DeKalb commissioner proposes resident-led environmental justice commission

From the Saporta Report

by Mark Lannaman

Published: April 26, 2024 3:37 pm

Last week, Commissioner Ted Terry (DeKalb District 6) introduced a resolution to create a resident-led environmental justice commission that would enable citizens to more directly influence environmental policy in their communities.

The reason behind the introduced legislation and an increased focus on environmental justice is a simple matter of due diligence, Commissioner Terry said.

“DeKalb County residents have voiced their concerns to me loud and clear: They need to be at the heart of the decisions that affect their environment and health,” Commissioner Terry said in a press release. “The DeKalb Environmental Justice Commission will provide for collaboration, transparency and ensure accountability to those we serve so that we can create a more equitable and sustainable future for all of DeKalb County.” 

The commission is in line with President Biden’s Justice40 Initiative, ensuring that 40 percent of certain federal legislation makes its way into stressed communities who need it most.

“There’s eight or nine census tracts in DeKalb County that fit the criteria of having a combination of high pollution and other socioeconomic factors that really point to individuals and communities being on the front lines of a lot of environmental injustices,” Terry said. 

Terry said the commission is being modeled after similar proposals at the state level, although the state Environmental Justice Commission was not passed this past legislative session. Still, the necessity of environmental justice commissions remains a priority even on local scales.

Having served in DeKalb County as a commissioner since 2020, and before that as Mayor of Clarkston from 2013 to 2022, Terry said he’s become quite familiar with some of the environmental concerns around the community. 

These concerns include the Seminole Road Landfill which can produce unbearable odors for neighboring residents that were promised a small landfill decades ago. Other concerns include sewer overflow into the South River as well as the latest developments from the Public Service Commision and Georgia Power which has been steadily increasing rates, exacerbating energy burdens on stressed households.

The press release details what the commission would entail:

  • Organizational meetings and public hearings
  • Preparing budget considerations for the Board of Commissioners
  • Preparing model legislation for consideration by the Board of Commissioners
  • Monitoring progress and making recommendations toward DeKalb County’s current environmental efforts
  • Providing quarterly updates to the Board of Commissioners
  • Conduct scientific analyses and generate comprehensive reports on the state of environmental justice in DeKalb County

The legislation was added to the public agenda this past Tuesday and referred to the Public Works and Infrastructure Committee, where Terry and two other commissioners serve. There, lawmakers hope to refine the legislation with the hopes of another draft in June. If adopted, the commission would start in March of 2025 and have a five-year initial term.

Commissioner Ted Terry Introduces Resolution to Create a Resident-Led Environmental Justice Commission

The proposal for this Commission is in direct response to residents’ call for inclusion in decisions about environmental policies impacting their communities.

DEKALB COUNTY– Today, Commissioner Ted Terry (D-District 6) introduced a resolution that will give DeKalb County residents a voice in addressing environmental justice issues that have plagued their communities. This Commission will ensure DeKalb County prioritizes environmental justice initiatives and remains aligned with the Biden Administration’s Justice40 Initiative

Commissioner Terry’s call for the DeKalb Environmental Justice Commission is a direct response to residents’ call for greater transparency in current and ongoing environmental efforts, like DeKalb County’s consent decree, as well as greater inclusion and equity in environmental decision-making to ensure that all community members, especially those historically underserved and overburdened by pollution, are at the table.

“DeKalb County residents have voiced their concerns to me loud and clear: they need to be at the heart of the decisions that affect their environment and health,” said Commissioner Terry. “The DeKalb Environmental Justice Commission will provide for collaboration, transparency and ensure accountability to those we serve so that we can create a more equitable and sustainable future for all of DeKalb County.” 

The responsibilities of the proposed Environmental Commission include holding organizational meetings and public hearings, preparing budget considerations for the Board of Commissioners, preparing model legislation for consideration by the Board of Commissioners, monitoring progress and making recommendations towards DeKalb County’s current environmental efforts, and providing quarterly updates to the Board of Commissioners. They will also conduct scientific analyses and generate comprehensive reports on the state of environmental justice in DeKalb County. 

Commissioner Ted Terry hosts ‘Green New Deal Summit’ to generate support for environmental policies

From Decaturish.com

Published: October 16, 2023

By: Anila Yoganathan, contributor 

DeKalb County, GA — In an effort to generate support for environmental policies to redesign DeKalb County, commissioner Ted Terry hosted more than 100 residents at the Green New Deal Summit on Saturday. 

The all-day conference included discussions on how to conserve energy and save on electric bills at home and presented ideas on how to make the county more accessible by foot or bike, less dependent on cars, and how to protect the trees, especially during new development.

“Some of these things are kind of radical, like building tiny homes and preserving 50% of land for non-development. Like that’s kind of controversial,” Terry told Decaturish. “You need people who support that concept, they have to say that they support it because that’s how politics works.”

Each presentation highlighted current initiatives for the county, with the goal of getting residents to come and support these initiatives at the county commission.

The sessions included groups that are already working with the county on sustainability efforts, such as the Southface Institute, which spoke with residents on common myths on how to save on their electric bills or upgrade their homes to be more energy efficient. 

For example, if residents are interested in solar panels, they should consider making other changes to reduce their bills first and join a solarize campaign to crowdsource funding for buying panels in bulk rather than invest on their own, Southface Project Manager Jo’de Cummings said.

This is the Southface Institute’s first of five sessions for community engagement, and future sessions will continue to build knowledge, Terry said.

Presentations were also given by researchers and organizations that are promoting alternative methods of how to develop land in the county.

“I hope that I’ve convinced you we do not need to tear down a single tree,” said Ellen Dunham-Jones, director for Masters of Science in Urban Design at Georgia Tech, at the end of her presentation. 

Dunham-Jones presented proposals by her students on different areas in the county that could be redeveloped with a more sustainable lens. This included proposals from students going back to 2021 about how to redevelop North Dekalb Mall, the Gallery at South Dekalb, Memorial Drive, and Scottdale. The students spoke with property owners and community members to help inform their proposals. They also analyzed historic maps that helped inform environmental conditions. 

Some of these proposals are current areas that have been discussed for redevelopment in Dekalb, such as the DeKalb Farmers Market, which Dunham-Jones said plans to increase its operations and parking lot by about fivefold, and its plans are already approved.

“We love the farmers market. We absolutely want to be supportive. It is a fantastic asset to our community,” Dunham-Jones said. “But instead of having a massive urban heat island producing a lot of polluting runoff, this team [of students] proposed that instead the parking for the store [be put] in a parking garage attached to the new store.”

The land that would have been used for the parking lot could then be used to make a car-free neighborhood, Dunham-Jones said. The goal of more walkable areas includes increased accessibility for people who do not have a car or cannot drive, reduced traffic and reduced air pollution.

“Developers have had their run of DeKalb County for 60-plus years,” Terry said. “We can’t go back in time. So the best approach is to do two things: to conserve what we have and to make better use of what we’ve already done.”

The presentations were not only meant to educate residents on different ways of thinking about development in the county, but also how each of these issues is impacted by the county government’s planning and zoning decisions. 

“Because we grew up in the 50s and the 60s, we have lots of roads connecting low-density neighborhoods, right? What does that mean? It means we have potholes everywhere. Why? We can’t afford to maintain our roads,” Walter Brown, who presented information on trails, said. “So what are we doing with our SPLOST, a huge chunk of it … goes to repaving. Wouldn’t you like to see that money reprogrammed to sustainable transportation alternatives?”

Brown presented information about the county’s research into multi-use trails, which also comes as two trail expansion projects are being looked at in Commissioner Michelle Long Spears’ district two: the Emory trail expansion and the Peachtree Creek Greenway. The presentation included discussing the benefits to health, job creation, and environmental benefits. 

The final presentation pulled some of the prior discussions together by looking at village conservation communities where trees are preserved and land is used effectively. Greg Ramsey, founder of Village Habitat Design, said there is limited undeveloped land in DeKalb County. 

The program looks at undeveloped parcels clustered together or near one another and creates designs based on the parcels where development should go, where trails can be implemented, and where walkability and community infrastructure can be put. The approach prioritizes nature, urban agriculture, and development. 

“We need walkable villages and hamlets to bring local workplaces back so that it’s not an absentee neighborhood. Instead, it’s an active neighborhood,” Ramsey said. 

Commissioner Terry to Host DeKalb Green New Deal Summit on October 14

An event highlighting existing climate resiliency and climate change mitigation strategies while inviting attendees to be a part of a movement for a green, clean, resilient, sustainable future in DeKalb County.

DeKalb County, GA (9/14/2023)– Commissioner Terry is proud to host the DeKalb Green New Deal Summit at Georgia Piedmont Technical College on October 14, 2023. This free, all day event will highlight existing, successful climate resiliency and climate change mitigation strategies in DeKalb County while also inviting attendees to be a part of a movement for a green, clean, resilient, sustainable future.

Attendees will have the opportunity to:

  • Taste a Productive Urban Landscape with Roots Down
  • Tour Sustainable Housing Cottages with MicroLife Institute
  • Imagine the Clean Energy Future with Southface Institute
  • Ride on an Electric Bus with MARTA
  • Retrofit Suburbia with Ellen Dunham-Jones and Georgia Tech Students
  • Expand your knowledge of trail networks in DeKalb County with Commissioner Michelle Long Spears and Walter Brown, DeKalb County Commission District 2
  • Conserve nature with the Village Conservation Community
  • See the Sunrise from Arabia Mountain with Arabia Mountain National Heritage Area and Dekalb County Recreation, Parks, and Cultural Affairs—Davidson-Arabia Mountain Nature Preserve
  • And so much more!

The climate is already changing, and DeKalb County residents are feeling these dangerous effects through high energy bills, flooding, heat, and extreme weather. The time for bold, urgent action is now. The time for a DeKalb Green New Deal is now. Whether you are a climate action champion eager to make connections, new to sustainability and want to make a difference, or curious how you can incorporate green initiatives into your own county or city, Commissioner Terry welcomes you to attend! RSVP HERE: bit.ly/dekalb-gnd-summit

Key Details:

Date: October 14, 2023

Time: 8 am – 5 pm

Location: Georgia Piedmont Technical College

This event is free to attend. Light lunch and snacks provided.

The DeKalb Green New Deal Summit also includes an optional sunrise hike up Arabia Mountain on October 15, 2023 at 6:30 am.

DEKALB COUNTY MOVES TO 100% CLEAN ENERGY WITH SOUTHFACE INSTITUTE

Atlanta-Based Nonprofit to Develop Roadmap to Eco-Friendly Future

DEKALB COUNTY, GA (July 31, 2023) -– As part of widespread efforts to improve sustainability in DeKalb County under the Clean Energy Transition Plan, Southface Institute, an Atlanta-based sustainable building nonprofit, has been selected to steer the county towards a future of 100% clean energy, defined as energy produced through means that do not directly pollute the atmosphere. Southface will develop an extensive energy transition plan to be presented to county leadership by August 2024 and will partner with four other organizations – Atlanta-based Cherry Street Energy, Atlanta-based Clean Cities Georgia, Atlanta-based IB Environmental, and Maryland based Energetics.

“Southface is excited to continue working with DeKalb County to set and achieve ambitious goals that benefit residents, businesses, community services, and the environment,” said James Marlow, President of Southface Institute. “With county staff, Clean Cities Georgia, Cherry Street Energy, and other sustainability leaders collaborating, this outstanding team has what it takes to make a real impact.”

Components of this transition plan will include recommendations on how to enhance the use of solar energy in municipal buildings, increase the number of clean energy vehicles, increase equity, and address “energy burdens” (the percentage of gross household income spent on energy costs) within the county. It will also include strategic opportunities for public education, which will begin as early as fall 2023. The funding for the plan came from the 2022 Fiscal Year General Fund Budget, an agenda item sponsored by District 6.

This partnership and plan development is another step towards making DeKalb a 100% clean energy county, a commitment the Board of Commissioners made in 2021 via unanimous vote. The 2021 resolution calls for the county to transition to use 50% renewable energy by 2025, and 100% by 2035. By 2045, the county would be using 100% clean energy community-wide.

DeKalb County Commissioner Ted Terry, a longtime environmental activist, champion of the Clean Energy Transition Plan, and leader of the DeKalb Green New Deal movement, says the partnership with Southface is a thrilling development that he’s been eagerly awaiting.

“Passing our transition plan in 2021 was a historic achievement. I knew even then that Southface was the right group for the job,” Commissioner Terry said. “Now and future generations need an action plan to save our planet, and that is exactly what we are developing with Southface and other tremendous environmental leaders. Together, we will make DeKalb a greener, more equitable place for all.”

Work on this yearlong project has already begun, partnering first with Energetics and IB Environmental to inventory greenhouse gas usage by government facilities and vehicles. Southface Institute will announce its initial public education and discussion sessions in August, allowing community members to get involved in this monumental process for the county.

Additional Partner Quotes:

As a small, local firm, IB Environmental is excited to be part of this project. Assessing and promoting energy equity for DeKalb County residents resonates deeply with our mission to increase the appreciation for water and energy resources, while promoting sound environmental policy through research, education, and action. We are looking forward to working with our partners Southface, Energetics, and Cherry Street to improve energy efficiency and low-emission strategies in DeKalb County.

-Stacey Isaac Berahzer, Founder and CEO, IB Environmental

“Energetics has a long history of supporting energy resilience planning and the development of clean transportation solutions, and we’re looking forward to working on solutions that impact the citizens of DeKalb County. We are equally excited to partner with Southface, Clean Cities Georgia, IB Environmental, and Cherry Street Energy to contribute our expertise to the development of the County’s Clean Energy Transportation Transition Plan.”

-Walt Zalis, Program Director, Energetics Inc.

“Clean Cities Georgia is excited to partner with DeKalb County on their Clean Energy Transportation Transition Plan. We have assembled knowledgeable partners with Southface, IB Environmental, Cherry Street Energy and Energetics. DeKalb is leading in developing sustainable buildings and transportation infrastructure. We think this is a model that can be replicated with other municipalities.”

 -Frank Morris, Executive Director, Clean Cities Georgia

“The Cherry Street Energy team is thrilled to support DeKalb County in its pursuit of this meaningful 100% clean energy goal. This project shows the leadership and commitment necessary to find impact for the community in the transition to renewable energy.”

-Michael Chanin, CEO, Cherry Street Energy

# # #

ABOUT Southface Institute

ABOUT DeKalb County Super District 6 Commissioner Ted Terry

Contact: Kelly Cato, Chief of Staff, DeKalb County, District 6, kecato@dekalbcountyga.gov

Press Contact: Kae Holloway, Publicist, kholloway@pineapple-pr.com

DeKalb fights growing pains with green space initiative

From Atlanta News First

By Savannah Louie
Published: May. 23, 2023 at 7:28 PM EDT

ATLANTA, Ga. (Atlanta News First) – A solution to metro Atlanta’s growing pains has taken root at DeKalb County libraries with “productive urban landscapes,” or green spaces.

DeKalb County Super District Six Commissioner Ted Terry said six of the county’s 23 libraries have transformed their landscaping into green spaces for the community.

“We actually have a lot of space outside the library,” said Terry. “During the pandemic, there was a real emphasis on outdoor learning spaces.”

A green space contains grass, trees, shrubs, or other vegetation, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. While green spaces provide a range of socio-economic benefits for communities, development poses a threat to natural ecosystems.

80 percent of DeKalb County is already developed with no sign of slowing down. According to the Urban Land Institute, the Atlanta region is expanding faster than any settlement in human history.

The DeKalb green space revitalization comes at no extra cost to the community.

“We’re already spending a lot of our taxpayer money on [public landscaping], but we’re shifting it to a more ecologically and sound system,” Terry explained.

Research from NASA finds green space exposes the body to good bacteria and can help improve mood, depression, neurological behavior, and stress.

Green spaces are also associated with lower rates of crime and can reduce the cost of public services, like police protection, sewer, and road maintenance, according to DeKalb County.

“We’re shifting the paradigm. We’re creating a more organic productive landscape,” said Terry.

The landscaping project in DeKalb County is facilitated by Georgia landscaping nonprofit Roots Down. Roots Down provides opportunities for local government and businesses to improve sustainability within landscaping.

Roots Down CEO Jamie Rosenthal said the pandemic highlighted the need for activating more green space.

“People are sad. They’re riddled with anxiety, depression, mental illness – and a lot of that can be helped by being outside and connected to nature,” said Rosenthal. “Nature is one of the best healing forces on the planet.”

Rosenthal said landscaping, a $140 billion industry, holds a lot of room for improvement.

“I would say people give it really little thought,” said Rosenthal.

Productive urban landscapes, also called edible landscapes or permaculture landscapes, contain pollinators and native plants that don’t require watering. Many of the plants produce edible fruit for the public.

Commissioner Ted Terry holds ‘DeKalb Green New Deal’ kick-off event

From Decaturish

DeKalb County, GA — DeKalb County Commissioner Ted Terry hosted an event at the Maloof Auditorium to kick off a “DeKalb Green New Deal” initiative on April 17. 

Additional events during Earth Week include webinars on clean energy, environmental justice, and green jobs from April 18-20. Terry will speak at Decatur’s Earth Day celebration on April 22.

In addition, Terry plans to introduce a resolution to allocate $100,000 in American Rescue Plan Act funds for a Green New Deal development fund at the Board of Commissioners meeting on April 18.

“As we know, climate change is already here,” Terry said while explaining why he feels DeKalb needs the initiative to address climate change. “Georgia is one of the fastest warming states in the country.”

Storms are increasing in frequency and severity, causing more frequent flooding, which puts lives and property at risk and strains emergency services, Terry said. Heat waves, flooding, and erosion will affect agriculture in many parts of the state and strain the power grid and other infrastructure.

Terry says that the goal of a DeKalb Green New Deal is to simultaneously address the effects of climate change on the county while creating new jobs through renewable energy, energy efficiency, and green infrastructure. 

A Federal Green New Deal introduced by Senator Bernie Sanders and Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in 2019 did not pass. Still, some of the same policies were incorporated into the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022.

Terry said that hundreds of millions of dollars are available through grants from the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Energy, and the US Department of Agriculture.

“This really is the best time to act,” Terry said.

Terry said that less than 2% of DeKalb County remains undeveloped, including 3000 acres of the South River Forest. Most of the forest is currently zoned industrial, therefore, not protected. The South River Forest also includes the proposed site of the controversial police training facility called “Cop City” by activists.

Dr. Jacqueline Echols, Board President of the South River Watershed Alliance (SWRA), said that she got involved in conservation because of a 1999 consent decree between the EPA and the City of Atlanta, which came about because the city was dumping raw sewage into the Chattahoochee and South Rivers. She began work related to the consent decree after receiving her doctorate in Political Science from Clark Atlanta in 1999.

Echols said that the South River is a headwater of the Ocmulgee-Altamaha River Basin, which drains about one-quarter of the state of Georgia, and is one of the three largest river basins in the Eastern Seaboard. 

Echols said that DeKalb has been the major source of sewage pollution in that river system since 1961, and in 2010, five decades of violations resulted in an EPA-enforced consent decree. 

Echols said that 76% of residents along the upper South River corridor from south Atlanta to south DeKalb County are Black. Eighty-six percent are non-white people of color. Pollution contributes to significantly higher rates of health problems such as asthma among those populations, who are 80-100% more likely to live near wastewater discharge.

“What’s going on with the Atlanta forest is probably one of the most horrific environmental injustices that is taking place in this country today,” Echols said.

Echols explained that despite some improvements, Atlanta and DeKalb wastewater still pollutes the South River water system, affecting everything downstream, including places like Macon that take drinking water from the Ocmulgee watershed.

“The system operates by overflowing. So, you need the green space along the creek and the river to clean the water as it moves downstream,” Echols said. 

Increased stormwater due to climate change, along with any development that will increase runoff, is likely to worsen existing erosion and pollution problems, which will cost taxpayers money to fix.

“The city of Stonecrest has committed over a million dollars to dealing with the stormwater at Panola Shoals. It comes from Atlanta. It comes from upstream,” Echols said.

Echols said that SRWA does cleanups, water sampling, and advocacy. The organization is currently working on encouraging recreational use of the river, which is key to dismantling what Echols calls a “culture of avoidance” and improving water quality. Echols said that since the Georgia Environmental Protection Department prioritizes recreational areas, encouraging recreational use is part of protecting the river. 

Terry said that in addition to offering information, part of the purpose of the events this week is to seek input about the community’s priorities. Terry said that the resolution he presents to the Board of Commissioners on April 18 only sets aside money and that specific projects will be brought back before the board for a vote.

“For instance, last year, we did $10,000 to the Decatur Greenway to build a bioswale,” Terry said. At least 40% of the fund will go to communities impacted the most by climate change and environmental injustice, including those along the upper South River corridor described by Echols.

Terry said that Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (SPLOST) funding could be used in addition to the ARPA funds for some of this work.  Terry said that the legislature has passed a new “clean” SPLOST for DeKalb, and the Board of Commissioners will meet next Thursday at 10 am to discuss projects.   

Terry said that he hopes to build on past successes and plans to hold a DeKalb Green New Deal summit on Oct. 14 of this year to discuss what has been accomplished up to that point.

“We can lead for ourselves and encourage others by doing so,” Terry said.