A combined ruling by the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of the Army is expected to make easier the permitting process for water infrastructure and development projects.
The Navigable Waters Protection Rule essentially provides a new definition for how bodies of water are covered under the Clean Water Act.
The new ruling, according to Andrew Wheeler, Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, will provide “much needed regulatory certainty and predictability for American farmers, landowners, and businesses to support the economy and accelerate critical infrastructure projects.”
In so doing, the agency will be redefining which bodies of water are covered under the Clear Water Act, removing in the process wetlands that are not connected to larger bodies of water as well as smaller streams that flow by the season.
The rule change, says the New York Times, is regarded as a victory for “farmers, fossil fuel producers, and real estate developers who said Obama-era rules had shackled them with onerous and unnecessary burdens.”
The change, according to a statement by Karen Harbert, chief executive officer with the American Gas Association, will “restore the proper balance between federal and state regulation of our nation’s waters and protect our rivers, streams and lakes without stifling construction of important infrastructure.”
The Navigable Waters Protection Rule has sparked the opposition of a number of environmental and conservation groups, including the Sierra Club which said the new ruling puts “water sources for millions of people in the U.S. at risk,” while jeopardizing the ability to “counter floods, droughts, toxic algal blooms, groundwater depletion and other worsening water issues driven by the climate crisis.”
The new rule is scheduled to be published in the Federal Register sometime in the next two weeks, becoming officially effective 60 days after that publication.
By Garry Boulard
Arizona’s primary economic development group has announced it is awarding funding to two rural-based counties in the Grand Canyon State for broadband enhancement and expansion.
Last year the Arizona State Legislature approved around $3 million in funds to advance broadband infrastructure in primarily rural areas.
Now the Arizona Commerce Authority is announcing that $50,000 will be going to Coconino County to pay for a feasibility study looking at the need for increased internet connectivity in the northern rural county of 134,000 people.
In a statement, Lena Fowler, chair of the Coconino County Board of Supervisors, said the Arizona Rural Broadband Development Grant will “help the county understand the real cost of expanding broadband to the areas that need it most.”
A second $50,000 grant is slated for Gila County, which is located in central Arizona and has a population of around 54,000 residents.
In a press release, Sandra Watson, chief executive officer of the Arizona Commerce Authority, expressed confidence that the grants “will help bridge the connectivity gap between urban and rural communities by enhancing connectivity for rural Arizona’s citizens, businesses, healthcare facilities, and schools.”
According to a recent study called the Arizona Statewide Broadband Strategic Plan, nearly 900,000 people in Arizona, living primarily in tribal communities or remote rural areas, lack Internet access in their homes.
By Garry Boulard
Just days after announcing it was moving entirely out of the coal power business, the Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association has revealed plans to build a new 200-megawatt solar power plant near Prewitt, New Mexico.
The new plant will go up not far from the existing 253-megawatt Escalante Generating Station, which is coal-powered and also belongs to Tri-State.
The wholesale power supplier plans to shut down the coal plant later this year.
Based in Westminster, Colorado, Tri-State has facilities in both Colorado and New Mexico. On January 9, the company said it was putting out of commission both its coal-fired New Mexico facility as well as its last coal plants and coal mine in Colorado.
In a statement, Rick Gordon, board chairman with Tri-State, said, “Serving our members’ clean energy and affordability needs, supporting state requirements and goals, and leading the fundamental changes in our industry require the retirement of our coal facilities in Colorado and New Mexico.”
As planned, Tri-State’s planned New Mexico solar plant, officially called Escalante Solar, will be the largest of its kind for the company.
Expanding its renewable energy profile, Tri-State will also build five solar projects and two wind projects in Colorado in the next four years.
Tri-State says this across-the-board move to renewable energy comprises the “most transformative change in its 67-year history,” one that will “dramatically and rapidly advance” the company’s clean energy portfolio.
“We want replacement power to be located in the affected communities whenever possible, so we welcome Tri-State’s announcement,” Tripp Stelnicki, a spokesman for New Mexico Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham, told the Albuquerque Journal.
Remarked Colorado Governor Jared Polis of the Tri-State move: “It’s a bold step to protect the future of the planet and to prepare Colorado to succeed in the future.”
By Garry Boulard
As many as two dozen new Amazon food stores could be built and opened later this year, according to industry sources.
Plans are underway for the construction of what will be the first Amazon grocery store in the country in Woodland Hills, California.
That store is being built inside a former Toys “R” Us outlet measuring 40,000 square feet, with a completion date scheduled for later this spring.
The new grocery stores will be built along the business model of a traditional grocery store, unlike the company’s earlier Amazon Go convenience outlets, which have seen customers using a smartphone app to purchase products, avoiding checkout lines altogether.
The outlets are all expected to measure around 20,000 to 40,000 square feet, but whether they will be built in existing spaces, as is the case with the Woodland Hills store, or in entirely new buildings, remains to be announced.
How successful the Amazon stores will be remains to be seen, The financial website Motley Fool has wondered how interested suppliers will be in signing on with a new chain that has only a limited number of locations.
But the Motley Fool also notes that “Amazon has something of a penchant for building efficient, large-scale operations that disrupt existing relationships.”
The Amazon grocery stores are not to be confused with the online giant’s nearly $14 billion purchase of the Whole Foods grocery chain.
The exact locations of the new Amazon grocery stores have not been disclosed, but it is thought that early outlets will go up in Chicago, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Seattle, and Washington, D.C.
Embracing bricks and mortar commerce, Amazon currently has just over two dozen Amazon Go locations either up and running or being built, along with 11 Amazon Books stores, and nearly five hundred Whole Foods locations.
By Garry Boulard
The Boulder City Council has approved an update to its building code allowing for the placing of more tiny homes in the city’s residential areas.
The code update applies to structures measuring less than 400 square feet, restricting such homes to just two on a single property.
The update additionally spells out requirements for such tiny home building features as loft ceiling height, stair geometry, and loft egress windows.
Future tiny homes must also all be attached to a cement foundation, and connected to city utilities.
The new building code will become effective on July 1.
The code update is seen in part as a response to increased apartment rents in Boulder. According to the site rentcafe.com, the average rent today for an 800 square foot apartment in the city is just below $2,000 a month.
By Garry Boulard
In a city that has seen abandoned homes and business spaces vandalized and sometimes set on fire, a move is underway to prosecute the owners of such properties.
The El Paso City Council has approved a measure tasking City Manager Tommy Gonzalez with reviewing new Texas laws giving local authorities increased powers to pursue those owners.
One of those new laws, HB 36, was passed last year by the Texas State Legislature, allowing local officials to act in cases of “prolonged litigation” regarding abandoned properties whose conditions may have worsened during the litigation process.
The council measure as proposed by City Representative Alexsandra Annello asks the City Manager’s office to “develop and implement a recommended action plan to address buildings that are vacant, have substandard conditions, and/or violate ordinances within the city.”
A survey conducted for the city several years ago documented more than one hundred abandoned buildings in just the downtown area alone that were vacant and in various states of disrepair.
Many of those structures are regarded as problematic not just because of their condition, but also because they tend to attract the homeless and vagrants.
A city official said that a strengthened ordinance addressing the issue could also lead to the demolition of many of the most distressed properties.
By Garry Boulard
Despite the challenges of an increasingly tight construction labor market, more hotels are expected to go up in 2020, adding to a stock that has significantly expanded in the last five years.
According to the Henderson, Tennessee-based research firm STR, the number of hotels in construction in just November alone was up by 3.9 percent over the previous November.
The challenge in finding specialized hotel construction workers to take on new projects, contends the news site Skift, can be “traced back to the 2008 recession when hotel companies put the brakes on construction projects, forcing workers to find employment elsewhere.”
There are currently more than 1,700 new hotel projects in the pipeline in North America, with New York seeing the most projects at sixty-three.
Figures crunched in the Tophotelconstruction.com database also show 40 new hotels set for Los Angles, and 37 in metro Atlanta.
Projects in the West include the 1,231-room Sheraton Denver Downtown, which is set to open this summer, and the massive Resort World Las Vegas, with nearly 6,600 rooms, scheduled for completion at the end of this year.
Indicating that the market for new hotel construction in the West may well be expected to expand in the next few years, STR is also reporting that both Phoenix and Denver experienced the highest increases in occupancy nationally in 2019.
By Garry Boulard
Denver’s Department of Transportation and Infrastructure has announced plans to build up to 125 miles of new bike lanes in various parts of the city over the next three years.
Those lanes will take on a variety of forms, from being more defined spaces where bike lanes already exist, to entirely new lanes on roads without them.
Funding for the entirety of the initiative is unclear, but at least 50 miles of the new infrastructure will be paid out of $18 million in Elevate Denver Bond Program.
The project will include new signage and striping in an effort to create what the DOT calls “high comfort facilities” for bike riders, separating them as much as possible from vehicular traffic.
In some parts of the city, the effort will also include the building of cement embankments between the bike and car lanes.
In a statement released by the city’s Department of Transportation & Infrastructure, an emphasis was placed on streets with “lower speeds and traffic volumes” that will be designed to “make riding a bike a comfortable option for all ages and abilities.”
The bike lane initiative is one of the first projects to be sponsored by Transportation & Infrastructure Department, which was created last year, moving bike and transit issues out of the city’s Department of Public Works.
According to a recent Downtown Denver Partnership survey, the number of people riding bikes to jobs in the downtown area has increased from around 4 percent seven years ago to 8 percent in 2017.
At the same time, the Denver metro area saw the death of six bicyclists in 2018 from accidents with vehicles, and another four last year.
By Garry Boulard
A long-anticipated project designed for the more than 200,000 people expected to visit Spaceport America annually may soon see construction if state funding can be secured.
Officials with the New Mexico Spaceport Authority are hoping to receive up to $25 million from the New Mexico State Legislature to build a welcome center on its 18,000-acre site adjacent to the White Sands Missile Range.
The Spaceport is additionally asking lawmakers for $20 million to build several space vehicle and payload processing centers, as well as $10 million for the first phase construction of a new taxiway.
An additional request: $2 million to build a modern internet control center. That facility will be used as an anchor for all communications at the sprawling site.
To great fanfare, initial construction of the Spaceport began in the spring of 2006 when it was announced that the massive facility would see the building of Virgin Galactic’s commercial spacecraft designed to provide suborbital spaceflights for space tourists.
In the years since, more than $218 million has been spent building up and developing the Spaceport America site. It is expected that Virgin Galactic may be able to send its first paying customers into space as early as this summer.
By Garry Boulard
The national unemployment rate shrunk to 3.5 percent in both November and December of last year, a significantly lower number than was reported in January of 2019 when the rate stood at 4 percent.
According to a new survey published by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the unemployment rate overall has steadily declined since 2010 when it stood at just under 10 percent.
The state with the largest unemployment rate in late 2019 was Alaska at 6.1 percent, followed by Mississippi, the District of Columbia, and West Virginia.
In the West, New Mexico recorded a 4.8 percent employment rate, followed by Arizona at 4.7 percent, and Colorado, coming in below the national average, at 2.6 percent.
Only five states had lower unemployment rates than Colorado: Virginia at 2.6 percent, North Dakota with 2.5 percent, Utah and South Carolina at 2.4 percent, and Vermont at 2.3 percent.
A separate measurement, looking at discouraged and underemployed workers, records an unemployment rate at 6.7 percent, the lowest in more than two decades.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics survey, there were 277,000 discouraged and underemployed workers in December, down by nearly 100,000 from late 2018.
“Discouraged workers,” noted the survey, “are persons not currently looking for work because they believe no jobs are available to them.”
This category also includes people not looking for work because they believed they lacked the required school or training for a given job, or thought would-be employers regarded them as “too young or too old, and other types of discrimination.”
By Garry Boulard
Get stories like these right to your inbox. Sign up for our newsletter