Boris Ozuna

boris11-15-300Boris Ozuna, the new director of Harrisonburg’s International Festival, studied peace and development at Eastern Mennonite University and came to the U.S. from Columbia, where he had similar experiences of war, famine, political/religious persecution as many area expatriates. He coordinates many events highlighting the history, culture, and issues of the area’s immigrants.

Boris spoke to the Steering Committee about the primary issues and concerns he sees in the minority and immigrant communities in the Harrisonburg area. He encouraged CAAV members to seek to better understand the needs of our fellow residents, many of whom have come from vastly different backgrounds as our own. He emphasized that only by first grasping the worries, major concerns and problems, perceived threats, and experiences of others and assisting them in their actions to address their issues, can we hope for their focus on the many real issues we all face with climate change.

His hour-long remarks included extensive dialogue with Steering Committee members. He offered his view that Harrisonburg needs a coalition of the various groups that focus on disparate community-related matters to work cooperatively in addressing our mutual concerns.

– Joy Loving 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.

Andy Kohen

CAAV Coalition Partner of the Month:  Andy Kohen, Harrisonburg School Board

andykohen-10-18-16Energy efficiency is a measure of how much energy is lost from buildings, and thus a focus of the Climate Action Allianace of the Valley’s concern. After using fossil fuels to heat, cool and power buildings, varying amounts escapes them, depending on how much thought and quality goes into building them, adding to their carbon foot-print as long as they are in use.  Dr. Kohen is a JMU emeritus professor of economics and thus is uniquely qualified to speak to the effects of energy efficiency on the long-term costs of schools, in addition to their health and comfort level.  As the Harrisonburg City Council begins to search for funding for two new schools following an accelerating population increase, the difficulty multiplies.  Both in clarifying the intentions for the new schools and in funding them, Dr. Kohen walked through the process for CAAV’s steering committee October 18.

The government Energy Star program defines energy efficiency as an energy use intensity (EUI) derived from energy use per square foot per year. The better the energy efficiency, the lower the EUI.   It graphs typical energy efficiency of US K-12 schools at 50-100 EUI.  The good news is that the energy efficiency of both new schools being designed VMCO architects will be substantially better than any existing one in Harrisonburg:  projected for the Bluestone elementary, 20 EUI and for the Elon Rhodes Early Learning Center, 15 EUI.  Both schools will be PV-ready although it is unlikely city council can justify the additional $600,000 to put solar panels on the Bluestone school, with an estimated $34 million already committed.

First always in funding schools come core educational goals.  Magnifying the difficulty of adding energy efficiency and solar panels as core concepts for new schools is two-fold: the current reluctance state-wide to raise property taxes—the major way Virginia gets money for building schools– and at the same time, the political process, which will put two or three new members on city council and three new school board members.  The soonest the possibility can even be addressed will be January 2017, when all new members are installed.  Andy affirmed, however, that the school board is sensitive to energy efficiency issues.

The controversial but very necessary requirement to also expand the high school capacity that is now more than 300 students above built capacity is still mired in whether an annex to the current high school would be a better solution or a new school at another site. There is NO money right now to build either, and would likely require a change in the self-imposed city debt limit to do it.

– Anne Nielsen, for 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.

Kai Degner

Kai with pink slips for Bob Goodlatte

Kai Degner came to the September 20 CAAV steering committee meeting to say that he has “nothing to lose, so I can tell it how it is.” He’s running a hard race for the 6th district congressional seat against incumbent (24 years) Bob Goodlatte. If you are a “climate voter” you will want to know where Degner stands.

First, Kai is a friend of earth’s systems.  He knows the importance of clean air, water, healthy soil and food.  He also knows the truth and the science behind climate change, and wants to help meet that challenge, that big challenge before all of us.

Kai Degner is deeply invested in community building.  And he encourages all of us to share our thoughts about how to make things better for each of us, and for the next generation.  His community forums…he calls them “summits”… are venues to build bridges between various groups and individuals, eliciting ideas and solutions.  “As part of my campaign, I am hosting 5 citizen assemblies designed for us to discuss becoming a more perfect union, just as our Constitution calls for.”  The first, in Harrisonburg August 27 addressed all those issues that make the headlines:  gun violence, police and community relations, drug abuse, mental illness and incarceration, more.  Read online about the results of that summit, and make it to the next one:

“Preserving America the Beautiful,” Saturday, Oct. 1 in Waynesboro, 9:30AM-2:00PM at Best Western Waynesboro Inn & Suites Conference Center, 109 Apple Tree Lane.  There is no charge for the summit, but you are encouraged to register at his online site.  Farm and food issues, sustainability, pipelines and fracking, climate change, solar and wind energy, transportation and fuels, national parks and forests, wilderness protection. Sounds great?  I’m sure it will be.  See you there!

His website with more details on where he stands on many issues can be found at

CAAV has been attempting for eight years to deliver our message to Mr. Goodlatte. It is rare that we even see him. He was invited recently to speak to the CAAV steering committee, but did not respond to the invitation. In spite of the dramatic increase in climate change already underway, when asked about support for renewable energy during a recent phone-in Town Hall, Mr. Goodlatte said that it would be a waste of money that should be spent only on adaptation.

– Anne Nielsen, CAAV Coalition Building Committee with Joni Grady, CAAV Events and Education 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.

Lara Mack

LaraMack.8.16.16Our CAAV Coalition speaker on August 16 was Lara Mack, Virginia Field Organizer for Appalachian Voices. That group was founded to battle the damage from Mountain Top Removal to Appalachian communities and their environment. It has now expanded to include collaboration with others focusing on actions that promote healthy communities and transition off fossil fuels throughout Virginia. Major foci include safe coal ash disposition, energy savings and efficiency that lower costs to rate payers, fighting fracked gas pipelines and legislation to promote renewable energy, especially solar.

Any group that needs a public presentation on the argument that we don’t actually need more pipelines in Virginia is invited to check out these links:
Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis –
Risks Associated With Natural Gas Pipeline Expansion Across Appalachia, April 2016

Their marvelous publication, Appalachian Voice, is distributed free at several locations in Harrisonburg and elsewhere. It includes several articles on the important biodiversity of the Appalachian region—and why they work so hard to slow and prevent destruction—as well as information on electric coops, the local food movement, and updates on legislation affecting the region. Find it quickly!

If you would like to get in touch with Lara about Appalachian Voices’ Virginia work on renewable energy, environmental justice, and the fracked gas pipelines, contact her at lara[at]appvoices[dot]org.

If you are interested in becoming a member of Appalachian Voices, you may sign up here. Members support the group’s legal standing in court cases and give input on board members and programmatic work. If you become a member, you will receive their monthly e-newsletter “The Advocate” and will also receive the Appalachian Voice in your mail!

Events they’ll be participating in for the coming months include the following:

  • Community Meetings to discuss the threats of the Mountain Valley Pipeline
  • Hands Across the Appalachian Trail – Nelson County, Blue Ridge Parkway – Saturday, Sept 17th at 10:30AM, Humpback Rocks Farm Parking Area on the Blue Ridge Parkway at milepost 5.8

This event brings attention to the Appalachian Trail Conservancy’s vision to “connect the human spirit with nature – preserving the delicate majesty of the Trail as a haven for all to enjoy.” Everyone should have the opportunity for that experience.

JOIN HANDS with us to ensure the Trail remains protected!
Event plan: sign making, a few short speeches then we will stretch our joined hands for a photo shoot. Bring signs or make one when you arrive – we will provide materials.

Amelia Williams


Our coalition speaker for July was Amelia Williams, artist/poet/activist from the Rockfish Valley area of Nelson County. This PhD English major has poems in several publications, and a book, Walking Wildwood Trail. Her latest venture is catching a great deal of attention:  She is planting copyrighted art works with poems incorporated along the path of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline (with proceeds donated to Wild Virginia for the battle against construction). When the proposed  pipeline path was changed, she started yet another series of art installations. Now she is teaching others how to do this, with both the art and the copyright adding additional legal obstacles to the construction of this enormous compressed gas pipeline through farmlands, old growth woodlands and National Forest, and too near homes and schools to ever be considered safe by most of us.

Amelia’s artworks are designed with place in mind; the sixteen on the Wildwood Trail are in muted earth tones and made of biodegradable materials. They will not be permanent in the landscape. A GPS map and trail map allow people to track down each piece, often located off the ground in trees. Working with wool, recycled paper, wood, found materials and beeswax, both plain and colored, her work looks almost as if it has grown there. When the proposed  pipeline path was changed, another alarmed landowner contacted Amelia, and she started yet another series of art installations. The newest project in Bath County consists of three parts in a large triangle. Each is separated by a 30 minute walk from the next, and with a nod to the homeowners’ wishes, is made of more durable materials, including rocks, bone, copper pipe and jewelry parts. They represent the pipeline itself, the blast zone for construction, and the threatened homes. As all the works are on private property, labors of love, you’ll need permission to see them.

Thanks, Amelia.  We love your wildly imaginative, subversive creations.

– Anne Nielsen, CAAV Coalition Building Committee

Photos below are from Amelia of the piece “Blast.” The entire work is called “Triage.” It is located along the proposed Atlantic Coast Pipeline pathway on private property in Bath County.


More on Amelia from her “poet bio”:

Amelia Williams on the right and another Nelson County resident at the Washington, DC march during the Pope’s visit, September 2015.

Amelia L. Williams, PhD is a poet and writer/editor who lives in the rural Rockfish River Valley of Central Virginia. She is the author of Walking Wildwood Trail: Poems and Photographs, a book of photos and lyrical poems from a 3-mile trail of eco-poetry art works in Nelson County. The trail celebrates the Central Virginia landscapes that the proposed fracked-gas Atlantic Coast Pipeline would ravage. Williams has long been interested in the productive intersections of artistic creativity, mindfulness practice and the spirit of place – synergies made more urgent by her activism against the ACP. She received her doctorate in English Literature at the University of Virginia. Her work has appeared in Centrifugal Eye, The Blue Ridge Anthology, Sow’s Ear Poetry Review, The Piedmont Virginian, and elsewhere. A portion of her poetry exchange about the “growing season” with poet Tricia Knoll appeared on the Orion Magazine Tumblr blog on May 15, 2014. She is a fellow of the Hambidge Center for the Creative Arts & Sciences.

Please note:  Steering committee meetings are open, and you are encouraged to come and hear our coalition speakers, held on the third Tuesday of each month at WVPT at 1pm 


Jenny French, president of SunRunr of Virginia, Inc.

Have you ever had the experience of using a generator, perhaps when the power went out at home?  It is horrible in just about every way except for getting the lights back on.  Noisy, you can wake up the neighborhood; polluting, must be used outdoors, don’t even think about pulling it into the garage.   And be sure to keep gasoline on hand and remember to change the oil now and then—because if you don’t, the lights are not coming on.

Now consider instead that you are using a generator whose only sounds are those of a fan and controls clicking; that there are no fumes at all, and no gasoline, no oil required.  Sounds like a dream, doesn’t it?  Well, that’s what SunRunr, Inc. has come up with– A fairly compact system (160lbs) consisting of a pair of solar panels with a rechargeable battery and inverter that produces household electricity.  It can even be adapted to different currents for other countries, and is prewired to run on energy from wind and water, as well as sunshine.  It IS a dream system.

Jenny and Scott French, with the inventor, Alan Mattichak are the management team, and this home-grown company is good enough that they were the Virginia choice to be invited to the White House with just six companies from other states to show off new renewable energy technologies.  Jenny was seated next to President Obama.  That would really make me tongue-tied, I don’t know how she survived the experience.

Jenny and Scott put a unit in the back of a pickup truck and brought it to the June 21, 2016, CAAV steering committee meeting for us to see.  Check out our photos!

While they sell units as backup systems for many uses and as the central system for some remote areas, the most rapidly developing market appears to be in other parts of the world:  Africa, the Canary Islands, other places that I can’t find on a map.  You can go online to get lots of details and find your system at

– Anne Nielsen, CAAV Coalition Building Committee

Deb Fitzgerald

debfitzgeraldThe coalition visitor to the May 17th meeting of the CAAV steering committee was Deb Fitzgerald, chair of the Harrisonburg Planning Commission.

She told us that “Harrisonburg’s Comprehensive plan is due for an update.  This document lays out the strategic goals localities aim to achieve over the short and long run, and describe a set of prioritized targets and strategies used to achieve them.   Environmental/sustainability  goals and strategies have featured prominently in the plan. According to Section 15.2-2230 of the Code of Virginia, every five years the city’s Comprehensive Plan shall be reviewed by the Planning Commission to determine whether it is advisable to amend the plan. The Comprehensive Plan was last officially updated and amended between 2009 and 2011. City Council adopted the current Comprehensive Plan on May 10, 2011.

During the regular June Harrisonburg Planning Commission meeting, members will begin discussion of the process for this next required update of the city’s Comprehensive Plan.  The meeting is on Wednesday, June 8th at 7PM in Harrisonburg City Council Chambers.

Interested folks can visit:

Click to access 06%20June%202016%20Packet.pdf

and read pages 82-84 for a bit of history about the process used during the last 2 comp plan updates.  Note that the comp plan discussion is item 7 of 7 items of new business for the June meeting, somewhat later on the agenda.”

The meetings are open and those concerned about the sustainability future of the area are urged to attend. Both transportation and environmental issues will become a part of this update.   Planning commission meetings are somewhat more interactive than City Council meetings, but as this item appears late in the agenda, be prepared for that.

Thanks, Deb!

Deb Fitzgerald, current chair of the Harrisonburg Planning Commission, was our May coalition speaker.  City council appoints members of the commission.  While appointment (as opposed to election) preserves independence, there is a cost. Another member of the commission will be appointed shortly.

The required periodic Comprehensive Plan update was begun in March of this year.   Three council members think the Comprehensive Plan should be stripped down to the bare minimum required.  Two of those will remain on council after the November election but the two replacements elected will have strong influence.  Many of the goals of the Plan are aspirational, and some citizens have pushed hard on environmental impacts, building code updates etc. and some council members are reacting to that.  Aspirational goals may be endangered by the direction of city council.  Unless concerned citizens remain aware and on top of the process, it is likely that nothing will change.

The part of the Comprehensive Plan that is specifically in question is Objective 8.3:  To create a set of environmental performance standards for public and private development and redevelopment projects.

Barriers to implementation:  The city must build three schools.  The population is exploding, primarily through immigration.  The city manager’s office may not be equipped to run a city growing this fast (and over 50,000 now).  The city school population is now majority Hispanic.  Also, other “model” locations in Virginia (C’ville, Fairfax, Roanoke, Blacksburg) apply environmental performance standards to public facilities and programs only.  Private participation is voluntary except for compliance with existing state/federal applicable regulations and codes.  Some localities do provide incentives for private development to meet voluntary performance standards.

An advisory committee may be created, similar to the one that functioned to develop and implement new stormwater management regulations and programs.  They would compile an inventory of existing standards followed by the City and institute a public input process including Council-desired and citizen-desired additional standards, followed by a report to Council.  CAAV should at least keep tabs on progress of creation of the advisory committee and who is on it.

– Anne Nielsen, CAAV Coalition Building Committee

Teshome Molalenge

Teshome Molalenge, Director of Bridgewater College’s Center for Sustainability, on left, spoke at the CAAV steering committee meeting on April 19, 2016. CAAV members Bishop Dansby and Alleyn Harned are on right.

The Climate Action Alliance of the Valley’s (CAAV) steering committee welcomed Teshome Molalenge to our meeting April 19. He is the first Director of the Bridgewater College Center for Sustainability, created in 2012. The good news is that he has already had the support of three college presidents, and outreach to faculty and the student body.  Stewardship and Sustainability are now a part of the strategic plan for the college and a part of its students’ experience and college actions across the campus. There is an annual “Water Day,” a focus on energy efficiency and conservation, recycling, a grant to work on implementing solar technology. On Earth Day there is an annual tree planting event. They are working toward installation of water bottle filling stations on the campus in order to reduce the use and discard of plastic water bottles, an effort begun by an individual student whose action resulted in financial support from both faculty and administration. The continuing actions of Mr. Molalenge and others have landed Bridgewater College on the national list of “Green Colleges in America.”

Eighty percent of undergraduate classes now incorporate sustainability issues. Dr. Bushman, the new President, is an enthusiastic supporter, and is pushing to extend the message into the surrounding community.

We at CAAV are glad to learn about all the efforts of Mr. Molalenge and cheer for him and his collaborators as they work to make Bridgewater College and its environs a truly earth-friendly, sustainable community.

– Anne Nielsen, CAAV Coalition Building Committee

Vine & Fig

Tom.CAAV.3.15.16March 15, 2016

One of CAAV’s favorite Coalition partners came to the March 15 meeting of the steering committee.  Tom Benevento of Vine & Fig (new name for New Community Project in H’burg) always has a lot going on.  He keeps interns, visitors and locals engaged and amazed by what is happening onsite at the North Main St. Sustainable Living Center.  They have recently improved the outdoor shower by using a biomass heater instead of solar.  It is essentially a composter, and channels the heat from the process to warm the water in the shower.  When it gives out, the compost is ready to use on the gardens—a genuine “twofer.”  This shower is available not only to those working in the gardens, but also to homeless persons in that area, who often have no place to wash up.  As the center has always served to promote the health and well-being of marginalized people, it extends that mission just a little further into the community in need.

The national New Community Project has recently refocused on addressing climate change because of its threat to  humanity–especially to the most vulnerable people across the globe.  Vine & Fig was central to the November 2015 Postcard to Paris event,  and now they are doubling down on the issue. The “Renew Rocktown” project is subtitled “Harrisonburg Climate Recovery and Resiliency Strategic Plan.”  In the Plan, “Citizens lead the way, build diversity, positive and fun, focus on actions and effective results, supportive of city council and staff, work for justice and build relationships.” The goal is a 50% CO2 reduction by 2035 and 100% reduction by 2050.  To that end, both “citizens and government must become educated on the subject and action oriented.”  In their sights at the beginning is a big push on energy efficiency, continuing focus on biking/pedestrian paths with interconnections across the city, an improved city bus system, more local sustainable food production, attention to waste reduction and recycling, with multicultural integration throughout.  There is a very thorough long term plan with stepwise implementation through both government and nongovernment agencies, aimed to make Harrisonburg a model city.  This is really exciting stuff.  Look for their upcoming website for more information, and invite Tom to share his vision with your group.

– Anne Nielsen, CAAV Coalition Building Committee

Photos below by Anne Nielsen taken at the Post Card to Paris event on November 29, 2015.


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.

Harrisonburg Cohousing

Carina.Young.1February 16, 2016

Carina Young, the lead initiator of the group Harrisonburg Cohousing, and fellow member Barbara Colson, made members of the CAAV Steering Committee wish they were younger and had more options, as the many benefits of co-housing became plain to us.  “A neighborhood designed to promote community,” it is neither a commune nor a religious group, but with a positive environmental focus.  We were shown several such “built communities” already established in Virginia, including Abingdon, Blacksburg, and Vienna of some 150 in North America.

In Cohousing design, cars are deemphasized and relegated to the outer edges of the community, creating quiet, safe green spaces for walking paths, children’s play areas and outdoor gathering spaces.  They also contain a Common or Group House for gatherings and group dining, all designed by the people who plan to live there.  Housing units may be single family, condos or townhouses, but typically are smaller than the average U.S. home, both to promote energy efficiency and gathering in community.  Existing communities have 15-33 housing units, and 40-100 people.  About 50 person communities seem to be most successful.

Carina.Young.2cropCohousing promotes a practical and spontaneous intergenerational lifestyle, where children and older adults are all prized and create a knowledge pool for problem solving, offering “the best of dorm and retirement community living.”

Attend one of the bimonthly potlucks to get acquainted and learn more.  Harrisonburg Cohousing  is still at an early stage of development, so if it seems to you, as it does to us, like an interesting and fun way to live more sustainably and compensate for the widespread loss of extended family, get in touch through their website now!

– Anne Nielsen, CAAV Coalition Building Committee

Carina shared this video with the CAAV steering committee (click on image to view):


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.