Mainstream Green President’s Commentary Published in Post Standard

Sustainability and Climate Must Be Part of Economic Development Planning

Picture of Dana Johnston, Mainstream Green president, at podium

#TrammelCrow recently proposed building the #secondlargestwarehouse in the world in the #OnondagaCounty, NY Town of Clay. The project is being developed for an unnamed client (guess who... worlds biggest online retailer maybe?)  Dana Johnston wrote the following Commentary, which was published in and the Post Standard.

The Climate Crisis is the single biggest threat to human and animal life on this planet, yet today there is no formal Sustainable Development plan in place for Onondaga County, that takes into account the most current scientific data and sets a path towards safe economic growth.

Unfortunately, without guidance of such a Sustainable Development plan, the Onondaga County Industrial Development Agency and the Town of Clay planning board have been operating at a disadvantage during the approval process regarding the proposed development of the world’s second largest warehouse.

While the advantages of increased economic activity alone are valuable, without adequate consideration of climate impact of this project, both locally and globally,  neither OCIDA nor the Clay Planning Board could  have exercised full due diligence when they quickly agreed to give the developers an incentive bundle that includes a sales tax exemption estimated at $20 million, a $1.7 million exemption from the state mortgage recording tax , and finally, a 15-year property tax discount worth $49.1 million.

In changing the zoning and purpose of that land, the county and the town are trading an area that absorbs and sequesters carbon, and rain, for one that increases and expels greenhouse gases and creates significant rain runoff.

Even though this tradeoff affects more than just Onondaga County, at least the local impact could have been evaluated. Air pollutants, voluminous rain runoff due to massive amounts of hard surfaces, and contamination of  watersheds will definitely increase during construction and in the years immediately following, as the 25 tractor trailers per hour and thousands of employees’ internal combustion vehicles steadily release carbon,  and greenhouse gases into our atmosphere.

During the 15 years of property tax breaks for this project, the world (and our county) must make a near total transition from internal combustion vehicles to electric or fuel cell vehicles and electric heat pumps instead of burning fossil fuels for heating.

Could the OCIDA and the Clay Planning Board have exercised greater due diligence if they had required that the project be designed with climate in mind? If they had, for example, required the project to meet some LEED standards or to be energy net neutral?

Just imagine if we’d been shown drawings for solar panels, stretching across the acres of warehouse rooftop, and perhaps viewed ideas for the creation of  micro-grid. We also might have seen an area for geothermal wells or reservoirs, for a building that will encompass nearly 3.8 million square feet and will need heating and cooling.

We might have seen plans for charging stations or hydrogen fuel cell refill stations for 21st century cars, trucks, snowplows and fork lifts.

We might have been shown green roofs  along with site development plans with rain collection and water storage areas. We know that hard paved and built areas cause rain runoff to gain speed and  carry solids along to contaminate clean water areas, and we know that simply building culverts and more sewers is not the answer.  We know that only well designed buffer areas with trees and other vegetation can sufficiently slow down and process such tremendous amounts of water. Wouldn’t it have been beneficial for us to see if and where they are planning the buffer areas, and whether they are sufficient in capacity for their load?

Taxpayers are well within their rights to expect that, by approving tax benefits to a private developer, their representatives will not deprive them of a 21st Century opportunity for sustainable development. by saddling them with what could be a harmful, unsustainable 20th century private enterprise project AND lost tax revenue.

The unnamed future occupant and Trammell Crow Co., the developers of the enormous Clay warehouse, still have a chance to shape the project for posterity. I hope they step up to the plate with 21st Century technology and climate needs in mind, so we all will not be be stuck with a facility that is obsolete before it is built.

And I hope that our County Executive and legislature will assign top priority to adopting a data driven, scientifically sound Sustainable Development plan for the county to help us grow and prosper, while ensuring livability of our community and the planet.

Screen shot of online commentary by Mainstream Green President Dana Johnston