Press Release – April 11, 2011

Through Major EPA Grant, Tompkins County Recognized as a Climate Showcase Community

Tompkins County, in a unique partnership with EcoVillage at Ithaca’s Center for Sustainability Education, has been awarded a $375,450 federal grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to fund innovative on-the-ground approaches to creating dense neighborhoods that enhance residents’ quality of life while using fewer resources.

“This is great news for Tompkins County,” US Senator Kirsten Gillibrand said. “Leaders in Tompkins County are helping to lead the way on initiatives to cut pollution, improve the air we breathe and the water we drink. I will keep working to help secure the resources New York needs to address climate change, free us from the dirty foreign fuels of the last century, and produce the clean energy of the 21st century right here in New York.”

“Tompkins County continues to establish itself as one of the most environmentally progressive communities in America,” said US Congressman Maurice Hinchey who helped secure the grant by authoring a letter to the EPA in support of the project. “Reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent county-wide by 2050 is an ambitious and worthwhile goal. By demonstrating what can be done on a local level, I know that Tompkins County will help us to prove that a national and global effort to substantially reduce greenhouse gases is not only needed, but also possible.”

“Tompkins County is one of a select group of jurisdictions in the Northeast chosen to receive national EPA recognition for the creative work being done here,” Tompkins County Legislature Chair Martha Robertson said. “Our public/private efforts to design sustainable, dense and livable communities are greatly needed as we enter into a resource-constrained era that will demand out-of-the-box thinking about how neighborhoods are designed.”

Ithaca Town Supervisor Herb Engman said, “We are thrilled to be part of this exciting project. EcoVillage has been an important part of the Town of Ithaca for nearly twenty years. We look forward to using the lessons learned there to make future development more sustainable.”

The grant will be used to document and disseminate the lessons learned by EcoVillage at Ithaca’s Center for Sustainability Education, a project of the Center for Transformative Action, over the course of its twenty years of experience in building an internationally recognized sustainable community – one in which residents report an exceptionally high quality of life, while using 40% less energy and natural resources than typical Americans.

“I’m thrilled,” said EVI-CSE Executive Director Liz Walker. “This will give us the ability to translate proven concepts of sustainable community development to a mainstream audience. We hope to reach developers, architects, planners and builders.”

Ed Marx, Tompkins County Commissioner of Planning and Community Sustainability, agreed. “By leveraging a local success story, we can show the way for new residential development to achieve remarkable energy savings – as much as 80% lower than typical development. We hope to demonstrate how similar results can be achieved as these lessons are transferred to mainstream development.”

Hamlet, Village and Urban Pilot Projects

In addition to reporting on lessons learned by EcoVillage, plans call for applying these lessons to three new pilot projects in a hamlet, village and urban setting.

The hamlet pilot project is “TREE,” EcoVillage’s third cohousing neighborhood, which plans to break ground in August, 2011. This 40 unit neighborhood will utilize the latest green building principles from Europe. “Passive House” is a form of extremely energy efficient building which features passive solar design, and an airtight envelope, coupled with a heat recovery ventilator that ventilates the house, while keeping warm air inside. In these homes, a whole house can be heated with the equivalent of turning on one burner on a stove. Currently the Passive House Institute of the U.S. has only certified 13 homes. If TREE succeeds in its plans, it will more than double that number by adding 22 new certified Passive Homes to the roster.

The urban project will be the pilot project of New Earth Living in the City of Ithaca. New Earth Living’s mission is to create small, urban, ecovillages. NEL President Susan Cosentini, said, “We are intending to bring together the best practices of sustainability, co-housing, and in-fill development to create a living environment that conserves resources and fulfills a social need to be connected and supported. The houses will be built using the Passive House Institute technology for ultra-energy efficiency, with a goal of carbon neutrality.”

The third pilot project is to explore using 26 acres of land owned by the County as a potential location for a village-scale residential community that incorporates highly energy efficient buildings, some on-site jobs, alternative transportation options, and local food production.

There will be pre- and post-occupancy surveys of future residents at all three pilot locations, giving substantial data for understanding more about quality of life and energy usage in each venue. The grant team will work closely with Tompkins County Climate Protection Initiative (TCCPI), a coalition of community leaders, to educate the public, building and design professionals, and local government officials.

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