The words of 16-year-old Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg made their way to the Bob Snipes Water Resources Center conference room as members of 100% Athens, a grassroots campaign advocating for renewable energy, gave an impassioned presentation calling for action on climate change.
“We need hope. Of course we do. But the one thing we need more than hope is action,” said Cary Ritzler of 100% Athens, quoting Thunberg.
100% Athens was one of seven additional SPLOST project presentations heard by the SPLOST 2020 Citizens Advisory Committee on Monday, where presentations ranged from sustainability initiatives to combat climate change to an Athens children’s museum.
The CAC is tasked with narrowing down a list of 88 potential projects to fit an estimated $248 million budget for SPLOST 2020. The committee holds meetings twice a week where these projects are presented. A final list of submitted projects will be presented to the Athens-Clarke County Mayor and Commission for approval in July.
Renewable Energy Program
- Submitted by: ACC Sustainability Office
- Estimated cost: around $3.5 million
This project would provide equipment and facility upgrades to increase the amount of renewable energy production both at government facilities and for them. The renewable energy program would incorporate many systems including solar energy systems, geothermal systems, biogas systems and more.
According to the project proposal, this level of funding would provide enough equipment to generate the solar power needed to meet one third of the power needs of ACC’s government facilities.
“This protects the environment and it protects our citizens from increasing utility rates and it decreases the operating expense of the unified government,” ACC Sustainability Officer Andrew Saunders said. “Most importantly, this stewards existing resources.”
Sustainability Investment Program
- Submitted by ACC Sustainability Office
- Estimated cost: around $4.6 million
This project involves funding capital projects to improve the sustainability of Athens-Clarke County government property.
These improvements could be manifested through alternative fuel vehicle replacement, pervious pavement retrofits, water conservation retrofits at ACC government facilities and more.
“Everybody will benefit from sustainability outcomes,” Saunders said. “This ensures that sustainability improvements at our facilities are no longer viewed as nice to have elements, but are now viewed as must have elements.”
Energy Sustainability Program
- Submitted by 100% Athens
- Estimated cost: around $18.3 million
100% Athens, a grassroots campaign working to transition Athens to 100 percent clean and renewable energy by 2035, presented a proposal to use SPLOST funding as a source of gap funding for projects around ACC that would move ACC toward this goal.
Cary Ritzler of 100% Athens said southern counties are going to suffer disproportionately from climate change in the coming decade due to their already existing higher temperatures.
“We are going to see more droughts, more floods, more extreme weather and more heat waves,” Ritzler said. “It’s really important that we do everything we can to reduce our emissions and start to live more sustainably together.”
This project entails providing funds to design new ACC buildings to achieve net zero energy, funds to increase ACC facilities’ energy efficiency and funds to electrify ACC’s vehicle fleet.
Industrial and Commercial Product Development
- Submitted by: ACC Economic Development Department
- Estimated cost: around $46.9 million
This project involves providing funds for land acquisition by ACC government for industrial and commercial property development for prospective businesses.
“What we’re hoping the impact of this project would be is to be more competitive when we’re bringing in companies to look at our commercial and industrial sites,” said Michelle Nguyen, director of the ACC Economic Development Department.
Nguyen said she wants companies to be comfortable when they bring their projects to Athens.
“[We want to make sure] that their timelines are going to be completed quickly, that we are being proactive and we are reaching out to these companies,” Nguyen said.
- Submitted by: ACC Economic Development Department
- Estimated cost: around $36 million
This project would provide for a Tech Industrial Complex at 160 East Strong Street that supports a variety of uses within the entrepreneurial and innovative industry sectors.
“[These two projects] help support all of the potential that companies see when they look at Georgia and they say, ‘We don’t want to be in Atlanta and Athens is awesome,’” Nguyen said. “Well, we don’t want to lose these guys and so what I’m asking for you guys to do is support us as we help capture these opportunities.”
Little Athens Children's Museum Build Out
- Submitted by: Little Athens, Inc.
- Estimated cost: around $9.5 million
This project involves establishing a children’s museum in Athens featuring a mini version of well-known Athens businesses which would provide engagement, education and entertainment.
Little Athens, a non-profit established in 2016, currently acts as a mobile museum that hosts pop up events at Georgia Square Mall, reaching more than 1,000 children annually.
This museum would allow them a permanent two-story physical location. The downstairs would have room for eight exhibits and a large climbing structure in the center surrounded by an indoor track where children can ride bicycles while the upstairs would have birthday party rooms, creative spaces and a music exhibit.
Greenspace Acquisition Program
- Submitted by Athens Land Trust, Inc.
- Estimated cost: around $8 million
This project involves funding the acquisition of properties in ACC in order to protect them from development.
The Greenspace Acquisition Program permanently protects greenspace and farmland and preserves ecosystem services, conserves critical habitat and provides equitable access to recreation, land, clean air, clean water and food.
“SPLOST is generally looked at as an infrastructure expense and so this is green infrastructure,” said Heather Benham, executive director of Athens Land Trust. “So instead of putting cement and concrete in the ground, we are using nature as the green infrastructure.”