The March 31 work session, which preceded a controversial rezoning case in the regular meeting, was devoted to an annual report by the Homewood Environmental Commission. The Commission’s hour-long report covered recycling efforts at the five Homewood public schools, the school board’s Community Garden, the Sims Ecoscape property, the Homewood Forest Preserve, and a response to council interest in reactivating a mosquito control program.
Members present: Council president Bruce Limbaugh, Michael Hallman, Britt Thames, Fred Hawkins, Vance Moody, Patrick McClusky, Walter Jones, Jenifer Champ Wallis, Heather Reid and Richard Laws (arriving 30 minutes late).
Members absent: Peter Wright
Staff present: Mayor’s chief of staff J.J. Bischoff, city attorney Mike Kendrick (arriving late).
Audience attendance: 3
Commission members present: Zach Isbell, Jane Ross, Arnie Rutkis, Gail Harper Yeilding, Lloyd Malone, Henry Hughes, Mitch Stevens, and Suzanne Martin, chairwoman.
Members absent: Liz Ellaby, Phil Wood, Michelle Blackwood.
Recycling: The Homewood Middle and Homewood High schools are very involved in recycling. In a seven month period, 66 tons of paper were collected for recycling at the middle school. It was mentioned that recycling contractor Republic Services has not provided the city with the promised twice-yearly reporting on tonnages collected, etc.
An audience observer asked about the possibility of recycling for apartments, condominiums and small businesses. The company’s policy is to have at least 10 units collaborate to obtain recycling services. There was also some interest shown in finding a way to add glass to the recycling contract.
Community Gardens: Gail Harper Yeilding spoke for the school board’s community garden coordinator Julie Gentry. She said the garden exists due to the work of schools superintendent Bill Cleveland. There are regularly scheduled work days every second Saturday from 9 a.m.-noon. Requests to rent raised planting boxes should be made to Ms. Gentry.
Sims Ecoscape: The Sims Ecoscape on Highland Road is one of 12 such ecological demonstration sites managed by Birmingham-Southern College throughout the Birmingham area. Arnie Rutkis, the Sims’ caretaker and a new member of the Commission, is the property caretaker who lives with his wife at the Sims house and also runs a separate landscaping business. People are free to walk around the gardens during the day, but should remember that the house is also a private residence. Mr. Rutkis said the property has been designated a wildlife sanctuary and a new trail path has been built to connect Irving Road with Highland. Workdays are regularly scheduled and announced via the website http://www.bsc.edu/sec/ecoscape/sims/index.cfm.
Homewood Forest Preserve. The Preserve encompasses 65 acres around Homewood High School, the spotted salamander habitat and several miles of looping trails that have been maintained primarily by Mr. Hughes and Mr. Malone, with the help of volunteers.
Mosquito Control Program: Mr. Hans Paul, a member whose term had expired but who has continued work on the Commission, provided a guide to mosquito control based on currently accepted practices such as using personal insect repellents and using larvacides or draining areas of standing water in which mosquitoes breed, etc., rather than municipal spraying. The matter had been referred to the Commission last summer after a councilman had asked about the city’s mosquito problem.
Tree Canopy Regrowth and Preservation: The proposed planting program, for which the council has budgeted $10,000 in this fiscal year, is in two phases. The first involves the purchase and planting in public areas of 20-25 nursery trees, with the design donated by engineering firm Goodwyn, Mills, Cawood. Ms. Ross, a landscape architect with GMC and a member of the Commission, said they are considering planting native Overcup Oak trees along Central Avenue. Mr. Laws commented that the city’s public services director, Berkley Squires, should be alerted about overseeing the special mulching and watering needs of the new trees.
The second part of the regrowth program will involve harvesting and propagating seedlings from large resident “heritage” trees already in Homewood. Mr. Hughes said the program, which uses some services of the Birmingham Botanical Gardens, has planted 350 hardwood tree seedlings at 12 Birmingham metro area parks, such as George Ward park and Avondale. In some cases, no new trees had been planted or had grown naturally in these parks for 85 years.
Challenges and Opportunities:
Tree Ordinance: Several Council members asked for a committee recommendation on what could be done to make the tree ordinance stronger and more enforceable. No specific decision made except to continue involving key city parks and inspection department personnel in the discussion. Link to tree ordinance.
Greenway trail expansion: Ms. Ross led discussion on the Greenway project, which GMC has the contract on. Several possible new trail access points were mentioned, such as Samford University and the Lakeshore Foundation facility, that might be funded in future years. Construction is scheduled to begin this year on Phase II of the expansion, which will extend the Greenway beside Shades Creek from Columbiana Road and under I-65 to a point opposite John Carroll High School. A request for $350,000 for new access points is pending further discussion.
Hazardous Materials: Michael Churchman, a Homewood resident and leader of the Alabama Environmental Council, announced the Jefferson County Household Hazardous Waste Day event on Saturday, April 26, from 8 a.m.-noon at Legion Field. Homewood residents have shown interest in sponsoring their own waste disposal day and Commission members have interviewed a vendor and submitted the cost breakdown and other information to the city council. The city may decide to pursue that project depending on the budget.
The meeting was adjourned at 6 p.m.