Center of Excellence for Sustainable Development
WelcomeContact UsSite IndexNewsletter



Articles/Publications


Rebuilding for the Future....

A Guide to Sustainable
Redevelopment for
Disaster-Affected
Communities

U.S. Department of Energy
September 1994

NOTICE

This report was prepared as an account of work sponsored by the United States Government. Neither the United States nor the United States Department of Energy, nor any of their employees, nor any of their contractors, subcontractors nor their employees makes any warantee, expressed or implied, or assumes any legal liability or responsibility for the accuracy, completeness or usefulness of any information, apparatus, product, or process disclosed, or represents that its use would not infringe privately owned rights.

Photographs by Kathy Fairchild

Photograph on page 22 by Eileen Schoville

Publication design and layout by Roberta F. Stauffer


Rebuilding for
the Future...

A Guide
to Sustainable Redevelopment
for Disaster-Affected Communities

Written by
William S. Becker
U.S. Department of Energy

With the assistance of
Roberta F. Stauffer
National Center for Appropriate Technology


Foreword

As this booklet is being prepared in the Fall of 1994, several profound changes are evolving in federal policy.

Sustainable development, a concept defined by a United Nations commission in 1986, is becoming an accepted principle among government agencies, as well as a widely valued strategy for economic development worldwide.

Renewable energy resources, which experienced a burst of national interest after the oil shocks of the 1970s, only to be forgotten by most consumers during the 1980s, are enjoying a comeback. Solar, wind, geothermal and biomass power all are being appreciated by policy makers again as keys to making economic development compatible with environmental health.

National disaster policy is undergoing a revolution. Since the mid-1930s, when the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers was told by Congress to tame the nation's rivers, considerable treasure and know-how were spent building flood control structures -- dams, levees and the like.

Now, humbled 60 years later by the Great Flood of 1993 in the Midwest, policy makers are accepting a new approach: It's time to make peace with rivers. The Great Flood appears to be giving birth to a nonstructural era in which the principal strategy will be not to fight flooding but to avoid it, often by moving people out of the way.

These developments are important signs of maturity in federal policy. But as it turns out, the seeds were planted long ago and far away from Washington, D.C., by a village deep in the Mississippi River watershed. Soldiers Grove, Wisconsin, pioneered the three-cornered strategy of relocation, renewable energy and sustainable development starting in 1975. Few people paid attention. After the Great Flood forced other Midwest communities to decide whether and how to rebuild, however, the story of Soldiers Grove surfaced as a model.

In 1978, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) played a role in helping Soldiers Grove study its energy options. Now, at a time when more communities are thinking about following a similar path to find their futures, we are pleased to offer this case study of the Soldiers Grove project.

Christine A. Ervin
Assistant Secretary
Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy
September 1994


Table of Contents

Introduction

Chapter One: Why Sustainability?

Chapter Two: Soldiers Grove

Chapter Three: How to Begin Planning

Chapter Four: Citizen Involvement

Chapter Five: Making a Master Plan

Chapter Six: Sustainable Design Choices

Chapter Seven: Financing Relocation

Chapter Eight: Real Life Problems

Epilogue

Resources


Introduction

Hurricanes, earthquakes and floods of nearly biblical proportions have devastated regions of our country in recent years, causing great loss of life, property and livelihood. Hurricanes Andrew and Iniki caused nearly $20 billion in property damage when they touched down in South Florida and Hawaii, respectively, in 1992. The Northridge earthquake, which lasted only 30 seconds, caused an estimated $30 billion in property damage in Southern California in January 1994. And in what is now commonly referred to as the Great Flood of 1993, communities spread over 10 million acres were inundated by floods that caused as much as $16 billion in countable damages in the nine Midwestern states of North Dakota, South Dakota, Minnesota, Nebraska, Kansas, Iowa, Wisconsin, Illinois, and Missouri.

These enormous damage tallies represent hundreds of thousands of disrupted lives and hundreds of shattered communities. But, just as it is certain that such disasters will continue to strike, the human response to them is equally inevitable: People will want to return their lives to normal as soon as possible, even if that means moving back into the path of danger.

There is another way. Disaster victims can rebuild their lives better than they were before, taking advantage of reconstruction to fix a variety of personal and community problems. Particularly after major disasters, reconstruction is an opportunity for individuals to replace aging, damaged buildings with new structures, built with the latest techniques and equipment to lower heating and cooling costs. Reconstruction can restore local tax base and boost the local economy with new jobs. Businesses can re-size or even change their character to better meet the community's needs. Local wells and emergency services can be rebuilt outside the reach of floodwaters. Aging infrastructure can be restored. And, perhaps most importantly, communities in areas of predictable disasters can take advantage of reconstruction to reduce or even eliminate the danger of further damages, removing that dark shadow from their futures.

In the aftermath of the Great Flood of 1993, a movement has begun toward "sustainable redevelopment"-- the practice of recovering from disasters in ways that improve the quality of people's lives, the durability of their communities, and the prospects of their children. As this book was being written in the Spring of 1994, at least three Midwestern communities were actively employing sustainable redevelopment principles in their recovery from flooding the year before. A White House Task Force was calling for profound reforms in the nation's disaster recovery policies, including the use of sustainable redevelopment practices as communities rebuild. "Relocations, in particular, offer a unique opportunity to start from scratch in planning and constructing to assure that sustainable development becomes an integral part of the entire community," the Task Force says.

"Each community would choose the characteristics it wished to sustain, such as an agricultural base, the historic or rural nature of the town, affordable housing, energy and/or water efficiency, diversity of species or natural resources," the Task Force recommended. "Com-munities would incorporate these into planning and construction. Individuals also would use energy-efficient technologies to conserve limited natural resources with resultant cost savings. As part of response and recovery, a team of federal experts would work through state agencies to provide communities and individuals technical assistance and information on the use of more innovative technologies."

Nearly 20 years before the Great Flood of 1993, one small river town pioneered the path of sustainable redevelopment. In 1975, the flood-prone village of Soldiers Grove, Wisconsin, was offered a levee by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. It chose instead to leave the flood plain and rebuild on higher ground. In the process, it identified and attempted to solve a wide variety of community problems, and it made dramatic use of energy efficiency measures and solar heating in its new business district, becoming America's first "solar village."

This booklet recounts the story of Soldiers Grove, in hopes that the lessons it learned can be beneficial to other communities that are now exploring or fully embarked upon the path of sustainable redevelopment.

Table of Contents


Chapter One: Why Sustainability?

What is sustainable development?

The most commonly accepted definition was written by the United Nations Commission on Environment and Development. Sustainable development, it said, "meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs." Another definition calls sustainable development "the practice of living off the Earth's interest, not its principle."

For the purposes of this book, we'll talk about sustainable "redevelopment" -- in other words, how sustainable development can be applied in communities that are rebuilding after disasters. And we'll give "sustainable" a very practical definition, relating to the very practical problems a community faces in the aftermath of natural disaster. Sustainable redevelopment...

Reduces or eliminates a community's conflict with its environment. The most evident conflict in disaster-prone communities, of course, is the potential loss of lives and property due to natural events like flooding, hurricanes or earthquakes. In a number of cases, particularly in defined disaster zones like flood plains, communities can remove themselves from danger, not by trying to control natural events (a strategy that the Great Flood proved can be very risky) but by getting out of harm's way. By restoring a community's physical security and its prospects for a future, relocation is an important sustainable redevelopment strategy.

Most communities suffer from many other forms of environmental conflict, too. Industrial pollution, the handling of solid wastes, air quality problems stemming from transportation, the lack of adequate sewage treatment -- all are potential areas of reducing the conflict between people and environment. Why bother? Because in the long term, a strong economy and a livable community cannot be sustained without a healthy environment. The goal of sustainable redevelopment is to find ways that people will prosper, while nature prospers, too.

Improves the quality of life for the community's residents. Are the residents of your community's disaster-prone areas living in substandard housing? Are residential and commercial buildings below health and safety codes, so damaged that it's prohibitively expensive to fix them? Is your town lacking certain important businesses -- a clothing store, for example, or a pharmacy -- encouraging people to shop elsewhere? Are there safety problems in the community's traffic patterns, health problems in the well or infrastructure? A community can't be sustained if its residents are not happy with it. A significant post-disaster redevelopment project can be designed to become a "multi-purpose recovery"-- a project that solves a variety of problems.

Improves the prospects of the community's future generations. Disaster victims rebuilding their community are, in effect, the founding fathers and mothers of a new town. Every new home, new business, new village hall, church or school, must be built not just to return life to normal today, but to serve the community for a century to come. For their work and their community to be sustainable, today's disaster victims must rebuild for their children and grandchildren as well as for themselves. Among other things, that means using tomorrow's technologies, not yesterday's. Good technology -- in buildings, waste systems, transportation patterns and community design -- can make a world of difference. Today's most energy-efficient homes are heated and cooled with one-third to one-tenth the energy of a typical home.

Strengthens the community's economy. Eliminating the prospect of disasters and replacing old structures with new ones can help improve the local economy. But communities can redevelop with methods that bolster the economy in many other ways as well. In many communities, for example, a significant part of local income leaks away as consumers pay their energy bills. Many local dollars spent on gasoline, heating oil and other petroleum products end up overseas. A community-wide effort to reduce energy costs can plug that leak, keeping dollars at home where they can purchase other goods and services, strengthening the local economy.

How much money are we talking about? One study sponsored by the State of Nebraska indicates that 80 cents of every dollar spent on energy bills leaves the typical local economy without generating any other economic activity. Every dollar spent on energy efficiency rather than fossil fuels, however, stimulates 84 cents worth of additional local economic activity.

Another economy-booster: Local businesses involved in relocation can become stronger by improving their locations to become more visible to shoppers, or to become closer to needed transportation facilities. They can resize or change the nature of their businesses, becoming better able to meet the needs of local consumers.

Shifts the community's resource consumption to renewable rather than finite resources. A community whose economy depends on finite resources -- petroleum again is a prime example -- builds its future on a foundation of sand. In the long term, as they are depleted, finite resources become more expensive, their supplies become less dependable and their extraction often becomes more environmentally costly. Renewable resources -- like solar energy, wind power, geothermal energy and agricultural crops specifically grown for energy production -- will remain plentiful. A community rebuilding for the next century can build upon a foundation of resource abundance, rather than resource scarcity.

According to a 1993 report published by the Energy Information Administration, renewable resources could provide 93 percent of the nation's energy supply, if they were fully utilized. Today, however, they provide only a fraction of the nation's power. Many renewable resources are now dependable, affordable and clean sources of power. In regions with sufficient wind, wind power can produce electricity at 7 cents a kilowatt hour, comparable to the electricity most consumers buy from their utilities and down from 25 cents in 1980. Well-designed passive solar buildings are perfectly economical.

Common Misconceptions

Misconceptions continue to surround sustainable development, blocking the way to more widespread adoption of the technologies involved. Below are a few common myths, along with explanations of why they are unfounded.

Sustainability is a utopian concept for the future and not practical in the present.

Throughout history, communities have been developed near available natural resources, and a region's architecture was a direct response to the local climate. Towns and villages were laid out to allow pedestrian access to the centers of cultural and economic activity. This center may have focused on a seaport, a river confluence, a crossroads, a church, a sawmill, a factory, or another facility of significance that caused the settlement to exist. The mixed variety of shops, markets, apartments and houses that congregated around the community's center grew out of the necessity for people to walk to where they worked, shopped, played and governed themselves. Food, energy resources, building materials and other supplies were locally derived and processed at many decentralized locations and were continually recycled back into the community and its adjacent environment.

Until the late 18th century, humankind relied solely on renewable sources to meet energy needs. However, as society became more industrialized and experienced rapid growth, renewables were displaced by "modern," nonrenewable energy sources. The proliferation of automobile mobility fed the increasing consumption of fossil fuels and led to the decentralization of communities. As cars became more common, it was no longer necessary to maintain a close-knit community center.

Rather than being a utopian concept for the future, sustainability actually hearkens back to the past. It does not signal a return to the "horse and buggy" days, however. Sustainable communities of the 21st century will be very comfortable places to live, mixing the best of modern technology with the practical, centralized community focus of the past.

In addition to Soldiers Grove, several other emerging communities exemplify this trend toward sustainable development. In Michigan, the small villages on Beaver Island practice economic development through energy self-reliance, harvesting dead trees for fuel and using solar and wind energy systems. Residents of Beaver Island have looked at wildlife and wetlands preservation as contributors to economic development and have recognized that a healthy natural environment surrounds them with values not readily measured in dollars and cents.

Starting from scratch, a new community is being developed at Ithaca, New York, called EcoVillage. Offering a new and creative approach to building design and use of space, Ecovillage includes preservation of 80 percent of the land for natural wildlife and vegetation areas, permaculture and organic food production, and recreation. The remaining land harbors high-density, energy-efficient housing, with neighborhoods of homes grouped around a center of community buildings that provide most basic necessities within walking distance. EcoVillage at Ithaca is emerging as a model of how an ecological and socially sustainable community can function, evoking the interest of architects, landscape developers, design engineers, horticulturalists and others who see in this project the principles needed to guide future development.

Sustainability costs too much.

Actually, sustainable development often costs less than conventional development, particularly when long-term costs are counted. A enlightening example is illustrated by reviewing current suburban development, which is centered around the automobile, which depends on oil, which costs money. Recent figures place the real cost of owning and driving a car in urban and suburban America at an average of $500 per month, per person, per car. This figure takes into account only the measurable dollar costs attributable to purchase price, insurance, fuel and maintenance, and the associated fuel and infrastructure taxes. It does not take into account the costs of increased health care due to air pollution; the costs of traffic accidents; the social and economic displacement resulting from construction of new highways; the costs of shipping petroleum from foreign locations; the costs of military protection of the shipping routes, and the costs of environmental damage caused by extracting and transporting the fuel.

Present-day society assumes that the movement of goods and services over ever-increasing distances is a necessary part of development. Yet, to sustainable community advocates, excess transportation is an expensive sign of system failure. Sustainable communities are likely to provide cleaner renewable fuels, more efficient transportation systems and pedestrian access to many necessities, thereby decreasing the cost of oil dependence and increasing local disposable income.

If sustainable development were a viable option, the market would have created a demand for it by now.

Sustainability does not represent a service or a commodity. Kentucky author and poet, Wendell Berry, commenting on American economic culture, writes: "Anything that cannot be weighed, measured or counted does not exist." As proposed by Adam Smith over 200 years ago, free market economics has been largely successful due to this quantifying nature of humanity. What has occurred in recent decades, however, is a growing failure of capitalism to assign proper value to many of life's most precious commodities. What cannot be readily weighed, measured or counted is the quality of human experience or the value of natural systems. In a market economy, wetlands and agricultural fields have a low monetary value, relative to real estate development potential, but their value to human health and sustainability may be far greater than any development would be.

Society has begun the difficult task of assigning monetary values to these "priceless" commodities. For example, many electric utilities are now required to factor the costs of "externali-ties" such as pollution and habitat displacement into their resource plans. This trend will expand and continue until the price of resources reflects much more of their true cost and value. Then sustainable development will very often emerge as the most economical option.

With today's imperfect yardsticks, it's often difficult to weigh the real costs and benefits of sustainable options. The key is to make all advantages and disadvantages of each option known to the community, including consequences that carry environmental, social or aesthetic -- rather than economic -- price- tags. To quote Tom Hirsch, Soldiers Grove's relocation coordinator from May 1975 to August 1982, "It is a hard path, but it's doable, and Soldiers Grove proved that it's doable. The benefits did outweigh the costs, and the issues important at the time -- energy management, job creation, community cohesion -- are every bit as important 20 years later."

Our town can't get itself organized enough to do sustainable redevelopment.

Any community whose people have enough spirit to help each other build levees out of sandbags can pull together to build a new future. They need the will to make their town survive; the leadership to keep them working together; and a clear understanding of why all the work is worth the trouble.

The community spirit that disasters often spawn -- bringing out the best in people and prompting them to work in unison for the benefit of all -- can gather steam and propel the community on into the sustainable development mode. People can work together to preserve and remember the best of what they're leaving behind, while looking forward to the creation of something much better. Disasters often leave their victims with the depressing realization that they cannot control their own fate. Sustainable redevelopment allows people to begin taking control of their futures again.

There are no models we can follow.

Read on. Soldiers Grove did it. Other communities are doing it today. Find out how Soldiers Grove proceeded, and then write your own chapter in the history of America's turn toward sustainable redevelopment.

Table of Contents


Chapter Two: Soliders Grove

When the waters of the Great Flood of 1993 finally receded, some Midwestern communities were convinced that it wasn't smart to move back into the flood plain. They searched for a different model. Some heard about Soldiers Grove, a village in the upper portion of the Mississippi River watershed that decided to move from harm's way nearly 20 years ago.

Soldiers Grove was a typical Midwestern village incorporated in 1888 on the banks of the Kickapoo River in southwest Wisconsin. As the lumber industry, then farming and urbanization, began stripping vegetation from the river's watershed, the Kickapoo began to flood. The river hit Soldiers Grove with its first major flood in 1907. It dumped record amounts of water into the community again in 1912, 1917, and 1935. The 1935 flood finally made it clear to the villagers that flooding was a serious and permanent problem. In 1937, Soldiers Grove joined other Kickapoo communities in petitioning Congress for a flood control project.

It was not until 1962 that Congress approved a flood control plan for the Kickapoo River Valley -- a dam and recreational lake near the top of the river, and a supplemental levee at Soldiers Grove, all to be built by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Construction of the dam and design work on the levee began in the late 1960s.

In the three decades that Soldiers Grove waited for dam construction to begin, the Kickapoo delivered four more floods, including a disastrous record inundation in 1951 which severely damaged downtown buildings and speeded the community's economic decline.

In 1974, the State of Wisconsin required Soldiers Grove to pass a floodplain zoning ordinance, a law that villagers felt would do more damage to property than the river itself. The law prohibited any new construction in the business district and placed strict limits on maintenance or repairs to existing buildings. The ordinance was a severe blow to the economic heart of the community.

The Corps of Engineers presented its final plan for a levee in early 1975. The villagers had hoped that the levee would solve both the flooding problem and the need to comply with floodplain zoning. But when the Engineers unveiled the details of the proposed levee, their message was depressing. The levee would cost some $3.5 million, yet would protect about $1 million worth of property. Each year for the next 100 years, the village would have to raise funds equal to twice its 1975 property tax levy to pay for maintenance of the flood control structure. And the dike would do little to solve many of the village's problems -- the outmigration of young people to urban areas, the severe blight in the downtown, the feeling that Soldiers Grove was slowly dying.

Their backs against the wall, community leaders came up with a radical proposal, believing it was the only way to save the village. They suggested that the federal government spend the same $3.5 million to help the community evacuate its floodplain and rebuild the business district on higher ground. Federal assistance would amount to 60 percent of the project's total cost, with state, local and private investments making up the balance.

With a small planning grant, Soldiers Grove hired a team of University of Wisconsin specialists headed by landscape architecture Prof. Phil Lewis to study the feasibility of relocation. The team concluded that relocation made good sense.

In 1977, the village invested its own funds to purchase a site for the new downtown and begin the extension of utility services. However, federal agencies were slow to support relocation. For three years -- from the time the idea was first proposed in early 1975 to 1978 -- the village's appeals for assistance were denied.

Then in July 1978, the Kickapoo hit the village again, with the largest flood in its history. The flood inflicted a half-million dollars in damages, completely destroying several buildings, including the community's relatively new concrete block bank. While no one would have wished for such a flood, it accomplished what community leaders had not been able to: It galvanized opinion inside and outside the village that Kickapoo River flooding was inevitable and that relocation must proceed at once. With the help of then-U.S. Senators William Proxmire and Gaylord Nelson, the flood jarred loose the support of federal agencies. The Secretary of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development granted the village $900,000 in the fall of 1978 so that relocation could begin.

Multipurpose Recovery

In planning the relocation project, the villagers took the opportunity to address a number of development goals, reaching beyond their initial objective of moving the town off the floodplain. Though flooding was the village's most visible problem, it was not the only one. The nationwide drain of money and people from rural to urban areas was another hard reality. Soldiers Grove's population had peaked in 1940 at 778, and since then, both the population and the economy had been on the decline. Also, in the 1950s, U.S. Highway 61 had been moved to bypass the Soldiers Grove business district. The highway, which used to coincide with Main Street, bringing traffic into the heart of the community, was relocated a half-mile to the east. Downtown business had not been the same since.

By 1975, these factors had helped create a local economy in which 36 percent of the village's families earned less than $3,000 a year. Soldiers Grove had become a community largely of elderly and low-income people.

The relocation, started in 1979 and completed in 1983, proved to be just what Soldiers Grove needed -- a community heart transplant. Besides eliminating flooding, the multipurpose recovery process achieved additional key benefits. The downtown was moved back to U.S. Highway 61, bringing new economic life into the community. The old floodplain was developed into a municipal park, complete with tennis courts, picnic areas, and a number of other recreational features.

For years, Soldiers Grove's municipal well had been located in the floodplain, near the business district. Even minor inundations contaminated the community water supply. So, the village decided to add a second well and a larger storage reservoir outside the floodplain in the new downtown.

The extension of sewer and water services to the relocation site opened up new development area along its route. It also provided an opportunity for the village to fix a long-standing problem -- discoloration and odor in the water in one nearby neighborhood, caused by aging pipes.

Soldiers Grove's fire and rescue station was located in the floodplain. So in the move, the community relocated the fire station to a site where emergency vehicles would not be disabled or cut off during floods.

Nation's First "Solar Village"

Of all the relocation decisions made by Soldiers Grove, one was particularly dramatic. That was the decision to make all the new town center buildings energy-efficient and solar-heated. The new Soldiers Grove would be the first business district of its kind in the nation.

As with many other aspects of the project, the inspiration grew from a problem. Energy bills had been a major and increasing cost for many of the Main Street business owners. Their structures were not only badly deteriorated by flooding, but old and poorly insulated. They were costly to heat and cool, especially with fuel oil, the most expensive of fossil fuels at the time.

Early in the planning stages of relocation, it occurred to some villagers that construction of a new business district opened the opportunity for Soldiers Grove to build efficient structures and to promote the use of renewable, alternative fuels. Thus, the project could have even more local benefits, plus further value as a national demonstration. Conservation and renewable energy systems held the promise of increasing local self-reliance while insulating the community from oil and gas shortages of the future; reducing air pollution in a valley whose terrain often causes air inversions; and -- most attractively -- substantially lowering energy bills for businesses. The lower energy costs would provide a form of "new income" for business owners.

To capture these benefits, Soldiers Grove passed energy performance standards for its new buildings twice as stringent as those required by state law at the time; approved a community-wide "solar access" law that prohibited any building from blocking another building's sunlight; passed a law requiring that all new commercial buildings receive at least half their heating energy from the sun (the first such ordinance in the nation); conducted a careful analysis of the relocation site to determine its wind and sunfall patterns throughout the year; helped businesses position their buildings to make maximum use of summer breezes and solar heating, while using earth berming and careful landscaping to block the buildings from winter winds; and conducted an evaluation of possible building materials to find those that were most economical, including costs to the environment. In the process, the village pioneered a new approach to disaster recovery.

"Soldiers Grove had no road map to follow," said Tom Hirsch, who served as the community's relocation coordinator from May 1975 to August 1982. "We forged new territory, but now the strategy is there to be taken up by other communities."

Table of Contents


Chapter Three: How to Begin Planning

Of all the various components making up Soldiers Grove's pioneering relocation project, one will be particularly valuable to today's disaster-affected communities: the process the community followed to make its new downtown a reality. Today's communities will fashion their own unique versions of sustainable development, but at least they don't have to reinvent the wheel when it comes to deciding how to go about researching their options and carrying out their plans.

Through the painstaking, often intimidating, process of trial and error, Soldiers Grove discovered four main components in the early stages of planning an innovative relocation project: focusing responsibility, doing adequate homework, locating sources of technical help, and assuring strong citizen involvement from the beginning. The first three are explained in this chapter; the fourth -- citizen involvement -- deserves a chapter of its own and is covered in Chapter Four.

Focusing Responsibility

In planning the relocation project and its solar component, Soldiers Grove found it was necessary to assign one individual responsibility for coordination. The clear identification of a single individual allowed citizens within the village and agencies from outside to know exactly where to go with concerns, questions or ideas. A great many headaches and a great deal of potential confusion were avoided by appointing and publicizing the role of a central coordinator.

In larger communities, the sustainable redevelopment coordinator might be a member of an existing planning commission or community development office. In Soldiers Grove, it was necessary to create a new full-time position since the community at first had only a minimum governmental structure (a village clerk and a Board) and no existing employees qualified to carry out reasonably sophisticated planning functions. Using a small federal grant, the village hired a local architect, Thomas Hirsch, to serve as relocation coordinator. Later, when the move was about to begin and the complexities of the project grew, Hirsch was made part of a formal Community Development Office (CDO). And during the planning process, the Village Board created various citizen committees to provide guidance and information to Hirsch and the CDO.

Yet throughout the process, Hirsch was clearly identified as the primary contact person and the coordinator of the revitalization effort. That designation was particularly useful to government officials and private firms which became involved in the project. Government officials analyzing the success of the project cited the appointment of a competent central coordinator as a key factor.

Soldiers Grove found that an accessible central coordinator given sufficient time and resources to perform the job served as a kind of human glue which held the project together and helped it proceed as smoothly as possible.

Doing Homework

The second component of the initial planning process -- homework -- was also critically important. Before investing significant time and money in a solar project, the village assessed three factors: local energy resources, solar potentials and local barriers to solar and other forms of renewable energy. These were not sophisticated assessments. Rather, they involved simple data-gathering which was useful immediately in guiding the project.

Soldiers Grove found it was important to do the homework itself rather than hiring it out. The assessments were educational, an exercise in introspection about the community's energy profile. That education allowed villagers to deal more knowledgeably with outside firms and funding sources, when it became necessary to use them. It also allowed the project coordinator to exercise quality control over outside firms contracted later to conduct more sophisticated feasibility studies. Consulting firms often are tempted to cut costs by using standard information about such things as sunfall, wind speeds and the availability of renewable fuels, collecting data from state and national reports. They are reluctant to spend time gathering local information. Having done his data-gathering, the coordinator could make sure consultants were basing their studies on realistic information.

Based on its experience, the village recommends that communities carefully inventory their sustainable development needs and resources. A "Quality of Life" inventory, for example, determines from residents what features they most want to retain from their old community as it is redeveloped and what new features -- social, recreational, cultural -- they most want to acquire. An "Economic Development" inventory might poll local consumers on what new commercial services they want to see in a reconstructed community. It might also poll local business owners to find out what they need to improve their health.

To provide a more detailed example of how a community can do its homework, the rest of this chapter tells how Soldiers Grove assessed its energy needs and eventually decided upon creating a solar village. The community's innovative decision grew from careful information gathering about 1) its old energy consumption patterns, 2) its potentials for using sustainable energy, 3) the energy characteristics of available redevelopment sites, 4) barriers that would influence the village's energy decisions, and 5) programs that could help it carry out its decisions.

Assessing Energy Consumption

An inventory of local energy consumption should include all the conventional fuels -- oil, natural gas, LP gas, coal and electricity -- used by the community before it was disrupted by a natural disaster. Communities should strive to gather specific information on fuel costs, availability, and consumption. Local utilities are the likely source for such information.

This detailed look at conventional energy use can help communities determine how much money has been leaving their local economies to pay for energy. In many cases, the grand total will provide a strong incentive for redeveloping communities to reduce energy costs and explore local sustainable options.

Assessing Sustainable Energy Potentials

An inventory of local sustainable energy potentials should also focus on availability and cost. Among the alternatives which might be assessed are solar, wind, hydroelectric, wood, burnable wastes and sources of alcohol or biogas -- whey, septic sludge, animal wastes and other byproducts of agricultural, municipal or industrial operations. An important additional source of heating energy may be waste heat from electrical generating plants or factories, heat that can be transferred to neighboring buildings in an arrangement commonly called "district heating."

The purpose of such an inventory is fact-finding and direction-setting. It is not meant to be a feasibility study -- a very sophisticated process which ought to be performed later by qualified professionals. Rather, this first assessment is meant to help determine the community's obvious resources and the questions which need answering by technicians. The data will also help the community prepare convincing applications for assistance in funding more detailed feasibility studies.

For help with this initial inventory, communities can turn to their state energy offices, local utilities, nearby universities, or the U.S. Department of Energy's National Renewable Energy Laboratory which is listed in this publication's resource section. These contacts may be able to supply data on a specific locale's wind, sun, or biomass resources.

The community should also inventory potential sources of financial help for carrying out its energy choices. Information about federal energy programs is available from the U.S. Department of Energy; state program information can be obtained from state energy offices, and local utilities can provide details on their programs. Many utilities now offer financial incentives for consumers to use energy efficiency and renewable energy systems.

Assessing Available Sites

If the community is relocating, it should assess how available development sites will affect its energy options. For example, do nearby trees block the wind? Do existing buildings or natural terrain features cast large shadows on the site? These site characteristics will affect the community's energy choices -- or conversely, the community's energy preferences may affect which site it chooses.

For the purposes of this initial assessment, solar potentials, for example, can be judged by simple observation. The optimal time for making such observations is December 21, the day at which the sun is lowest in the sky and the shadows will be greatest. Portions of the site which do not receive direct sunlight between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. throughout the winter generally are not suitable for direct use of the sun for heating. And, unless the community has a solar access law prohibiting one property owner from blocking sunlight for another, future developments could be a factor.

Assessing Barriers

Barriers to alternative energy sources such as solar or wind take several forms. Some, like buildings and trees, are physical. Some are attitudinal. Others are legal or institutional. A good assessment of energy potentials must take all into account.

A growing number of states and federal agencies are attempting to remove barriers to alternative energy sources from building codes, design standards and other laws and regulations. Still, such barriers exist. Most of our present taxing policies, building codes and standards have been designed in the era of cheap fossil fuels, and not with alternatives in mind.

It is impossible to identify all barriers early in the planning phase of a redevelopment project. Inevitably, some obstacles will appear as the project progresses. If your community is among the first in your state to attempt large-scale development involving innovative sustainable technologies, you will be forced to deal with unanticipated barriers, helping remove them for communities which follow.

For example, Soldiers Grove decided to create "passive solar attics" in many of its buildings -- superinsulating the attic spaces and allowing sunlight to enter through fiberglass roofing panels. One state code classified the solar attics as heating ducts and prohibited any combustible materials inside them, including the buildings' wooden roof joists. The village reached accommodation with state officials by lining the attics with sheet rock.

It is important to avoid as many unpleasant surprises as possible by assessing barriers in the planning phase. Attitudinal barriers can be assessed by surveying opinions within the community. Are the people most directly affected by the development project willing to consider solar or other alternative sources of energy? If not, why not? Do they have questions they want answered first? What are they? Such surveys can be taken formally or informally, depending on the size of the group involved and the traditional patterns of planning and communication within the community. (Soldiers Grove's procedures for surveying attitudes are covered in the next chapter.)

Assessing legal barriers is somewhat more tricky. Are there community ordinances or codes which obviously will stand in the way of solar development? A common difficulty is the lack of solar access legislation at the local level, an ordinance which guarantees that once a building owner invests in solar, sunlight will not be blocked in the future by other development. Is there an easy way to assure solar access at the new development site?

Taxing policies also can present barriers. If building owners install solar systems, will the systems cause a significant increase in property tax assessments on those properties? If they do, part of the savings the owner will realize on fuel bills to help pay for the system will be negated by taxes, and solar will be made, from a purely economic standpoint, less desirable.

Another barrier may be how much a community will have to rely on government support in carrying out its project. Oftentimes, the more a community has to rely on state and federal government support, the more difficult a project becomes. Funding uncertainties, delays, paperwork and compliance with complicated restrictions are often included with government grants and loans. A community may want to consider designing a project which minimizes the need for outside financial assistance and maximizes self-reliance.

Finding Technical Help

When the time comes to bring in outside help -- whether a government agency, an engineering firm or an architectural firm -- the community will find that such consultants often are not objective. They will tend to favor those technologies with which they are most familiar. A preliminary assessment of energy resources -- both conventional and nonconventional -- will allow a community to seek help from programs and firms able and willing to assist in application of the energy technologies which seem to have greatest potential.

Often, preliminary assistance can be obtained at little or no cost and used simply to confirm or amend the community's own hunches about its energy potentials. Short of actual design work or detailed feasibility studies, preliminary technical assistance is used again to set direction, provide data for future funding applications and continue realistic appraisals of energy options before major investments of time and money are made.

Among the possible sources of preliminary guidance are government agencies, universities and private firms. Government agencies and universities can sometimes fit a study into existing programs at little or no cost to the municipality. University programs can sometimes make such a study a class project, providing free student labor in exchange for the educational experience.

Some private firms, hoping that they will win more substantial contracts later, will offer relatively low-cost preliminary technical assistance to a community or a developer. Again, it would be wise to solicit those firms with established expertise in the energy options which the local assessment indicated are most likely to be practical.

But there are pitfalls. You get only what you pay for. Low-cost or no-cost studies are generally cursory. They should not be taken as gospel. A good preliminary feasibility study is often more expensive and time-consuming than a final study, since it must sort through a universe of options. While Soldiers Grove's experience with government and university-sponsored studies was very good, such studies can take a long time and produce little.

Taken for what they are, these sources of technical help can be beneficial. But they do not replace the detailed feasibility and design work which can make the difference between success and failure of a particular energy application.

Soldiers Grove Experience

Soldiers Grove applied each of these steps as it moved toward development of the solar downtown.

Following the July 1978 flood when initial funding for floodplain relocation was obtained, the Community Development Office (CDO) conducted a detailed inventory of energy resources within the community. The village found small supplies of whey from local cheese factories, septic sludge from the municipal waste treatment plant, some burnable solid wastes and useable agricultural wastes from township dumps and farms surrounding the community, and some potential for low-head hydroelectric generation on the Kickapoo River. But none of these indigenous resources seemed to meet the village's needs: a low- cost source of heating energy in sufficient supply to justify the capital expenditures involved in its conversion and use, and immediately available to the buildings about to be constructed.

The CDO collected the best available wind data from airports in the region, and data on the percentage of sunlit days from nearby weather stations. It also located an inventory of wood wastes in the Kickapoo River Valley, done by a nearby city which at one time had considered using the wastes to help generate electricity. The inventory indicated that within a 30-mile radius of Soldiers Grove, lumber mills were producing 3,000 tons per month of sawdust, wood chips and scrap bark. Phone calls to the lumber mills confirmed that the wastes were available and could be purchased at low cost -- less than $10 per ton delivered. Most mills had no other market for the wastes, and were simply letting them rot on the ground.

The CDO observed that most space heating in the old downtown was done by oil furnaces. No natural gas was used in the community, and only a few businesses made use of LP gas. As the 1978-79 heating season began, No. 2 fuel oil cost 50.5 cents per gallon and electricity just over 4 cents per kilowatt-hour.

Soldiers Grove had already selected the site for its new downtown, a farm field about a half-mile from the old downtown, still within municipal borders. Purchased by the Village Board in 1977 when it came up for sale, the site was favored by business owners because it was adjacent to U.S. Highway 61, a main thoroughfare that promised to boost trade.

Another farm field on the opposite end of the village had been available for development, and that site offered unrestricted access to sunlight. But the Highway 61 location had an historic and emotional appeal for the business owners. The highway had been Main Street for Soldiers Grove un-til the mid-1950s, when it was relocated to the outskirts of the community. Businesses considered the loss of proximity to the highway a major factor in the economic decline of the village.

The site chosen and purchased was not the best for solar. Split by the highway, the portion furthest from the old village was well situated for solar heating. But the portion closest to the old sections of the community and chosen for retail business development was partially obstructed by two 300-foot hills on its southern edge. To make matters worse, the hills were topped by 50- to 60-foot trees.

Local Barriers

As for the barriers presented by existing local ordinances, Soldiers Grove had few pertaining to construction, land use or other issues with a bearing on solar. Since it had experienced little development in recent years, there had been no need for regulation other than floodplain zoning.

However, state building codes for residential and commercial structures did apply in the village, and the village had no legal mechanism for assuring solar access. Village officials would have to come up with solar access regulation of some kind. As for the state building codes, they seemed not to contain any obvious barriers to solar. Village officials decided any obstructions contained in the codes could not be detected until specific building designs had been proposed.

Attitudinal barriers also existed in the community. Coordinator Hirsch described the general opinion of solar heating as "healthy skepticism" when the idea was first raised. Many of the villagers subscribed to the standard myths -- that solar wouldn't work in a northern climate, that it was risky, exotic and high-priced. There was also concern that with the trauma of the relocation project already taxing their courage, villagers might be reluctant to change further. Village leaders feared the citizenry might quickly reach a psychological threshold beyond which it was no longer willing to innovate.

Positive Attitudes

But the CDO staff knew from formal surveys of villagers' values in the past, and from countless hours of talking with the people, that there were several attitudes which might make solar particularly appealing. First the Kickapoogians were a ruggedly independent lot, very much attracted to self-sufficiency. Local lore had it that during one flood, the villagers asked the Red Cross to leave town, saying they could take care of their own. Insofar as it would allow the village more independence and self-sufficiency, solar would be attractive.

Secondly, there was a strong environmental ethic in the village. Though villagers often seemed to take the pristine beauty of the Valley for granted, surveys showed that environmental quality was very high on the list of their priorities for the future. Solar was saleable as an environmentally benign way to heat the new downtown.

Thirdly, there was a strong desire to improve the economic health of the community. If solar systems could be shown to be inexpensive to install and operate, yet beneficial to the local economy, there would likely be support for their use.

All in all, the local assessment of solar potential at Soldiers Grove indicated to Hirsch and other village leaders that solar heating and other alternative energy systems ought to be seriously explored, and should be considered a high priority in planning for the move.

Technical Input

Having established that priority, Hirsch put out a call for assistance late in the fall of 1978. The village had proposed the project in 1975 and had been trying to push it forward for years; now, suddenly, local leaders were under tremendous pressure to begin the move. Their buildings damaged by flooding, some of them beyond repair, business owners were anxious for construction to begin.

Hirsch and CDO director Ron Swiggum made a difficult decision. They would begin the relocation of 10 residences from the floodprone downtown immediately. But the purchase of existing businesses and the start of construction of the new business district would wait until the spring of 1979, after the village had time to perform final planning of the development.

Hirsch contacted the U.S. Department of Energy's Region V office in Chicago to appeal for assistance in analyzing the community's energy choices. That office contacted the Wisconsin Division of State Energy (DSE), which in turn contacted the Wisconsin Energy Extension Service (WEES), a federally funded energy education project within the University of Wisconsin-Extension (UWEX).

The WEES allocated half its assistant director's time for three months to head a task force of state and federal agencies which would carry out an energy study for the community. Answering the call to take part in the study were specialists from the UWEX Department of Engineering and Applied Science, the Division of State Energy and, at the request of the Department of Energy, Argonne National Laboratory. Representatives of the electric utility serving Soldiers Grove also were invited to take part.

The task force began its work early in January 1979. The involvement of the state and university specialists was financed by their agencies as a public service. Argonne assigned two engineers and a community planning specialist to the project, folding it into an existing program, the Integrated Community Energy Systems project, at no cost to the village.

Argonne's engineers, accustomed to large, high-technology projects, balked initially at the Soldiers Grove challenge. The square footage involved at the village was little more than that for a standard shopping center. Nevertheless, Argonne agreed to take the technical lead in analyzing the village's options, with other task force participants acting as devil's advocates.

Argonne performed a two-step analysis, first considering dozens of energy systems representing a wide range of technologies. Solar ponds, photovoltaics, active solar collectors and a host of more experimental options were given at least cursory attention.

Argonne rejected many of these technologies for a variety of reasons. Some were too costly. Some were too unproven to be used safely in a real-life situation. Other technologies, though proven and safe, simply would take too long to implement. The community needed heating energy immediately in the new downtown.

In addition, because the village was receiving funding for the move a little at a time, construction of the new downtown was to be incremental. The new energy system would have to be flexible enough to serve incremental needs and to remain economical even if federal funding dried up, allowing only some of the businesses to make the move.

Recommendations

Argonne finally boiled the options down to 12 which would be given more detailed analysis. Included were conventional furnaces, two types of wind turbine use, three types of heat pump use, two types of central heating systems fired by oil, two types of diesel generators providing both electricity and heat, and two types of wood-fired central heating plants. The laboratory's analysis indicated that a central heating plant fueled by wood wastes and using steam as its distribution medium would be the village's most economical choice.

Throughout the study, the WEES chairperson coordinated the energy investigation with three other technical assistance efforts carried out by UWEX. At a cost of roughly $10,000 to the village, Extension had assigned faculty members to advise the community on a master plan for the new downtown, zoning and other legal tools which might be employed to guide development, and economic counseling for individual business owners to help them in their planning. The chairperson found that it was necessary to carefully monitor and prod the agencies involved in the energy study, keeping them moving according the village's exceedingly short time table.

In March 1979, the energy task force issued a report to the village containing four recommendations. First, the new commercial structures should be designed for maximum economical thermal efficiency. Second the village should construct a central wood-fired heating plant to serve as the major source of heating energy for the downtown. Third, passive solar heating systems should be used to provide back-up to the central plant. And finally, the village should continue exploring ways to use the other native, renewable energy sources it had found in its assessment.

Local Decisions

Meanwhile, business owners decided they would like the design of their buildings coordinated to make the downtown as attractive as possible. At the same time, there were no legal mechanisms to guide construction. Individual owners could construct any kind of building they wished, utilizing any type of energy system. Business owners were unwilling to turn the project over to an outside developer who would oversee design and construction.

UWEX specialists advising the community on zoning recommended that the village take advantage of municipal ownership of the site and declare it a Planned Unit Development (PUD) district. Under that arrangement, the village could devise a master plan setting out construction standards, energy efficiency standards, building placement and other critical guidelines. If approved in public hearings and by the Village Board, the PUD plan would have the force of zoning. Thus, in effect, the village government would serve as developer of the downtown, an arrangement that was favored by business owners.

The two leaders allocated a portion of the village's initial $900,000 HUD grant to hire a private firm expert at fashioning PUD plans. Now thoroughly committed to solar, they drew up a list of 20 architectural firms which the village would consider for three tasks: the design of three municipal structures; the refining of the site layout to accommodate solar heating; and the development of that portion of the PUD plan concerning the use of energy. Twelve firms responded to the village's request for proposals.

Refining the Recommendations

After interviewing four firms, the Village Board hired Hawkweed Group Ltd., a pioneer in solar building design in the Midwest. Hawkweed introduced the board to the startling claim that site-built solar heating systems could be incorporated into the new business buildings at virtually no extra cost to building owners. And the systems would typically provide 75 percent or more of the annual space and water heating energy needed for each building.

If Hawkweed was correct, the energy task force had underestimated the potential of energy-efficient design and solar heating. Indeed, as Hawkweed began formal studies and planning for the village, its estimates indicated that thermal efficiency and passive solar would probably make a central wood-fired heating system uneconomical. The plant and its expensive distribution pipes throughout the business district simply would not get enough use to pay for themselves.

Given Hawkweed's input, the Community Development Office modified the energy guidelines submitted by the task force. Buildings would be designed for maximum thermal efficiency, with passive solar systems serving as the main sources of heating energy. For backup, building owners would be encouraged to install small conventional furnaces fired by LP gas.

Table of Contents

TO --> Chapter Four: Citizen Involvement

 



Back to Top
 
 


 

HOME | SEARCH