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Missouri AG fights against Jefferson County schools quarantine rules

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Missouri AG fights against Jefferson County schools quarantine rules

JEFFERSON COUNTY, Mo. – The Missouri Attorney General is fighting against quarantine rules for Jefferson County students.

Monday Eric Schmitt argued the county health department is attempting to unlawfully impose a quarantine on students and parents. He said the rules fall under a new state law limiting health authorities’ powers to enact mandates.

In September the county released guidance stating students and teachers who come in contact with a positive person can continue in-person learning, but they must wear a mask for up to 14 days.

Health and school officials said the goal is to keep everyone safe and maintain in-person learning.

In St. Charles County, the St. Charles County Parents Association announced it filed a suit against the county health department over its school quarantine rules.

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Denver weather: “No snow November” continues into December, more records in jeopardy

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Denver weather: Partly sunny and mild Saturday followed by sunny Sunday

Denver typically sees its first flakes of the season fall in mid-October. Through the end of November, Denver should pick up, on average, 12.5 inches of snow. Neither of those things has happened this year, and nothing is in the near-term forecast to change things up.

It’s the weather stat that has everyone talking. Denver has not seen any measurable snow this season and is breaking records for the latest first snow and for its streak of consecutive days without measurable snow. Weather records, no matter how arbitrary you think they may be, are kept so we have a reference for anomalous events.

Well, this snow season is certainly shaping up to be anomalous.

Denver already has broken the record for the latest first snow on record. The old record, which stood for more than 85 years, was broken on Nov. 21. The top 10 records for the latest first snows all occurred within a week of each other (they occurred between Nov. 14-21). This year’s new record already has eclipsed the latest date by more than a week and there is no snow in sight, further impressing weather and climate folk with its rarity.

Waiting until December for the first snow is unheard of in Denver. It has literally never happened before, but that’s likely what will happen this year. There have been nine Novembers during which a trace of snow or less has been reported in total, like this year, but that rareness of no snow occurring in December rises fast.

Another lack-of-snow record is approaching in Denver. The longest streak without measurable snow in the city. The record longest snowless streak in Denver is 235 days back in 1887 which occurred between March 5 and Oct. 25. The last time we had measurable snow in Denver was back on April 22 — 223 days ago.

TOP 5 LONGEST SNOWLESS STREAKS IN DENVER
235 days: March 5-Oct. 25, 1887
227 days: March 27-Nov. 8, 1888
224 days: March 23-Nov. 2, 1889
223 days: April 22-???, 2021 
219 days: April 5-Nov. 9, 1886

As you can see, we are in rare company on this top 5 list. The most recent years when we went more than 219 days without measurable snow in Denver all occurred in the mid-to-late 1880s.

Forecast

The forecast does not look great concerning snow in Denver, or in Colorado for that matter.

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In shadow of Texas gas drilling sites, health fears escalate

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In shadow of Texas gas drilling sites, health fears escalate

ARLINGTON, Texas — At a playground outside a North Texas day care center, giggling preschoolers chase each other into a playhouse. Toddlers scoot by on tricycles. A boy cries as a teacher helps him negotiate over a toy.

Uphill from the playground, peeking between trees, is a site where Total Energies is pumping for natural gas. The French energy giant wants to drill three new wells on the property next to Mother’s Heart Learning Center, which serves mainly Black and Latino children. The three wells, along with two existing ones, would lie about 600 feet from where the children planted a garden of sunflowers.

For the families of the children and for others nearby, it’s a prospect fraught with fear and anxiety. Living too close to drilling sites has been linked to a range of health risks, especially to children, from asthma to neurological and developmental disorders. And while some states are requiring energy companies to drill farther from day cares, schools and homes, Texas has taken the opposite tack: It has made it exceedingly difficult for localities to fight back.

The affected areas go beyond day care centers and schools close to drilling sites. They include communities near related infrastructure — compressor stations, for example, which push gas through pipelines and emit toxic fumes, and export facilities, where gas is cooled before being shipped overseas.

On Tuesday night, the City Council in this city situated between Dallas and Fort Worth is scheduled to vote on Total’s latest drilling request. Last year, the council denied Total’s request. The rejection came at a time when Black Lives Matter protests after George Floyd’s murder by police had led many American communities to take a deeper look at racial disparities. But with time having passed and with some turnover on the City Council, many residents worry that this time Total will succeed.

And they fear the consequences.

“I’m trying to protect my little one,” said Guerda Philemond, whose 2-year-old, Olivia Grace Charles, attends the day care. “There’s a lot of land, empty space they can drill. It doesn’t have to be in the back yard of a day care.”

Total declined a request for an interview to discuss the matter. But in a statement, the company said it has operated near Mother’s Heart for more than a decade without any safety concerns expressed by the City of Arlington.

“We listen to and do understand the concerns of the local communities with whom we interact frequently to ensure we operate in harmony with them and the local authorities,” the statement said.

The clash in Arlington comes against the backdrop of pledges from world leaders to reduce emissions, burn less fossil fuel and transition to cleaner energy. Yet the world’s reliance on natural gas is growing, not declining. As soon as next year, the United States is set to become the world’s largest exporter of liquid natural gas, or LNG, according to Rystad Energy.

As a result, despite pressure for energy companies to shift their spending to cleaner technologies, there will likely be more drilling for natural gas in Arlington and other communities. And children who spend time near drilling sites or natural gas distribution centers — in neighborhoods that critics call “sacrifice zones” — may face a growing risk of developing neurological or learning problems and exposure to carcinogens. A report by Physicians for Social Responsibility and Concerned Health Professionals of New York, which reviewed dozens of scientific studies, found that the public health risks associated with these sites include cancers, asthma, respiratory diseases, rashes, heart problems and mental health disorders.

Most vulnerable are non-white families. Many of the wells Total has drilled in Arlington are near Latino and Black or low-income communities, often just a few hundred feet from homes. A statistical analysis by The Associated Press of the locations of wells Total operates in Arlington shows that their density is higher in neighborhoods that many people of color call home.

Asked about that finding, Total did not respond directly but said its “decisions on future drilling are driven by the geological data.”

“America is segregated, and so is pollution,” said Robert Bullard, director of the Bullard Center for Environmental and Climate Justice at Texas Southern University. “The dirty industries, and what planners call locally unwanted land uses, oftentimes followed the path of least resistance. Historically, that’s been poor communities and communities of color.”

The pattern is evident well outside the Arlington area, too. When gas pumped in Texas is shipped out for export, it goes to liquid natural gas facilities along the Gulf Coast. Many of those facilities are near communities, like those in Port Arthur, Texas, that are predominantly non-white.

“There’s constant talk of expansions here,” said John Beard, founder of the Port Arthur Community Action Network, which opposes the expansion of export facilities. “When you keep adding this to the air, the air quality degrades, and so does our quality of life and so does our health.

“Once again, we’re being sacrificed.”

* * *

At the Arlington day care, Wanda Vincent, the owner, has been cautioning parents about the health risks and gathering signatures to petition the City Council to reject Total’s drilling request. When she opened the facility nearly two decades ago, Vincent wanted to provide a refuge for children in her care, some of whom suffer from hunger and poverty.

That was before natural gas production accelerated in the United States. Around 2005, energy companies discovered how to drill horizontally into shale formations using hydraulic fracturing techniques. With this technique, known as fracking, water and chemicals are shot deep underground into a well bore that travels horizontally. It is highly effective. But fracking is known to contribute to air and water pollution and to raise risks to people and the environment.

Vincent worries that the political winds in Arlington have shifted since last year and that the council will approve Total’s new request.

“The world was dealing with what happened with George Floyd,” she said. “The meeting was emotional, just listening to the speakers that were talking and then sharing their hearts and saying, ‘Well, we want to do more. We want to, you know, racially do better.’ And I was encouraged. But you know what? Nothing has really changed since then.”

Some states have acted to force fracking away from residents. Colorado last year required new wells to be drilled at least 2,000 feet from homes and schools. California has proposed a limit of 3,200 feet. Los Angeles has taken steps to ban urban drilling. Vermont and New York state banned fracking years ago.

In Arlington, drilling is supposed to occur no closer than 600 feet from day care centers or homes. But companies can apply for a waiver from the City Council to drill as close as 300 feet.

France, Total’s home country, bars fracking. But that ban is largely symbolic because no meaningful oil or gas supplies exist in France. So Total, one of the world’s largest players in natural gas, drills in 27 other countries. It turns much of that gas into liquid, then ships it, trades it and re-gasifies it at LNG terminals worldwide.

The gas wells next to Mother’s Heart represent just a tiny fraction of Total’s global operations. Yet the company holds tight to its plans to drill there despite the community’s resistance.

“Nobody should have a production ban unless they have a consumption ban, because it has made places like Arlington extraction colonies for countries like France, and they have shifted the environmental toll, the human toll, to us,” said Ranjana Bhandari, director of Liveable Arlington, the group leading the opposition to Total’s drilling plans.

In Arlington, companies that are rejected for a drilling permit may reapply after a year. Some Arlington council members have said they fear litigation if they don’t allow the drilling. That’s because a Texas law bars localities from banning, limiting or even regulating oil or gas operations except in limited circumstances. (Arlington officials declined to be interviewed.)

“If I’m able to reach out to the French and speak to them directly, I would let them know, ‘Would you be able to allow somebody to go in your back yard and do natural gas drilling where you know your wife lays her head or your kids lay their head?’ ” said Philemond, the day care center parent. “And the answer would absolutely be ‘No’ within a second.”

* * *

A mile or so from the day care, in the back yard of Frank and Michelle Meeks, a high-pitched ringing blares like a school fire alarm as the sun sets. Just beyond their patio and grill looms the wall of another Total well site, where one of the wells was in the “flowback” stage, according to the City of Arlington. Flowback occurs when fracking fluids and debris are cleared from the wellbore before gas production begins. This site, which stretches behind many neighborhood houses, is near two day care centers.

The ringing goes on and on. When the wells were initially drilled, Michelle Meeks said, the sound and vibrations were a full-body experience. At this point, she and her husband barely notice it.

After the drilling started a decade ago at the site, a few hundred feet behind their house, they noticed cracks in their foundation and across their backyard patio. They now receive royalty checks for $15 or $20 a few times a year. That money wouldn’t make a dent in the cost of repairing the cracks in their foundation. But when the oil and gas developers came knocking years ago, the couple thought that saying no would have been futile.

“In Texas, you really can’t fight oil and gas production,” said Frank Meeks, a 60-year-old machine operator. “We don’t have the money to go and get big-time lawyers to keep them out of our back yards.”

A few miles away, Pamela Polk cares for her autistic 21-year-old grandson in a modest home she rents across the fence from another Total gas well site. She has chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. And since they moved in a decade ago, her grandson developed asthma.

Arlington’s air quality exceeds federal ozone pollution standards set by the EPA. In 2012, at the height of the fracking boom, asthma rates for school-age children in Tarrant County were 19%-25% — far above national and state norms.

“You’d think they would at least put a flyer in the mailbox or something, you know?” Polk said. “I’m frustrated. I mean, we pay taxes, you know, even though we’re renters, we still pay taxes.”

The site is a quarter-mile from two day cares. Polk notices teenagers playing on the other side of the fence in the field adjacent to the drill site.

“The biggest thing that worries me,” she said, “is kids.”

* * *

Around Arlington, drilling has imposed higher costs — literally — on lower-income neighborhoods than on more affluent areas. As the fracking boom took off, “land men” from the oil and gas companies went door to door in Arlington, asking permission to drill beneath homes of those who owned mineral rights. Some homeowners were offered signing bonuses and royalties. Renters like Polk, and others who don’t own the rights to the minerals beneath their homes, had no choice but to yield to drilling — and received nothing for it.

By contrast, when land men came knocking in Bhandari’s wealthier neighborhood 15 years ago, she and her neighbors, a lawyer among them, joined forces. Some opposed fracking. Others wanted higher royalty payments. In the end, the company, which had sought to drill next to a park, situated its well pad a mile away. Now, Bhandari is trying to help less affluent neighborhoods push back on drilling.

Arlington sits atop the Barnett Shale, one of the largest on-land natural gas fields in the United States. Gas production, which peaked in the Barnett Shale a decade ago, has been declining. Even with natural gas prices rising, few large U.S. companies plan to drill new wells at a time when investors are increasingly seeking environmentally responsible companies.

“Total is a publicly traded company. They claim to be very interested in the energy transition and so forth,” said Bruce Bullock, director of the Maguire Energy Institute at Southern Methodist University. “If a U.S. company were to do that here that was publicly traded, their stock would be hammered.”

Not only is Total among the few operators that are actively seeking new wells in the Barnett Shale. It’s also drilled closer to population centers than have other companies over the past eight years, according to an analysis by S&P Global Platts.

Some in Arlington have managed to benefit from the drilling. At Cornerstone Baptist Church recently, a dozen choir members belted out hymns while congregants clapped and waved hands. A rainbow of lights illuminated a cross hanging above. Balloons and ferns decorated the stage, flanked by outsize screens showcasing the singers.

The church, which allowed Total to drill for gas on its land about a decade ago, collected royalties that helped support food giveaways, as well as other churches, said Jan Porter, a former church elder.

“It’s enabled us,” he said, “to do ministries that we might not have been able to do.”

* * *

After natural gas is pumped from underground, it moves through pipelines, passing through compressor stations, which help keep the gas moving. About a half-mile west of Polk’s house is a compressor station. Occasionally, a sour smell wafts through the air. As the gas moves through a series of curved pipes, a sound like a giant vacuum arises constantly.

Exposure to emissions of volatile organic compounds from natural gas pipeline compressor stations has been linked to higher death rates, according to a study by Indiana University. When released, these compounds can create ozone, which may exacerbate asthma, bronchitis, emphysema or cause chest pain, throat irritation or reduced lung function, especially in children and older adults. Compressor stations in New York state emitted 39 carcinogenic chemicals, including benzene and formaldehyde, according to a study by the University of Albany. Compressor stations also release methane, a potent climate-warming gas.

A few blocks away, the same sour smell clings to the air as Patrick Vancooper prunes tomato plants and okra he grows on a strip of land between the street and a fence. Many of his neighbors, in a community with pockmarked roads and weathered apartments, don’t know they live near a compressor station.

Greg and Gloria Allen were among them. They noticed a smell like raw eggs or a skunk, with a chemical odor too pungent to be an animal. They didn’t know the cause.

When the couple drives down the block near the compressor station, hidden behind a row of commercial properties and a doctor’s office, the fumes are so severe that Gloria Allen, a 59-year-old bus driver for the City of Dallas, gets headaches.

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Denver Johnson & Wales campus already transforming under new owners

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Denver Johnson & Wales campus already transforming under new owners

Five months after Denver Public Schools, the Denver Housing Authority and nonprofit Urban Land Conservancy teamed to buy the 25-acre Johnson & Wales University property in northeast Denver, change is starting.

A pair of affordable housing projects are in the planning stages for the former dorm buildings on the property, located at 7150 Montview Blvd. A major expansion of the Denver School of the Arts on the campus’ west side also is on deck. That project is expected to allow the school to grow by between 500 and 700 students and prioritize students of color and low-income families, officials said when the sale closed in June.

The work follows pledges from Johnson & Wales representatives last year that the university would prioritize buyers dedicated to supporting the surrounding neighborhood

Even before construction crews get started on those projects, new public benefits are starting on the historic property.

Jorge de la Torre, formerly the dean of the culinary program at Johnson & Wales, joined nonprofit shared kitchen and food business incubator Kitchen Network when that organization opened a location on the campus this summer.

Kitchen Network in turn brought in organizations including Work Options, a nonprofit job training program focused on helping people with criminal records and those who are homeless develop kitchen skills, and starting an apprenticeship program with the Rocky Mountain Chefs of Colorado. Partnerships with more than a half-dozen other nonprofits and local restaurant companies are also in place and a 24-hour commissary kitchen is expected to open on the campus early next year, de la Torre said.

“The silver lining is (the campus) just gets a second life to be available to people who may not have been able to afford a Johnson & Wales education,” he said. “We can just reach a larger population.”

Erick Garcia, Kitchen Network’s chief operating officer, said the nonprofit has 150 monthly active users and helped launch more than 60 new businesses this year, as of November. With its Park Hill location, Garcia hopes to triple those numbers over the next five years, reaching a new well of clients on the east side of the city, many of them Spanish-speaking.

Hyoung Chang, The Denver Post

Clockwise from front left, volunteer Debby Kaufman-Hoja, Danielle Cooke of Ms. Betty’s Cooking, Ruby Geiger, chef instructor of the Rocky Mountain Chefs of Colorado, and Chef Tajahi Cooke of Ms. Betty’s Cooking season turkeys in the kitchen at the Culinary Arts building of the former Johnson and Wales Campus in Denver on Wednesday, Nov. 24, 2021.

Across from the culinary arts building, the campus’ historic Centennial Hall is providing St. Elizabeth’s School with room to grow.

The K-8 private Episcopal school, with 140 students, now has the space to double in size, director of finance and operations Kim Johnson said. Part of the school’s mission is to be “intentionally inclusive.” Its student body is 49% students of color and 83% of students get discounted tuition. School leadership saw the Park Hill campus as an opportunity to work alongside organizations with similar values and goals, Johnson said.

Preserving history, providing opportunity

Centennial Hall was completed in 1908 when the campus debuted as Colorado Women’s College, according to Historic Denver. It and the other buildings are part of the landscape and the culture of the greater Park Hill area, said Denver City Councilwoman Robin Kniech, who lives about a mile away from the campus.

Seeing DPS, the housing authority and the Urban Land Conservancy come together and be able to pull off the acquisition was both a pleasant surprise and very reassuring, she said.

On the opposite side of Denver, for-profit development firm Westside Investment Partners is also working on historic reuse and affordable housing projects at the former Loretto Heights college campus on Federal Boulevard, but Kniech said the city had to push for affordability there. In Park Hill, creating affordable housing is a core mission of two of the new owners.

“I believe that our (Park Hill) community recognizes the importance of being able to bring together preservation of historic buildings and preservation of affordable housing options in our city,” Kniech said.

Focus on housing

It may be a while before people can move into the planned affordable apartments.

The Denver Housing Authority views the two dorm buildings it acquired on the property’s south side as an opportunity for “really quick housing,” spokeswoman Keo Fraizer said. Some of the 72 units already have kitchens and private bathrooms. But work is needed and the agency is focused on preserving the historic elements of the building. The agency doesn’t have a timeline for when it expects to open, Fraizer said.

Nonprofit developer Archway Communities cleared an important hurdle earlier this month in its efforts to transform about 400 dorm rooms on the northeast side of the campus into affordable apartments. The Colorado Housing and Finance Authority awarded the project a combined $2.9 million in competitive state and federal tax credits to help fund the work.

Archway plans to tap into historic preservation tax credits and other financing for what is expected to be a roughly $45 million project, president and CEO Sebastian Corradino said. When work is completed — ideally sometime in early 2024 — the four buildings Archway is under contract to buy from the Urban Land Conservancy will be turned into more than 150 subsidized apartments, at least 10 of which will be available to families making 30% or less of the area median income. Using 2021 income figures, that would cap the rent for a three-bedroom apartment at $817 a month for qualified low-income families.

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