Friday, December 23, 2011

Alreco, Without The EPA

Last week brought news of a few more jobs for the Kentucky labor force and maybe got a step or two on the EPA regulations concerning toxic waste materials.

On December 13 the State of Kentucky announced that an Australian company, MHM Metals, would be opening a new plant in Western Kentucky. Normally that wouldn't mean much to me, except that this company processes aluminum waste by-products, and we have some aluminum plants in Ky. MHM has a proprietary process to remove all the toxic waste from the leftovers of recycling aluminum cans.

The top three reasons for location in Ky were listed as:
  • 115-acre industrial landholding in Russellville, Kentucky
  • Existing buildings on site and property zoning to benefit time frame
  • 350,000 tons per annum of salt slag and black dross (the waste product) within an economic radius and rail availability with a high-quality rail operator may further extend this economic distance
Most of us know that R. J. Corman, a high-quality rail operator, runs a train every other day from Berea to Russellville, hauling aluminum ingots from the recycler to the can factory. Anywhere from 20 to 30 cars in a train. What I did not know is that there are two other aluminum producers in Paris (Central Motor Wheel of America) and (Kentucky Smelting Technology, Inc ), both of which have to melt their materials to cast them. There is a third smelting plant in Shelbyville (Ohio Valley Aluminum) which is conveniently right on the rail line and about halfway along the line. Corman's Memphis line division is similarly situated among several aluminum smelters too.

With so many current aluminum plants around and a history of either landfilling or stockpiling this excess material, there should be much work for the new Alreco facility and the three railroads of the region.

All of this without a peep from the EPA or any mention of their “job killing” regulations.

PS, I have not heard Mr McConnell's name spoken in context with this either.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Can Raw Milk Save Local Farming?

Last week I wrote about the pre-filed bill for the legalization of raw milk which made me research the dairy doings in Kentucky. Looking back at the Community Farm Alliance site archives from July of last year, I somewhat remember the news that our state's dairy farms are continuing a fairly steady decline in number.

Back in 1975 there were 22,000 “operations with dairy cows” which may not mean that they were actual dairies but probably that the milk was sold as part of the farm operations. This year, we are at 892 farms that the state considers dairies or have dairy cows. That was 58 less than last year and it will most likely fall again this year. Of that total under 30 have herds of over 500 head and may be called industrial dairies, all the rest appear to be smaller type farmers and the real producers of local milk.

The idea that Kentucky farms can produce all the milk to be consumed is understandable but the fact that we import some of our retail milk from as far away as New Mexico starts to baffle the mind. Milk that has been shipped that far can easily lose any of the nutrients that may be left after pasteurization and will probably need some supplements added. Doesn't the cost of shipping a product that far enter in to the retail price?

The State tells us to “drink more milk” and the dairy industry keeps saying that “Milk is the real thing” but our dairy farms are literally drying up and blowing away. Past legislative actions to benefit dairies have stalled due to the fear that the fees collected to pay for government loans or grants would have come from surcharges to the retail milk price. We cannot do more for our farmers by removing barriers to business, we have to find ways bill both the farmer AND the consumer for manipulating the free market.

The July article states that a farmer who is able to sell raw milk could ask a premium of about $4 dollars a half gallon but does not state why. Since raw milk sales are not legal, that sales difference is lost to the local farming community. Raw milk sales will not increase the availability or supply of milk but it may allow more farmers to add to the products that they now have. Just another way to add to the farm operations bottom line.

If the annual economic impact of a single milk cow is $4,500.00, then the impact of 10-15 head dairy herds in small communities spread over state will do more that a handful of industrial feedlot dairies, yet it is the big boys who influence regulations and laws. Why shouldn't the 99% of the farmers be “Ky Proud” and not just the 1% of industrial farmers who can buy the designation?

I will end in echoing the comments of the July article which says:
We need a way to allow farmers to dairy on a family-sized scale while rewarding them for responsible herd and land management.  This means paying dairy farmers a fair price for what they produce–something that hasn’t happened for decades.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Raw Milk Could Become Legal In Kentucky

In my interest concerning the availability of good local foods and my passion toward raw milk, I have learned that one of the pre-filed bill for the next legislative session is about the legal sales of raw milk. I know that not everybody shares my love of raw milk but I and my family have come to believe that drinking it has kept us healthier and for those lovers of local foods, it just makes sense.

Local foods is a mantra which has been taken up by many, as is sustainable farming and food security on the local level. That may be what is behind this bill in tis initial form.

The bill, 12RS BR 294, is labeled as “AN ACT relating to milk.” and amends KRS 217C.030 which deals with the Cabinet for Health and Family Services, the part of state government that has control over the production and sale of milk. I have no idea why this is not dealt with in an agricultural department but it is not.

The bill is simple enough, it just adds a new section talking about the legal sales of raw milk and its “permitted" producers. It sounds like something that I have been hoping for for some time now. But, there are always one of those around, anytime you have a simple allowance of something, government bureaucracy will find some way to foul the initial intent.

The first place that convolution can begin to rear its ugly head is the definition of “permitted” producer.

The normal producer of raw milk is, of course, the cow and I don't think that they need a permit but the dairy where the cow lives and the dairyman who milks her probably will. A dairyman is normally also called a farmer and farmers have been the backbone of American agriculture since colonial days. Farmers have supplied their families and the local villages with milk since Medieval times if not before. I believe that it is only since the middle of the last century, when large industrial dairies began to “produce” dairy products and relegated the farmer to the role of “supplier” that permitting became an issue.

The local farmer today, really wishes to grow and sell a good product and allowing an inferior product to leave the farm or potentially harm the consumer is the last situation that they want. Industrial farmers just need to move as much inventory as they can, because it is all about filling the contract and not feeding your friends and neighbors.

Under this new bill, any permitted producer may legally sell raw milk to the end consumer as long as it is at the farm where it is produced. That sounds good but I doubt that many of the industrial dairies would like for the average shopper to see the conditions in which the cows live. It is sometimes vastly different from the bucolic images shown of happy cows and verdant pastures. Some cows never see the light of day or green fields.

On the other hand, the permitting requirements placed upon the local farmer(dairyman) may be so onerous that attempting to comply would entail a full time staff of dozens. This is far from the concept of a small time farm family that conquered the wilderness of America.. Farmers with small or medium sized herds may not be able to meet these currently unwritten regulations.

Given the history of the inspectors of the Cabinet of Health and Family Services and their past demonstrated dislike of the dairymen with cowshare programs, the possible new regulations could surely create problems for the small dairyman.

The proposed new law also requires that all packaging be labeled in such a way that could subtly imply, through wording and “warnings”, that raw milk is inferior to the usual commercial offerings. It has been the experience of those of us who like raw milk, that we need to search out that which we feel is superior and will go the extra mile to get it. Of those I know in the cowshare “families”, we trust our dairymen and realize some of the inherent risk in the bottling process, yet others trust the government inspection system and its highly publicized and all too frequent failures.

Lastly, the bill reiterates that the raw milk may only be sold or sampled on the farm which produced it which puts the smaller sized dairymen at a significant disadvantage compared to industrial dairies and their convenient sales and delivery systems.

There is much to like in this proposed law. It brings to light the increased desire to consume raw milk and the rise in the re-localization of our basic foods. It show a desire on the part of a legislator to legalize what should be freely available, similar to the farmers market expansion we are currently watching happen. It helps bring Kentucky closer to the regulations of other enlightened states concerning local foods. It does many good things but it also falls somewhat short.

There is much to be done which will make this bill better.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Rail Progress And What It Means To Us

There is an awful lot of talk going on here at the end of the year about what to expect from the railroad industry in 2012. Much of it has to do with further expansion of the freight rail system as we try to come out of this past recession. is reporting that next year will come with a ton of new jobs and cites the tremendous year that BNSF posted for 2011. Some 700+ jobs in one state alone and 415 of them are new jobs. It looks like we are trying to rebuild some of our decaying infrastructure, though the railroads have been doing a decent job of that in the last few decades.

On the subject of High Speed Rail, at least a couple of the funded projects will begin actual construction in the next year and there is no hope of seeing anything being done close to here.

Inter-modal shipping is picking up in a great way here in America and the railroad are again adding capacity. 

The last five years or so have seen several projects to enlarge tunnels and bridges to allow the bigger double stack trains. Norfolk-Southern is preparing to spend $60.5 million over the next two years, add 48 new employees and possibly create 400 other jobs by the end of 2014. Another expansion project could add 50 more jobs in a second location.

In Virginia, the recent holiday weekend saw the demand for Amtrak exceed the current capacity and talk is going around about the increased need in North Carolina. Even our closest Amtrak route along the Ohio River to Chicago or Washington is looking to add another trainset to the mix.

All of the above is happening in other locales, not in Kentucky. Other states are talking about adding some sort of rail facilities, both freight and passenger types. Little is being talked about in Kentucky.

One of the latest off hand comments came from Nick Nicholson, the president of Keeneland. It looks like he wants a light rail line to the track for two months of racing. Oh, and maybe an extension to the airport. I am not sure where he would like it to run and if it would use new or existing track. Maybe he is expecting R. J. Corman to operate it for him. There are numerous logistical problems to solve in that deal. It can be done but it will be a complex deal.

Speaking of Corman and his property, it appears that the Arena Area Arts and Entertainment group thinks that appropriating a necessary portion of a busy, functioning rail yard for an inter-modal passenger transfer station is an easy task. I think that Mr Corman has said that they are not bringing enough money to the table for that to occur.

Local investing in properties which could bring more rail activity is really at a standstill save for the Smucker's people. I have seen where they have purchased several pieces of property adjacent to the existing JIF plant. This gives them about 27 acres in total and space to expand to about double the production. Whether this includes expanded rail sidings I don't know, but anything is possible.

I also have been watching the Lextran situation with their remodel of their garage building. I have heard that the locals are asking for more restoration than redo and upgrade which could cost more than they have in funding. The old GE lamp plant on the other side of Broadway is empty, has plenty of room for a facility and sit on a rail line. Could this be an impetus for Lextran to think about rail.

Hold on, That is just too much wishful thinking. Lets get back to reality and savor the small gains that we are making.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Rupp Area Task Force Base Data - Flawed?

I would like to thank our friends over at Barefoot and Progressive for putting up the images from the Rupp Area task force report. Some of the renderings are just for show and cannot depict any real form of final idea and others have finally convinced me that the task force may be basing their conclusions on bad data. Lets take a look.

The view of the “freed” Rupp gives a view that could NEVER be seen from the outside as the arena floor would be hidden by the support structure and the attendant side rooms. But we all know that, it is just for show.

The walking distance map from the UK campus indicates just the bare minimum, straight line distance to the campus edge and not the northern residence halls which are a few hundred feet farther. The main campus housing is still at least twice as far as is the Aylesford student housing area. Just a little disingenuous I believe.

I cannot quibble about the scale of the Fayette Mall / Downtown comparison of walking distance, but the downtown image indicates that there is housing located there without showing exactly where. The Park Plaza Apartments and some other downtown housing are strangely missing. The Victorian Square Shoppes, for all the comments about how empty they are, is shown as “big business”comparable to Sears, Macy’s and Dillard’s. Is this really how they think?

I'll skip the “mirroring” concept since it is a very long term thought.

The thought of placing a “Transferia” on an active rail yard, especially one that has seen at least a tripling of activity in the last decade from what it was, leads me to believe that the auto traffic will go through downtown to park so that one can transfer to another mode of transportation. I love the idea of catching a train to Cincinnati or Louisville, but the link to Nashville shows that it goes through Versailles and I know that the line ends there. The Bluegrass Railroad Museum owns the rest, on down to the decrepit Young's High Bridge, and if it did cross the Kentucky River it would go into Frankfort. Apparently there can be no connections to points south on the Norfolk-Southern line.

Then we come the the two images comparing the downtown density of 1907 and today. The basis of the information for 1907 comes from the Sanborn Fire Insurance maps and is quite accurate. It shows the footprints of all the structures,as captured on field surveys. Most of these buildings are two or three usable stories in height and some are just shed style structures. Both Bates and Gang used these same images to look at density, and to good effect. Using footprints alone is one thing but a better measure could be the actual total floorspace of these buildings. Ten to twenty story building replacing the 3-4 floor ones will really increase the density don't you think?

I also realized that many of the buildings in 1907 were fairly good sized livery stables, the parking garages of the day. The map of the current buildings is inconsistent in showing the parking garages, although those with some partial retail/commercial uses are shown in their entirety(one floor of the parking structure beside the 5/3rd tower and the Victorian Square garage's lower retail). I feel that there is a real slant to the accuracy of information given here.

I doubt that this really skews the base data all that much but if there is this quantity of erroneous data out there, what final recommendation errors are there?

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Planning Inertia at 85

Eighty five years ago, the U.S. Supreme Court heard and decided the landmark case which established zoning as an appropriate tool for controlling and directing the growth of American cities. That same year, Lexington fell in line and created its own Planning Commission and developed a system through which to guide the city's expected growth. Four years later came the first Comprehensive Plan, a detailed guess as to how the city expand and where the needed infrastructure would be built to accommodate such expansion.

1926 is also about the time that I believe Lexington began to get away from the easily navigable and walkable city it once was. I have come to feel that zoning played a big role in making Lexington and most other cities into the suburban sprawl that we see and many of us detest.

According to Edward T. McMahon, in his recent article in Urban Land, “Zoning is merely a tool. It is a means to an end. It can be used constructively as a positive force for community good or it can be misused. Zoning is what you make of it.” and “It is good for protecting what is already there and for preventing nuisances. It is not as good for shaping the future or for improving the quality of new development.”

In fact the above mentioned case, Euclid v Ambler Realty, was brought strictly to preserve the simple and quiet nature of a small village outside Cleveland, Ohio. The Village wanted to prevent the incursion of industrial development into their then simple community. They wanted things to stay the way they were. The irony is that after sitting vacant for a couple of decades, a factory was built on the land as part of the war effort and continued as such for several more decades, probably due to existing zoning.

Zoning codes try to prevent bad things from happening while failing to lay out a vision of how things should be. Early zoning codes were simple and had few levels of each particular land use type. Many zones allowed for interesting mixes of intensity and diversity. Lately, our local codes have become more and more complex with multiple layers of residential, business and industrial zones and sometimes confusing yet similar size, setback and parking requirements. Too often we Americans believe that if a little zoning is good, then a lot of zoning is better. Both in size of development and in the complexity of regulatory requirements.

Lexington, as well as many other American cities, grew quite well for the better part of its history. Starting with residential and some minor commercial activity along its main streets, until they began mimicing the larger, older cities “back east” with their dedicated downtown commercial and societal uses. Usually a persons place of occupation was no more than a few steps from their home, if not located directly within the house itself.

Even as recent as the late 19th century, stores and manufacturing uses were interspersed with the remaining residential along Main St as shops and lumber yards stood cheek and jowl with churches and carriage makers. There was no zoning but folks seem to have co-existed well enough to grow.

I guess it was the 1870s -1880s when our first ring subdivisions began to spring up when whole farms would be developed. They were mostly residential but nodules of civic and commercial uses seem to be sprinkled about fairly liberally and particularly at the edges. Walking distance from the majority of the housing and along the main roadways. Still, there was no zoning and we all didn't seem to mind. The convenience of the corner store made “going to town” something special.

The invention and rapid expansion in use of the “horseless carriage”, especially after the first World War, and the dramatic shift from an agrarian to a corporate society led to a need to aggregate like people and uses into larger and larger areas. The proponents of zoning felt that this new tool could help direct the inevitable growth which the previous decades indicated was coming.

These previous decades also pointed to the periodic changes in popular desires of the residents. Land uses were allowed to evolve or shift over time and as some neighborhoods, particularly in the lower economic ranges, became available new uses brought a resurgence of activity and life. The introduction of zoning brought the appearance of stability and the assurance that undesirable changes would have to leap many more hurdles than before. The longer that a certain area had been zoned as it was meant that the likelihood of change was diminished. A form of “planning inertia”.

After WWII and the “baby boom” the perceived need to alter and intensify the zoning codes led to a much more suburban model of code than had worked in Lexington's first ring subdivisions. The older neighborhoods were stable and zoning would see to them remaining so. Fancy new shopping “centers” and the automobile(with cheap fuel) made the idea of the corner grocery seem like the “old days”. First there were the interior clusters of retail and eventually the shopping strip along major roadways.

Residentialy, the zoning allowed for sprawling, single floor ranches and some split-levels with wide and deep front yards. Some of them went on for acres and acres and the zoning meant that what was next door was going to be that same. Zoning enertia was not going to let anything change in the suburbs, but a one-size-fits-all scenario brings the same set backs and parking requirements to the older “stable” neighborhoods and that begets change. Areas that at one time were allowed to front the sidewalk and serve the pedestrian residents are now catering to the vehicle and displaying a family asset to the passing world.

The above is why I take exception to the following quote from the article:
“Zoning allows developments to proceed as long as they are consistent with the current uses of the neighborhood commons or in a way that the neighborhood has agreed in advance (through the political process) to allow.”
Edward T. McMahon

Zoning will allow developments to proceed if the are in agreement with the broadly applied community standards but not always with the current uses or the neighborhood commonalities. Maybe zoning codes should be enforced by what the actual neighborhood has agreed upon through the political process. What if the developers were allowed (again) to put in place what the neighbors need without the suburban style parking and set back requirements? Many of the multifamily units in Ashland Park/Chevy Chase can barely distinguished by the general passerby but the same number of units in areas outside New Circle Rd are readily seen as apartment type places. Such places are shunned by families looking for stability in housing.

If zoning is aimed at limiting or possibly preventing, precisely those changes in the use of property that are disruptive of neighborhood character, then they can also limit or prohibit a welcome alteration which may greatly enhance the existing neighborhood character. Inertia of any type can be hard to affect and while social inertia is moving quickly(and picking up speed) our zoning inertia is dragging us back to the mid sixties.

Zoning, it is said, is about balance but it may need a bit more help to get it on its way.