If only your electricity meter could talk... (Photo by Kenn Kiser)
If the summer heat’s had you cranking up the a/c… you might be anxious about getting a big bill in the mail. Imagine if your house could send you an email to warn you that you’re spending a lot… before the bill arrives. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Rebecca Williams explains:
If the summer heat’s had you cranking up the A/C, you might be anxious about
getting a big bill in the mail. Imagine if your house could send you an
email to warn you that you’re spending a lot before the bill arrives. The
Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Rebecca Williams explains.
In the future, your electricity meter could talk to you.
You’d be able to type into your computer how much you want to spend on lighting and cooling
your house each month. Using wireless technology, your utility meter would
then send you an email when you’re going over those goals.
It’s a system created by mechanical engineering students at the University
of Michigan. Professor Steven Skerlos advises the team.
“As a recent homeowner, it was very obvious to me that even I had little
awareness of the impact that I was having and the consumption of course
until it was way too late. The bill comes a couple months later and you
can’t go back in time and turn down the thermostat or use less water.”
Skerlos says the system can also be used in water and gas meters.
But it might be several years before you can get the new system. Skerlos
says he’s had interest from the companies that make the meters, the next
step is getting utility companies to buy in.
The intersection of Devon and Broadway in Chicago, just a few blocks from Lake Michigan. Alderman Patrick O'Connor is concerned that this corner is a bad use of space - not as walkable as the rest of the neighborhood. (Photo by Shawn Allee)
Most of the neighborhood encourages pedestrians and is less car-friendly. (Photo by Shawn Allee)
Cities are always coming up with projects to improve land or even create jobs, and sometimes existing buildings just don’t fit into those plans. Often, owners of such property won’t sell to make way for new development. The U.S. Supreme Court will soon rule on the legality of one tool cities use to force reluctant landowners to sell. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Shawn Allee looks at one politician’s use of this legal power:
Cities are always coming up with projects to improve land
or even create jobs, and sometimes existing buildings just don’t fit
into those plans. Often, owners of such property won’t sell to make
way for new development. The U.S. Supreme Court will soon rule on the
legality of one tool cities use to force reluctant landowners to sell. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Shawn Allee looks at one
politician’s use of this legal power:
This big-city neighborhood is the kind of place where shoppers usually park their cars and walk around. Brick store fronts and restaurants are usually just a few feet from the sidewalk.
But there’s a corner that looks different, though. A lot different.
It’s home to three fast-food buildings. The first business is a popular donut shop. Next door, there’s a fried chicken drive-through. And the last building was once a burger joint, but today it’s home to a car title lender.
To hear the alderman, Patrick O’Connor, tell it, the strip looks like a piece of suburbia landed right in his big-city ward.
“There’s no symmetry, no walkability, it’s all car-related and it’s all basically parking lot. There’s more asphalt than there is building in those places.”
He says this corner on Chicago’s North Side is a bad use of space, and he’s hoping to attract new, more pedestrian-friendly businesses or buildings. But what’s to be done about it if these shops are already there and don’t want to sell? One of O’Connor’s options is to have the city force the owners to sell their properties and then redevelop the land.
The power to forcibly buy property is called eminent domain, and O’Connor says the city’s using it to speed redevelopment throughout Chicago. But O’Connor’s concerned time may run out on the use of this power.
Governments have long-used eminent domain for public use. For example, a city or state might condemn a whole neighborhood, buy out the homeowners, and level the buildings to make way for a road or airport.
But the U.S. Supreme Court, in a case called Kelo versus New London, is considering just how far government can go when using eminent domain to bolster private development.
O’Connor hopes the court sides with local governments.
“In our community there’s not too many open spaces. So what we look to do is to enhance what we have to try to utilize space to the maximum effectiveness. That’s really where the court case hinges, you know, Who’s to say one use is better than another?”
And that question – who decides the best use of a property – is the rallying cry of critics who say cities abuse eminent domain powers.
Sam Staley’s with the Reason Foundation, a libertarian think-tank. He says the Supreme Court case is really about fairness.
“Those people that know how to use the system and know the right people in city council really have the ability to compel a neighbor or another property to sell their property whether they want to or not.”
Staley and other property rights advocates are also convinced that cities don’t need eminent domain for economic development. Staley says local economies can improve without government interference.
“The private sector’s just gotten lazy. They no longer want to have to go through the market, so they don’t come up with creative ways of accommodating property rights of the people that own the pieces of land or building that they want to develop.”
Staley says, instead, developers find it easier to have cities use eminent domain.
But most urban planners and some environmentalists say a court decision against this use of eminent domain could threaten redevelopment of both cities and aging suburbs. John Echevarria is with Georgetown University’s Environmental Law and Policy Institute.
“If you don’t have the power of eminent domain, you can’t do effective downtown redevelopment. The inevitable result would be more shopping centers, more development on the outskirts of urban areas, and more sprawl.”
Alderman O’Connor says constituents will always push urban politicians to put scarce land to better use. He says that won’t change if the court strikes down the broadest eminent domain powers; cities will just have to resort to strong-arm tactics instead.
“The alternative is the city then has to become harsher on how they try to enforce laws. They have to try and run sting operations and go after businesses that are breaking the law and then try to close them down and live with empty places until the sellers get tired and they sell.”
The small business community finds this attitude outrageous. They say as long as they improve their businesses and people frequent them, the market should decide whether they stay or go.
On the other hand, urban planners say the market doesn’t always make best use of land. They say local governments need eminent domain powers to control development, and they’re looking to the court to protect those powers.
Some homeowners on Great Lakes coasts are concerned about how state governments decide where the lake ends and private property begins. In one state… landowners are pushing legislation to protect their private property rights. But the bill worries recreation and environmental activists. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Julie Grant reports:
Some homeowners on Great Lakes coasts are concerned about how state governments decide
where the lake ends and private property begins. In one state, land owners are pushing legislation
to protect their private property rights. But the bill worries recreation and environmental
activists. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Julie Grant reports:
Dennis Bring is a big, burly guy who looks like he wouldn’t be scared of anything. But he says
he is scared. He’s afraid of the bureaucrats at the Ohio Department of Natural Resources.
They say the land he once owned is no longer his, simply because of the erosion caused by Lake
It started more than twenty years ago. That’s when high waters on Lake Erie started to batter his
shoreline property and erode the bluff. Bring decided to use concrete and large limestone blocks
to protect it. The Ohio Department of Natural Resources required him to get surveys, pay for
engineering, and construction. It cost thousands of dollars. Then he was told he had to sign a
lease agreement, to lease the land that he thought he already owned.
“They said it wasn’t a big thing. But when we got it, we found out it was 17 to 20 pages long and
basically they had the rights to our property and we had basically no rights and they could come
on our property at any time.”
The cost of the lease isn’t that much, but Bring’s deed says he owns that land. It’s been in the
family for three generations and he pays taxes on it. But the state also wanted him to carry a
million dollars worth of liability insurance on the erosion protection structure.
So he called the Ohio Department of Natural Resources to complain. A state regulator told Bring
that he no longer owns the land because anything up to the high water mark, including the eroded
part that once belonged to Bring, actually belongs to the state.
“And I asked him, I said, ‘You’re telling me the lake is your property, correct?’ And he said ‘Yes,
that’s our property.’ And I said, ‘According to my gist on this, is that your property is damaging
my property. I’m trying to protect this property.’ But I said, ‘In turn you’re making me pay back
what is already mine.’ He said, ‘And we could tear your structure out if we wanted to.’ And then
I hung up the phone, and my wife and I were scared to death.
The state plans to enforce its claim that it owns up to the high water mark. But many lakefront
owners say the state is taking more than its share. They want Ohio’s jurisdiction pushed back
toward the lake – to the low water mark. The difference between the two adds up to thousands of
acres along Ohio’s 262 miles of coast.
Brian Preston grew up fishing in the marshes around Toledo. Speaking at a public meeting on
behalf of the environmental group, the National Wildlife Federation, he argued that the state is
right, anything the lake touches belongs to all the people, not just those who own the adjacent
“We’re not talking about their land; proximity doesn’t imply ownership. Those 262 miles in the
land going into the water is our land. Just because it’s in front of their house doesn’t make it their
But property owners disagree. They’ve pushed a bill in the Ohio legislature to move state
ownership back toward the lake. It would also take away much of the state’s authority to regulate
the shoreline. The private land owners say the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers already monitors
the Great Lakes shoreline. Homeowner Jim O’conner says that’s enough regulation.
“For years, shoreline structures have been built along the lake and have been fine. The Army
Corps has kept a pretty close eye on it. But now this program has turned into a radical mess by a
few people that have extreme radical views on what private property owners, shoreline owners,
should relinquish. In order to live on the lake you’ve got to relinquish your property.”
The state says without its additional regulation there would be all kinds of problems. That’s
because in the past houses and other structures have been built too close to the shore and
eventually storms eroded the dirt from underneath them and they fell into the lake. Some
scientists are also concerned that the engineered structures that protect the land from erosion end
up destroying public property. State geologist Don Guy says erosion provides the sand size
material that builds Ohio’s beaches.
“And by armoring the shore, we’re eliminating that source of beach-building material. And as
waves continue through natural processes to carry sediment, at least along this part from east to
west, eventually the sand is eroded from the beach at a given site and there’s nothing to replenish
that beach. So that’s maybe the hidden impact of all the shore protection.”
And that’s one reason the Ohio Department of Natural Resources wants to protect the beach.
State representative Tim Grendell sponsored the bill that would change the boundary from the
high water mark to the low water mark. He says it won’t have any negative impact on the
lakeshore or the environment. He says the state has taken control over more land than it should.
He notes that property deeds often say landownership stretches to the low water mark. Grendell
says state shouldn’t regulate beyond that.
“It recognizes what the Ohio constitution recognizes, that a government agency of the state has no
power to take away people’s property by redefining what they own.”
But most Great Lakes states regulate to the same boundary as Ohio. They say state ownership is
at the high water mark. The state of Ohio says it’s willing to drop some of the things it mandates.
For example, it might drop insurance requirements and help pay engineering costs of shoreline
structures it approves. But Ohio says it will not support turning public ownership over to private
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Julie Grant.
Some homeowners on Great Lakes coasts are concerned about how state governments decide where the lake ends and private property begins. In one state… landowners are pushing legislation to protect their private property rights. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Julie Grant reports:
Some homeowners on great lakes coasts are concerned about how state governments decide
where the lake ends and private property begins. In one state… land owners are pushing
legislation to protect their private property rights. The great lakes radio consortium’s julie grant
(sound of lake)
When the water of the Great Lakes batters shoreline property, it erodes the land. Homeowners
want to prevent that erosion. But there are lots of regulations on building shore protection
structures. Too many, according to Ohio homeowner jim o’conner. He says Ohio is regulating
land that he owns…
“They don’t have that right, but they’re doing it. And it’s a shame we have to try to get a bill to
say, ‘Hey, this is our property, don’t take it.'”
A bill in the Ohio legislature would push the state’s jurisdiction back toward the lake, so it would
have less authority over shoreline development. Other states are watching the issue because they
draw the line to same boundary as Ohio. The state says it might drop some regulations, but it will
not support turning public ownership over to private landowners.
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Julie Grant.
At least one city in the region has passed a controversial law that would ban or severely restrict the use of pesticides. Environmental activists are calling the move a great victory. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Dan Karpenchuk reports:
At least one city in the Great Lakes region has passed a
controversial law that would ban or severely restrict the use of pesticides.
Environmental activists are calling the move a great victory. The Great
Lakes Radio Consortium’s Dan Karpenchuk reports:
For years, environmentalists have warned of the dangers associated with the overuse of
pesticides and herbicides, claiming that those chemicals are poisoning the land and
Now Toronto’s city council has passed a bylaw aimed at reducing pesticide use.
Katrina Miller of the Toronto Environmental Alliance says it’s an amazing win.
“We have a bylaw that’s going to protect children, it’s going to protect the environment.
We saw a city council that has decided to listen to the citizens of Toronto and the doctors
and nurses instead of falling under pressure from the industry lobby.”
The debate leading up to the vote was bitter and emotionally charged. One
representative of a lawn care company was ejected.
Lorne Hepworth is a spokesman for the pesticide manufacturers. He says the ones to
suffer from the new bylaw will be homeowners.
“At the end of the day what this amounts to is a deterioration in their property values,
you know, score one for bugs and dandelions and zero for the property owner.”
Under the bylaw anyone wanting to use pesticides will have to make a case to an advisory
board. It will be made up of representatives from the city, environmental groups and
lawn care companies.
The new bylaw will not be enforced until 2006.
For The Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Dan Karpenchuk.