January 26, 2021: Vacancy on Charlottesville's public housing board; group seeks feedback on glass recycling

  
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On today’s show:

  • A COVID update packed with important information 

  • News from Charlottesville’s public housing authority board including a new vacancy

  • A group continues to seek ways to increase glass recycling from local wineries 

Today's Patreon-fueled shout-out is for the Plant Northern Piedmont Natives Campaign, an initiative that wants you to grow native plants in yards, farms, public spaces and gardens in the northern Piedmont. Native plants provide habitat, food sources for wildlife, ecosystem resiliency in the face of climate change, and clean water.  Start at the Plant Northern Piedmont Natives Facebook page and tell them Lonnie Murray sent you! 

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We begin today with COVID-19. The Virginia Department of Health reports another 4,707 new cases today, and another 93 fatalities. The seven-day average for positive PCR tests has dropped to 12.5 percent, down from 13.6 percent a week ago. There are another 71 cases in the Blue Ridge Health District and another death in Fluvanna County. That’s now 106 people in the district who have passed on from COVID-related complications. 

The continued surge as well as a shortage of vaccines has led the Center at Belvedere to close its doors through at least March 1, though programming will continue online. The nonprofit group that offers community space closed in the early days of the pandemic, but reopened. Peter Thompson is the executive director. 

“Conditions are quite different from what they were last June when we resumed on-site programs,” Thompson wrote in a message posted to the Center’s website. “Due to the increase in Covid-19 infection rates locally, the emergence of highly contagious new variants, and the complexities of vaccine distribution, we have determined that the best way for us to support community health is to temporarily move all of our programs online.”

Yesterday the Virginia Department of Health reported the presence in Northern Virginia of a more infectious strain of COVID that was first discovered in the United Kingdom. In a press release, health officials said they will continue to monitor the situation. 

“While scientists are working to better understand its impact on vaccine efficacy, early data suggests currently authorized vaccines are effective against the new variant,” the release continues. 

Also yesterday, Albemarle’s communications director Emily Kilroy briefed the Places29-Hydraulic Community Advisory Committee on the vaccine roll-out.

Albemarle County has increased the presence of COVID-related information on its website following concerns from some that not enough was being done to get shots in people’s arms. Kilroy urged patience while the vaccine supply is replenished. 

“We like try to to remind folks that we are still much in the middle of the pandemic and even once folks start getting vaccinated, and are getting vaccinated, that still does not change your day to day,” Kilroy said. “You’re still wearing a mask. You’re still keeping distance. You’re still safest at home.” 

As for vaccines, the seven-day average for vaccines administered per day is now at 24,790, up from 21,823 yesterday. In the past 24 hours, the VDH reports 39,109 doses administered. Keep in mind there has been a data backlog at times, but the number of vaccines administered per day has been increasing. The goal set by Governor Ralph Northam is 50,000 a day. 

In other COVID news, the Federal Transit Administration has awarded nearly a quarter of a million dollars to the Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation (DRPT) to help transit providers recover even before the pandemic is over. The DRPT will create a toolkit called “Adapting to a New Normal” that will offer advice on how to increase safety and reduce contacts. (release)

Update from CRHA meeting

There’s a new vacancy on the Board of Commissioners for the Charlottesville Redevelopment and Housing Authority. Michael Osteen has resigned in the midst of his second term. CRHA Chair Betsy Roettger read from a resolution last night

“And whereas his tenure on the CRHA Board, Mr. Osteen has worked diligently to represent the needs of CRHA residents and brought his expertise in design, building, and property management,” Roettger said. “And whereas Mr. Osteen’s commitment to a resident-centric approach to the management of CRHA demonstrates the fundamental values of true-asset based community leadership…”

Osteen also served on the Planning Commission from 2006 to 2014. City Council will need to appoint a vacancy. 

A frequent speaker at CRHA meetings noted that last night’s meeting is perhaps the last before groundbreaking takes place for the first new public housing units. Brandon Collins is on the staff at the Public Housing Association of Residents (PHAR) and wanted to note the occasion. He said many residents became frustrated in the early 2010’s after nothing happened following adoption of a master plan for public housing in the summer of 2010. 

“We all kind of got over that hump,” Collins said. “PHAR made an important realization which was that redevelopment was needed but it needed to be on residents term and PHAR needed to say yes to something, so we set out and we did the work for about a year putting together what we called the positive vision for redevelopment.” 

Collins said the vision calls for reparations for past wrongs by providing for resident self-determination. 

“And that’s something to work towards and it’s something that this housing authority has been bold in accepting the idea that the only way to make this work is through resident-led redevelopment,” Collins said. 

The CRHA Board got an update on redevelopment last night. Renovation of Crescent Halls and creation of new units at South First Street are the two plans that are moving forward. Kathleen Glenn-Matthews is director of operations at CRHA.

“After a really long day, we finally have closed on South First Street and we’re really excited that we’re going to be able to have a community meeting this Sunday,” Glenn-Matthews said. 

There’s no date set yet for ground-breaking at the first phase South First Street, but she said it may happen toward the end of the month once there is equipment on site. A virtual ceremony will be held due to COVID.

Glenn-Matthews said that redevelopment is moving forward despite a recent staff vacancy. Dave Norris has left his position as CRHA Redevelopment Director. There’s an application for the position on the CRHA website. In an email to me this morning, Norris confirmed his departure and said he continued working to help get the agency closer to ground-breaking. He also said he has been focusing time recently on the Sister City partnership between Charlottesville and Winneba, Ghana.  

You can learn more about the status of redevelopment in an update Glenn-Matthews posted. The CRHA has not closed the financing deal for the Crescent Halls project. 

The waiting list for the CRHA’s Mainstream Voucher Program will open back up on January 29, according to a blog post on their website

Group seeks information from beverage producers on glass recycling

An ad hoc group of environmental professionals working on a way to reduce the amount of glass that winds up in landfills resumed the conversation earlier this month. The work is an outcome of Albemarle County’s Solid Waste Advisory Committee and Better World Betty. They have been asking area wineries and breweries to tell them how much glass they discard in an online survey that is open through February 1

“There’s just a lot of glass to be had and we’re excited about the survey results that we’ve received,” said Teri Kent, the founder of Better World Betty. 

The idea is to collect the information with an eye towards hiring a hauler who could collect glass from beverage providers and aggregate the material at a processing facility run by the Rivanna Solid Waste Authority. For this to work, the glass must be separated in the waste stream to avoid contamination. 

A co-founder of Valley Road Vineyards in Afton said he supported the idea.

“I am instinctively drawn to anything that will do something than what we’re doing with glass now which is just putting it in the landfill,” said Stan Joynes. “But I do have this question at the outset which is what is the end of this material?”

Philip McKalips is the solid waste manager at the RSWA. He said for many years, the agency collected glass and was able to find places for it to go but has recently formalized an arrangement.

“More recently we wanted to have more of a structured program, something that we could rely on functionally, and we set up an arrangement with Strategic Materials where they actually a hire a trucking company, they come on a regular process, out to our closed landfill, where we stockpile our recycled glass that comes in from our collection centers,” McKalips said.  

From there, the  glass goes to a facility in Wilson, North Carolina, where the materials are sorted. 

“And then they either use it internally or sell it to other users,” McKalips said. 

The goal of the current initiative is to collect enough glass so it can be used as material to make new containers. Localities in Northern Virginia have created a program where purple bins are used to collect glass, returning to a time when materials were separated by those who purchased the product. Scott DeFife is with the Glass Packaging Institute. 

“All of the glass that’s going into the bins in the Northern Virginia communities of Arlington, Alexandria and Fairfax is now making its way down to Wilson and getting turned around into glass container plants,” DeFife said. 

DeFife said much of what ends up in mixed recycling bins winds up in a landfill. 

“Getting enough clean, you know, a critical mass of good quality glass can get that glass back into the supply chain,” DeFife said. He added that there is a market for a glass manufacturer somewhere in Virginia which would reduce travel time.

“But the economics of processing are very chicken and egg,” DeFife said. “Nobody is going to build a $10 million to $15 million glass processing plant if there’s no glass to go to it.” 

So work continues to organize the waste stream. The group wants as many beverage producers as possible to fill out the survey. Jesse Warren is with UVA Sustainability. 

“What we’re thinking is some kind of weekly hauling route where a provider will provide something like a 64x96 gallon cart that you all will then fill up with glass,” Warren said. 

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Special thanks to the Valley Road Research Center for their musical contributions, funded by an anonymous donor.