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St. Petersburg taps federal grants for energy-efficient projects

A group of community leaders met Monday at St. Petersburg City Hall to talk about green jobs.

Yeah, I know. Talk of "green initiatives" has a tendency to make one's eyes glaze over with visions of granola-munching tree huggers, not that there's anything wrong with that.

But this group was different.

Led by City Council member Karl Nurse and Sharon Joy Kleitsch, a community consultant, more than 20 members of the Green Jobs Committee gathered to get an update about "what's going on that's green" in and around the city.

"We started more than a year ago, and have met maybe six times," said Nurse. "When we started, many people in the room didn't know each other."

The group represents the persistence of Kleitsch, who since 2005 has been trying to bring green jobs to Midtown. "There are opportunities everywhere and we just can't afford to sit around and dawdle," she said.

The energetic Kleitsch said she couldn't gain any traction in City Hall until Nurse was appointed to the council.

"What I did was invite key leaders, like Greg Johnson of the Urban League and other like-minded individuals,'' she said. That group included representatives from USF St. Petersburg, St. Petersburg College, the Sierra Club, Pinellas Green Living Expo and local staffers from U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor's office.

Monday's meeting was a first for Mayor Bill Foster and council member Wengay Newton.

"Start thinking about partnerships and ways we can partner as a city," said Foster. "Not only commercially, but residentially as well, so that we can train builders."

As participants shared what their organizations are doing, it was clear that the city is making significant strides, despite the lack of a curbside recycling program.

Mike Connors, the city's public works administrator, said the city has $2.3 million in federal grants that will go toward energy-efficient lighting at the Midcore Parking Garage and the purchase of more off-road electric vehicles. The city currently has a fleet of 40.

In addition, Connors said, city parks will be upgraded with solar battery systems to lower the cost of electricity. The city also has about $440,000 reserved to help nonprofit groups in the community focus on energy conservation.

Other local groups are reaching out to the community to offer assistance. Since November, said Johnson, the Urban League has been involved in a "weatherization project" that helps residents make their homes more energy efficient.

The effort, funded by a $2.8 million federal grant, has reached 50 homes in the county so far and is on course to average 35 homes per month, he said.

"Since I've been here, we've been in lock-step with Karl (Nurse) on issues of energy and conservation," said Johnson.

"We go into homes to determine where energy is being lost. We are allowed to spend about $5,000 per home,'' he said.

Participants must meet certain income guidelines, he said, adding that the project helps a number of elderly people.

"We have a waiting list of 150 homes,'' said Johnson. "We have three inspectors and five construction crews that go through homes on a regular basis."

Sandra J. Gadsden is editor of Neighborhood Times. She can be reached at (727) 893-8874 or

St. Petersburg taps federal grants for energy-efficient projects 02/02/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, February 2, 2010 5:30pm]
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