all odds.


An interesting new development is their program of loaner solar panels in “Wind for Schools”  in which educators devise educational displays employing the panels, with the plans for electrical connections to ensure it works.  One cleverly designed function runs fans in an outdoor play area, mounted on uprights of a large covered sandbox. They have about a dozen panels still available for loan if you have some bright ideas!

The Center’s education/outreach/research and deployment wing is becoming more diverse in its focus, as they add solar and energy efficiency to their bag of tricks.  They operate regional wind challenges in Middle and High school competitions as well, with cash prizes to encourage students and their teachers.  There is another competition for college students.

Do check out the Center for Wind Energy’s website, which is lavish with enticing ideas and applications, including events for homeowners, professional certification and training for solar installers and energy auditors.  There is even help available in crafting new ordinances for governmental uses of alternative energy and energy efficiency measures.

New work involving research on distributed wind for onsite electrical generation (mostly rooftop)  under one megawatt is particularly exciting, involving new types of turbines, as well as larger projects on state-owned facilities in collaboration with the Virginia Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy and the Virginia Department of Transportation, etc.  Revolving loan programs are under development, but there are questions still to be resolved.  Dominion will remain the provider, but there is progress.

As with many other great ideas, the key to development of wind energy in the US depends on good policies.  Tax credits have been helpful, but that funding is has been intermittent and too short term for big projects.  While distributed wind electrical generation is currently found mostly in the midwest and overall deployment in the US is small, there is potential for up to 30% of total electrical generation by 2050, with plenty of good places in Virginia, including offshore.  Dominion continues to be a brake on this form of renewable energy as well, and there presently isn’t much movement on wind development in Virginia.  They lost funding for their advanced wind plan for offshore, but still own the leases.  They may lose those rights as well if they don’t act soon.

Among frequently asked questions is that of impact on bird populations. At this point, land bird kills by wind turbines are less problematic than by feral cats, skyscrapers and other buildings. Current evidence from Europe suggests that avoidance of offshore turbines by birds is frequent, and deaths are fewer. Population health of all indigenous wildlife must be considered in planning, but with proper siting, kills can be greatly reduced.  Regarding impact on bats, it has been learned that bats feed most heavily when winds are still and insects more abundant.  As little electricity is generated under those conditions, simply turning turbines off when wind speeds are low can reduce bat kills by as much as 80%.

Major factors involved in feasibility studies of wind development include winds, space, topography, proximity to transmission lines, proximity to substation and high kilovolt lines, environmental impacts, wildlife, aesthetic issues, and presence/absence of forest cover.  Projects that have been proposed and prospected include the Highland Wind Project which has been on hold for years, and the Rocky Forge Project in Botetourt County which is awaiting state approval, but sidetracked by a suit from nearby Rockbridge County on aesthetic grounds.   It is a bald mountain only used for hunting with good winds that would generate about 150 jobs in construction and 5-7 permanent jobs afterward, with an estimated $25 million in economic benefits to the area.

Remy encourages contact for her help in working with curriculum development or applications—or a great program for your organization!  Contact her at

– Anne Nielsen, for the CAAV Coalition-Building Committee, February 21, 2017

Each month, the CAAV Coalition-Building Committee invites a community member or group to present to the CAAV steering committee about projects with which they are involved. We are grateful to be working with so many other groups and individuals passionate about creating a more resilient, healthy and just world.

Richard Baugh

richard1-17-2Our Coalition speaker for January 2017 was Richard Baugh, long-time Harrisonburg resident, lawyer and three-term City Council member.  He serves the Commonwealth in many ways, and got the CAAV steering committee up to speed on several matters.  We were especially interested to hear from him about his service to the Chesapeake Bay Program and his appointment as the Council liaison to the new Environmental Performance Advisory Committee.

He was appointed to the Local Government Advisory Committee (LGAC) to the Chesapeake Bay Program by Gov. McAuliffe three years ago.  The LGAC is one of three advisory committees to the Chesapeake Bay Program along with a science committee and a citizen’s committee.  They work with the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Governor’s office on the many issues affecting the Bay.  While historically the LGAC had the least clout it is now the most engaged of the three.   Richard thinks that over the years, its standards have moved from aspirational to requirements for action.  Of the other states that border on or impact the watershed, Delaware has now appointed someone, and a representative from West Virginia now attends the meetings.

Storm water requirements have driven some of the engagement.  Counties in Virginia are all over the map in their level of compliance:  Harrisonburg is doing well; King George’s Co. still has ditches that must serve as storm drains.

Richard is the first person from the Shenandoah Valley to serve on the LGAC.  Appointees are, of course, subject to change with elections.

A major failure in the system is that regional groups really don’t have an easy way to talk with each other.  The Virginia Municipal League set up a session for regional level communication, but when it happened, the city representatives there wanted to talk with other city reps, town reps with town reps and county reps with other county reps.  So it didn’t work well to foster communication on a regional level.  But it wasn’t that communication isn’t needed or desired.

Concerning the newly appointed Environmental Performance Advisory Committee, Richard understands that there is a lack of clarity on what the body is expected to do.  The mandate is fairly broad, however, and that presents an opportunity for the members to help formulate their agenda.  It is his hope that they will help the planning commission and city council with particular issues, reminding them that the group exists to advise.  He is optimistic that this volunteer group can help in many of the ways that the proposed full-time sustainability coordinator might have done, on a full range of environmental issues in the city.   They will need staff connection and Richard will be finding out which department(s) will be affiliated with them.  Community Development and Public Works are the most likely.

Thanks Richard!  We learned a lot from you.

– Anne Nielsen, for the CAAV Coalition-Building Committee

Each month, the CAAV Coalition Building Committee invites a community member or group to present to the CAAV steering committee about projects with which they are involved. We are grateful to be working with so many other groups and individuals passionate about creating a more resilient, healthy and just world.