The greening of GR plays center stage in Washington

March 30, 2009
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Peter Varga, executive director of The Rapid transit system recently testified before the House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming as part of a hearing titled “Constructing a Green Transportation Policy: Transit Modes and Infrastructure.” Varga was among a panel of four transit experts that included Andy Clark, executive director of the League of American Bicyclists; Chris Zimmerman, a member of the county board of Arlington County, Va.; and John Boesel, president and CEO of CALSTART.

Varga was invited to speak because The Rapid has earned a reputation as a national leader in sustainable transportation operations. The Rapid’s leadership in public transportation sustainable practices was recognized by the Sierra Club in 2008, along with transit systems in the cities of Denver and Minneapolis. Rapid Central Station was the first LEED-certified public transportation facility in the country, featuring energy-efficient technology, a living green roof, recycled materials, storm-water retention and the return of clean water to the storm sewer system.

The Rapid is now planning the renovation and expansion of its Wealthy Operations Center, and it, too, will be — you guessed it — a LEED-certified facility. The Rapid has five hybrid electric buses in its fleet and is proposing to purchase 10 more as part of the Silver Line bus rapid transit project.

Varga underscored the sustainable-minded nature of this town, noting in his testimony that Grand Rapids is also home to the first LEED-certified rectory, church, art museum and hospital. GR has been named by Fast Company Magazine as one of the greenest U.S. cities. Varga further informed the Select Committee that 18 percent of all LEED projects in the nation are in the greater Grand Rapids area.

Making some census of it all

Speaking of fun competition, the city of Grand Rapids has created its very own Complete Count Committee for next year’s census count. Committee members will be charged with getting the count out, so the city doesn’t miss out on federal funds or full representation in Washington, D.C.

Mayor George Heartwell revealed the number he wants the city to reach. “We’re only asking you to hit 200,001. That’s our goal.”

First Ward City Commissioner James Jendrasiak said he’d like to reach that number, too, but doesn’t think it will happen. “I’m not very optimistic that we’ll reach 200,001 with the way things are going,” he said.

For the record, the 2000 Census counted 197,830 city residents. So the mayor needs all of them plus 2,171 of their closest friends to hit his number.

A gauge on Lansing

If you were listening very closely last Tuesday morning about 8:45, you likely would have heard commercial real estate developers let out a collective “Whoop!” That’s about the time Public Affairs Associates’ Becky Bechler said to the county’s Legislative Committee: “The No. 1 mission for Senate Republicans is to cut the MBT surcharge.”

PAA is the county’s lobbyist, and Bechler had some good news for the county, too. She said the Senate has so far kept a pledge to return revenue sharing to some counties in next year’s state budget, just like Gov. Jennifer Granholm did in her version.

Although Kent isn’t scheduled to begin receiving those payments until 2011, County Administrator and Controller Daryl Delabbio has maintained that if Wayne County gets revenue sharing next year, then Kent has a better chance of getting it in two years. Wayne is in the governor’s and the Senate’s budgets. But October is more than a few days away, and just like the state’s weather, those budgets could change — especially if an unscheduled revenue conference takes place in April.

We’ll get back to you

Spectrum Health President & CEO Rick Breon was among the first to receive an invitation from University of Michigan Health System CEO Robert P. Kelch last year. But apparently Breon decided this particular party was a bit rich for Spectrum’s blood. The Michigan Particle Therapy Consortium is angling to be the first in the U.S. to build a $350 million carbon ion radiotherapy center, once it gains U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval. “He didn’t think it was the right time for them. I understand that,” said Kelch, a pediatric endocrinologist. In addition to the University of Michigan, consortium partners include Henry Ford Health Systems, Barbara Ann Karmanos Cancer Institute, both in Detroit, and Genesys Hurley Cancer Institute in Flint. Kelch said he thinks the carbon-ion technology is a step above the $150 million proton beam therapy being pursued by William Beaumont Hospitals, now on hold thanks to the recession.

No Cabela’s anytime soon

A Cabela's store in Walker is still not a done deal — which basically means the 302-acre Orchard Park retail development north of I-96 also is not a done deal.

John Castillo, who represents the Nebraska retail corporation, was asked recently if Cabela's has decided whether or not it will build a store in Walker.

"We have not. No," said Castillo.

Castillo explained that, up to the beginning of the recession, Cabela's had been opening as many as eight new stores a year.

With the recession, "we have revised our expansion plan," he said. Last year the chain opened two stores. This year it will open one, in Montana.

"Currently, we have plans to open one store in 2010 in New Jersey. And that, at this time, is all that we have committed to," he said.

"As far as your area, there is currently no plan to build a store there at this time," said Castillo.

The Orchard Park developers are still planning on bagging a Cabela's, however.

Zachary J. Bossenbroek, an attorney representing the developers, said the plans for a major retail development anchored by a Cabela's store "haven't really changed." However, no work is being done at the site, and the company has yet to present a detailed construction plan to Walker city officials for formal approval.

Bossenbroek would not comment further on the Orchard Park project, which first came to light in 2005. There is "too much up in the air at this point," he said.

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