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Archives for December 25, 2015

Zoo wants to improve ‘nose-to-nose’ time – The Courier

Things are going to be a little different at the Louisville Zoo.

A vastly upgraded elephant exhibit. New exhibits featuring small penguins and African monkeys.

A revamped snow leopard exhibit and extensive new improvements around the grounds, such as walkways, lighting and a sculpture garden.

These and other enhancements designed to improve the visitor experience at the popular Trevilian Way attraction are being added with proceeds from a capital campaign that started two years ago. To date, about $8.8 million has been raised, toward the $10.4 million goal, said Steve Taylor, the zoo’s assistant director for conservation, education and collections.

Attendance has been somewhat stagnant in the past few years, and zoo officials say they try to add a major new attraction every five years or so to shore up visitor interest. The zoo’s paid attendance last fiscal year ending June 30 was 820,642 – down slightly from 881,776 in 2013-14.

Zoo Director John Walczak said, “This leadership campaign will allow us to expand nose-to-nose experiences with our animal ambassadors, which will help build lasting memories for our guests.  It will help us advance species conservation, improve the financial future of the zoo, increase overall guest satisfaction and advance our mission to better the bond between people and our planet.”

Here’s a look at what’s being done with the money raised to date.

• Elephant exhibit. About $3 million has been budgeted for upgrading the elephant exhibit and some nearby physical improvements. The work is about 95 percent completed and will be done by year’s end with a public dedication planned next spring.

The elephant exhibit upgrades include nearly doubling the size of the yard, to 22,000 square feet.

Other work has been done to help the zoo meet toughened industry standards intended to greatly minimize the interaction between keepers and the elephants and the times the tenders and animals share the same space. (The zoo has two aging female elephants.)

The work has included new barriers, columns and other separations both in the yard and in the barn.

In addition, several walls and gates within the exhibit will be constructed for protected-access separations between keepers and the creatures. The new standards, developed with safety of keepers in mind, are meant to minimize the times that staff and elephants share the same space.

The project has additionally included a new wide walkway from the elephant exhibit to the nearby African Outpost, an opened-up view of the nearby zebra exhibit, a safari vehicle kids can crawl around in and, due this spring, a sculpture garden featuring a pride of lions.

•Penguins. A new $1.06 million fairy penguin exhibit is also nearing completion and is scheduled for dedication next spring, said zoo spokeswoman Kyle Shepherd.

The small birds are native to Australia and are a different species from the Rockhopper penguins that are already at the zoo.   Taylor said the local exhibit is expected to have eight to 10 small penguins, currently being held at the Bronx Zoo awaiting shipment to Louisville.

The Ogle Foundation grant will pay the major cost of the penguin exhibit.

•African Outpost.  The $390,000 project will focus on an expanded exterior deck to allow more outside dining and a bird’s eye view of nearby exhibits.  The deck is expected to be under construction by mid-2016 and be open around spring 2017.

•Monkey exhibit.  An $840,000 revamped exhibit will see two old South American woolly monkeys taken off exhibit  and several new monkeys native to Africa will be added. They will probably be either Colobus or bonobos, Taylor said.

Also on tap are zoo enhancements budgeted at around $850,000. That project list includes (most of them are completed, or nearly so):

Also in the capital campaign budget – projects expected soon – are more and new benches and walkway furniture throughout the zoo. Extensive new landscaping and gardens and other amenities are to be phased in over the next five years.

One other project in the budget is a pending new satellite classroom and educational program area near the MetaZoo, costing around $700,000.

The major remaining project is a revamped snow leopard exhibit, budgeted at more than $3 million.  Taylor said the snow leopard exhibit awaits design and the schedule depends on raising some of the remaining funds.  He said the plan calls for the exhibit to be laid out so it demonstrates the leaping ability of the snow leopard from one high platform to another.

The capital budget also calls for allocating perhaps $400,000 for design work, marketing, contingencies and other soft costs.

The zoo is on the verge of unveiling a new long-range master plan that may incorporate some of the projects being funded from the current capital drive, officials said.

Zoo officials last adopted a master plan in 1999, one that recommended some major projects, including the $13 million Gorilla Forest that opened in 2002 and the $25 million arctic-themed Glacier Run complex. The latter project has included a polar bear exhibit and several related attractions, such as a splash park and a snowy owl exhibit that have been phased in since 2006.

Mayor Greg Fischer and the Louisville Metro Council have encouraged the zoo to increase the revenue it generates to reduce its financial reliance on metro government.  It has tried to comply in the last year or two by charging visitors $5 to park and adding beer sales.

The zoo’s current year’s budget is around $16 million, of which just under $3 million comes from the metro general fund. Nearly all the rest is from admissions and other zoo-generated income, such as space rental, memberships and retail sales.

Reporter Sheldon S. Shafer can be reached at (502) 582-7089, or via email at

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December Heat Tricks Flowers Into Putting On Spring Display

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Adding ash to vegetable garden can create adverse growing conditions – Tribune

Question: We do compost at my house, but there are some extra leaves, small branches and plant debris left over that I would like to burn instead of compost. The bare vegetable garden area seems like a nice place to do it. Would the burnt debris and ashes affect the garden in a bad way?

Answer: I suggest you do your burning someplace other than in the empty vegetable garden. Here’s why:

Ash contains calcium carbonate, a compound that, when introduced to soil, can increase the soil’s alkalinity (raising the pH). This affects the availability of certain plant nutrients and can make them inaccessible to plants.

The ideal pH for vegetable gardens is 6.0 to 6.5. If the pH rises much above 7.0, because of the addition of either too much ash or agricultural lime, certain essential plant nutrients, namely phosphorous, iron, boron, manganese and zinc, can become bound up in the soil. When they are chemically tied up in the soil, these nutrients aren’t available for use and plants can show signs of deficiencies, such as stifled growth and yields.

Soil pH is so important to plant growth because it influences the availability of almost every nutrient. Hitting the target pH of 6.0 to 6.5 as closely as possible is the best way to have a productive vegetable garden. Adding ash to the garden without knowing its current pH can throw everything off kilter. To obtain an accurate pH measurement, purchase a soil test kit from the Penn State Extension Service either via their website ( or by telephone (412-263-1000 in Allegheny County or 724-837-1402 in Westmoreland).

While ash does contain some potassium and phosphorous, as well as some of the trace nutrients plants use for growth, it also can contain heavy metals like lead, cadmium and nickel, and those are a big no-no in the vegetable garden.

Distributing wood ash on gardens and fields is an old tradition among longtime gardeners, but it’s one that comes with great risk. If too much ash is added, the pH is thrown too far in one direction and the soil becomes too alkaline to support proper plant growth.

Typically, here in Western Pennsylvania, unadulterated soils are naturally slightly acidic (often between 5.0 and 5.5), so an occasional addition of minor amounts of ash may not do any harm. However, without testing your soil to know the current pH measurement, you can’t be sure whether you’re adding a harmful amount or not.

I suggest you burn your garden debris elsewhere and throw the ash onto the compost pile. As the pile decomposes, the pH of the ash is largely neutralized, making the compost safe to use on the garden a few months later.

Horticulturist Jessica Walliser co-hosts “The Organic Gardeners� at 7 a.m. Sundays on KDKA Radio with Doug Oster. She is the author of several gardening books, including “Attracting Beneficial Bugs to Your Garden: A Natural Approach to Pest Control� and “Good Bug, Bad Bug.� Her website is

Send your gardening or landscaping questions to or The Good Earth, 503 Martindale St., Third Floor, D.L. Clark Building, Pittsburgh, PA 15212.

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Garden tips: stink bugs; millipedes; jacarandas; citrus rootstock

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Palo Alto could crack down on water waste in basement projects

PALO ALTO — Millions of gallons of groundwater pumped from basement construction projects would be reused next year if a grassroots group keen on protecting city groundwater has its way.

The City Council next month is scheduled to discuss how removing water from soil — a practice known as dewatering — affects buildings, infrastructure and vegetation around construction sites, especially in light of the drought.

Some residents have blamed groundwater pumping for the loss of trees and subsidence-related damage to neighboring homes.

Keith Bennett and other members of the group Save Palo Alto’s Groundwater, which formed this year, have urged the council to ban groundwater pumping, at least temporarily.

Group members want the city to study the impact of dewatering and implement new policies to conserve groundwater.

“What can we do in 2016 that significantly reduces the amount of groundwater that is discharged into the storm drains from basement construction?” Bennett asked at a Dec. 15 council committee meeting.

The city should require quick turnaround for construction projects and impose heavy fines for work that takes longer because the length of a project affects how much water is pumped, he added.

“When you’re talking about reducing waste, you’re talking about reducing use,” Bennett said.

Bennett compared two similar-sized basement projects that took place within blocks of each other: One on Hampton Street took six months while one on Byron Street took three weeks.

Another effective strategy would be for the city to require a significant portion of the water to be used on the property or nearby properties, possibly through a pipe encircling the block so it can percolate back into the shallow aquifers, Bennett said.

“It’s not whether you dewater; it is what you do with the water,” Bennett said.

Bennett estimates that 80 percent of the pumped water from basement construction could be kept from entering the storm drain if dewatering takes only two to three weeks and crews pump only 20 to 30 gallons per minute.

Phil Bobel, the city’s assistant director of Public Works, agrees.

“To minimize the duration is the most substantial thing,” he said. “If you could minimize the duration by 50 percent then you’ve minimized the flow by 50 percent.”

For now, a typical site pumps about 100,000 gallons of water per day during the three to four months it takes to construct a basement, Bobel said.

Only about 2 percent of the non-potable water is captured for the city, neighbors or other contractors to use, Bobel said.

“They have every incentive in the world right now to put those wells down deeply and to pump out water vigorously because they’re just trying to prevent their site from getting wet,” Bobel said. “Currently, that’s their only incentive.”

Staff recommends that the city expand its basement pumping guidelines so applicants will have to study the effect of dewatering on nearby buildings, infrastructure, trees and landscaping, and look at ways to avoid negative impact.

“We’re creating a very substantial incentive, I would argue,” Bobel said.

Dewatering permits currently are issued during the dry months from April to October to anyone who wants to build a basement. Applicants have to submit a report on where and how the pumping will be done.

If the council approves proposed guidelines, applicants would also have to get a determination from an independent, geotechnical engineer to certify the “cone of influence” of the project and share findings with the city and adjacent landowners, Bobel said.

The council’s Policy and Services Committee has discussed dewatering concerns over the course of two meetings in December, hearing recommendations from city staff and residents.

The four-member committee voted unanimously on Dec. 15 to bring the most-time sensitive proposals, such as changes to the basement pumping guidelines, to the full City Council.

The other time-sensitive ideas include staff recommendations to maximize on-site water reuse at basement construction sites.

For instance, applicants would be required to have a water truck hauling service take groundwater from the construction site at least once a week to a city park or a neighbor’s yard where it could be used.

Councilmen Tom DuBois and Cory Wolbach, both members of the Policy and Services Committee, supported the idea of charging a fee for the amount of groundwater that goes into the storm drain systems.

Both said doing so would put some value on groundwater. “You start to say, ‘This water is not a waste product,” DuBois added. “If the drought gets worse, we can change the rate.”

DuBois also urged staff to consider delaying the issuance of basement dewatering permits for now if it appears that new guidelines could be implemented around April.

DuBois also asked staff to look into how a construction site’s impact on neighboring properties will be defined, measured and enforced. And he asked that it explore how multiple construction projects where pumping is allowed at the same time will affect nearby properties.

Wolbach said he does not think a moratorium on basement dewatering, as requested by some residents, is “the best solution right now.”

The city is working toward a solution but an overhaul of the city’s groundwater policies will take longer than 2016 to complete, he added.

City Manager James Keene said the city is taking a “triage” approach to an issue that emerged from concerned neighbors.

The city will do what it can immediately to address the issue, but further study is needed to get a better understanding of the county’s groundwater system and the impact of additional fees for discharging groundwater into the storm drain system, for instance.

The new rules would create significant consequences that need a serious assessment, Keene said.

“There are implications both for neighbors who are concerned about the impacts and there are implications for neighbors who are building their dream home. We might be imposing requirements on them that are an additional cost, that may affect their schedule and their plans and that sort of thing,” Keene said.

Email Jacqueline Lee at or call her at 650-391-1334; follow her at

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Holmes County JROTC gives back to the community

Posted Dec. 24, 2015 at 9:24 AM
Updated at 9:25 AM

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I’ve got an idea

This time of year, I always have grand visions of the upcoming season’s vegetable garden and bright ideas for new landscaping projects. The only problem is most of my ideas require assistance from the hubby.

After 33 years of marriage — let’s face it — I know how to get what I want. I also know the power of this gift, and I don’t abuse it. I reserve it for the really important things — well, important to me.

Hubby may roll his eyes, grunt and groan, but he knows how this all works. He complains and moans, then when the time comes we get to work.

Take for instance my kitchen. We bought an old farm house roughly 17 years ago and little by little we’ve tried to update it and make it suitable for our own tastes. This winter I decided it was time to redo the kitchen. I’m going to be honest, I had to battle for this one. I had been envisioning exactly what I wanted, and I was determined to have it completed before Christmas. I wasn’t asking for walls to be knocked out, I simply wanted new countertops and a new sink. My mistake was using the word “simply.”

Hubby and I are very compatible. We don’t fight, we don’t yell, but there have been a few times when we don’t speak. My kitchen redo was one of those times.

What I thought would be a nice little weekend project turned into a two-week ordeal but eventually I ended up with new countertops, a new sink, new tile backsplash, new base cabinets and all before Christmas. And Hubby is the first one to say, he loves the kitchen.

So anyway…

I’m thinking this spring I’d like to upgrade our firepit that we regularly enjoy, maybe tear out the old garden pond and make it bigger and expand on the double waterfall we constructed a few years ago that cascades into it, tear out the old patio … I’m starting to think I should stop here. Hubby reads the paper.

Contact Dana King at

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