Funding Green Infrastructure: Understanding A Project’s “Benefit Fingerprint”

20 09 2010

Last week I attended the American Society of Landscape Architect’s (ASLA) annual meeting in Washington D.C. It was invigorating to hear about promising green infrastructure related projects being plan and constructed across the United States. One favorite was Herbert Dreiseitl’s presentation on the promise of water. His approach and sensitivity to water was inspiring.

Many of the conference sessions reinforced the multiple benefits of green infrastructure projects and the importance of continuing to build the data supporting these benefits. In addition, it was clear that green infrastructure projects are addressing multiple political agendas and problems facing our cities.  As a result, municipalities are able to seek funding from a variety of traditional and non-traditional sources. When considering these sources, it is critical to understand and quantify the benefits of a project.

While all green infrastructure projects have multiple benefits, depending on the approach, site, and its context, each project will have a unique combination and varying impact.  Understanding this “benefit fingerprint” is helpful in successfully targeting funding sources. It also opens up the possibilities of non-traditional sources and helps others see the project with a broader perspective.

-Brian Phelps

Getting More: Multi-Functioning Facilities

13 01 2010

When it comes to adding more park space, communities are increasingly looking at getting more bang for their buck. Budgets are tight and cities are having to pool their resources from a variety of sources to get projects built. Two recent projects, one that is under construction in Los Angeles and another just announced in New York City, seek to create a park and nature area for their citizens while also constructing wetlands to address stormwater management issues within the immediate neighborhood and the community at-large.

The first is the South Los Angeles Wetland Park. The 9-acre park under construction five miles south of downtown Los Angeles on a former transit maintenance facility that is nearly 100% paved. The City recognized that more recreational open space was needed in the area while also needing to improve the quality of the stormwater runoff that ultimately was polluting the city’s beaches. The park transforms the site into a extensive wetland that comprises most of the park. It includes a series of trails, an observation area, and public gathering areas.

The park is estimated to cost $24 million. The funding was cobbled together from a variety of sources, including money generated from Proposition O. Proposition O passes in 2004, authorized the city to issue up to $500 million in bonds for cleaning up polluted storm water and bacteria in the City’s rivers, lakes, beaches and ocean. Stormwater Magazine has a thorough article about the genesis of the park and its design. Also, more detailed information can be found on Proposition O’s website.

South Los Angeles Wetland Park Site Prior to Construction
Source: Google Map

South Los Angeles Wetland Park Site Plan
Source: Proposition O Website

The second improvement is the Paerdegat Basin Restoration Project in New York City. The Department of Environmental Protection recently announced the $15 million project. It is anticipated to be completed by 2012. The park will restore 38 acres of wetlands and natural grassland areas adjacent to the $357 million Paerdegat Basin Combined Sewer Overflow (CSO) abatement project. Five acres will be dedicated as a Ecology Park that will be accessible by the public and offer educational opportunities. Funding for the project is provided by Clean Water State Revolving Funds. The combined projects are designed to store 50 million gallons of CSO during a storm event. (Press Release fro DEP)

Both of these projects serve as examples of how various communities’ goals can be combined and met by a single green infrastructure investment. As cities approach future planning and implementation efforts, they should look beyond the immediate objectives of the project and assess how the project might serve to address other needs that have been identified in the community.

-Brian Phelps

Opportunity Delayed?

23 11 2009

Over the past decade, cities have utilized a variety of methods to encourage and/or require sustainable building practices within their jurisdictions. All across the country green building incentives were enacted. According to a recent AIA Survey, 138 cities have some form of green building programs. Methods that rely on density bonuses or tax increment financing to reward/incentivize developers were predicated on growth. Unfortunately, the building boom over the last three to five years has fizzled (for the time being at least). It is no secret the development landscape has changed. Obviously, fewer projects being built equals less opportunities to incorporate green infrastructure within our landscapes. This really isn’t a problem if a project was being built in a greenfield. In fact, on a number levels especially in regards to stormwater management and water quality, it is preferable. But for the greyfields and brownfield sites that comprise much of our urban landscape, it is opportunity delayed. The opportunity being to convert these sites to better use and mitigate their negative impact. The old parking lots and retail centers continue to absorb and radiate heat while directing polluted stormwater into overburdened infrastructure and streams. This is particularly acute in areas that were built prior to modern stormwater standards.

So what are cities doing to encourage the incorporation of green infrastructure under these new market realities?

Stormwater Fees. Realizing that general funds can no longer meet the demands imposed on cities by the Federal Government and State Agencies, many cities have or are relying heavily on stormwater fees. Typically these fees are applied to everyone’s property based on impervious surfaces. It is common under these programs for property owners to receive discounts through the use of various stormwater management strategies. These often include green infrastructure related tools (i.e. green roofs, bioretention areas, pervious pavements). Depending on the significance of the fees, this can be a deciding factor for property owners to retrofit their properties. However, in most cases they are not high enough to warrant major investments.

Dedicated Funding. The City of Portland has taken a page from the art world and have enacted a “One Percent for Green” program that works similar to the more common “Percent for Art” programs. It is funded by allocating one percent of the city’s construction budget for the purpose of building green streets both on public and private property as long as it treats public stormwater. It also includes any new and retrofit projects that wouldn’t trigger the Stormwater Management Manual.

Economy of Scale. The unique double functioning nature and triple bottom line benefits of green infrastructure has prompted cities to combine stormwater management with other projects such as parks, streetscapes, road improvements, and other capital projects. The economy of scale allows them to stretch their dollars further to meet the needs of the city.

Direct Reimbursement. As mentioned in an earlier post about Chicago’s green roof program, cities are offering direct reimbursement of installing green infrastructure. This has manifested itself mainly for constructing green roofs. These reimbursements typically run around $5 per sf. Depending on the situation this can reduce the square foot cost for a green roof by as much as 30%.

Clean Water State Revolving Fund (CWSRF). CWSR Funds are another useful tool offered by each individual state that municipalities are utilizing to fund green infrastructure projects. Funding is provided by a combination of EPA grants and State matching funds. The basic premise is the fund provides low interest loans to municipalities for wastewater treatment, stormwater management, nonpoint source abatement and estuary protection projects. The payments toward the loan are reincorporated back into the fund where they can be loaned again. This method is increasingly becoming popular as a means of implementing green infrastructure projects across the country. The 2009 Stimulus Plan (American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, ARRA) gave a considerable boost to these programs. It includes $4 billion for Clean Water State Revolving Fund projects and $2 billion for Drinking Water State Revolving Fund projects.

Together programs like these have enabled municipalities to continue investment in their stormwater infrastructure. As cities grapple with the current market conditions, we should expect to see new creative funding ideas and a continued commitment toward increasing the use of green infrastructure throughout our cities.

-Brian Phelps