Wetland protection, mass timber and a recap of No Mow May were all discussed Monday (July 17) at the Commission on the Environment’s first meeting since May.
Under new business, the commission discussed Merit Laboratories, Inc. request for East Lansing to approve expansion of its parking facilities at 2680 East Lansing Drive. With this request, the city contacted its wetland consultant, ASTI Environmental, requesting it conduct an investigation of the potential impact on a wetland occupying the same area.
Under the city’s wetland protection ordinance, wetlands under two acres are subject to a process for determining a wetland’s regulatory status and whether a wetland use permit application is required. The commission was asked to determine whether it believes this wetland is essential to the preservation of the natural resources of the city and pass its recommendation onto the City Council.
According to Cliff Walls, the City’s environmental specialist and staff liaison to the Commission on the Environment, the decision before the commission related to the regulatory status of the wetland for any applicant, not just Merit Labs. Walls provided this clarification to ELi in an email Thursday (July 20). (See correction and clarification at the end of the story.)
ASTI Environmental provided the report to the commission, discussing why they believe the area identified as Wetland A should not be regulated by the city, reporting it is not essential to the preservation of the natural resources of East Lansing.
In discussion with Vice President of ASTI Environmental Dianne Martin over Zoom and with the information provided by both ASTI and Merit Laboratories, the commission unanimously decided the wetland is not essential to preservation of the natural resources of the city.
The commission hears a presentation on the merits of mass timber.
The commission heard a special presentation on mass timber from Jamie Deshame of Midwest Strategy Group and Sandra Lupien, Director of Mass Timber at Michigan State University.
This same presentation had been given previously to the Downtown Development Authority and the Planning Commission.
“East Lansing has a wonderful opportunity to be a statewide leader and take a step in the right direction against climate change, embracing policies and ordinances that encourage and entice green and sustainable development is critical for municipalities across Michigan,” Deshame said. “And we think there’s no better place to go green than right here in East Lansing.”
The purpose of the presentation was to educate the commission on the benefits of mass timber and encourage them to consider the use of this type of construction moving forward.
“Mass timber is a category of framing styles typically characterized by the use of large solid wood panels for wall, floor and roof construction,” Lupien said, quoting the definition from the American Wood Council.
“When you think of mass timber, don’t think of two-by-fours or four-by-fours in a stick frame like in a house,” Lupien said. “But think of a big column that would normally be made from steel.”
The benefits of mass timber, Lupien told the commission, fall into three categories: benefits for construction; benefits for forests, climate and sustainability; and benefits for jobs and economy.
In terms of construction benefits, mass timber is made of high performance materials, therefore, it is lighter in weight but also very strong. Mass timber works well in hybrid systems or alone and is incredibly fire resistant.
Environmentally, the material is known for its carbon benefits, as the materials are able to store carbon inside of buildings, extending the carbon benefits of trees.
Mass timber also carries many biophilia benefits, “bringing the benefits of nature indoors,” Lupien said.
East Lansing is home to the first mass timber building in Michigan, the MSU STEM Teaching and Learning Facility.
Commission hears results of East Lansing’s first No Mow May.
As this was the first meeting following East Lansing’s first No Mow May, the commission shared a recap of the month.
Environmental Specialist Cliff Walls said there were 350 official sign-ups through the online form, but is certain other members of the city participated. He was very pleased with the turnout and how much media attention No Mow May received.
“From the city’s operational standpoint, the plan for the city was to participate to the level that we could, but more so focus on permanent naturalization,” Walls said.
Walls said the city experienced challenges during the first mow of June.
“We’re learning that it’s hard to just participate in No Mow May for one month as a city,” Walls said, “just because of the scale and the amount there is to mow afterwards. The first day of mowing, we blew out three mowers.”
It took three weeks to catch up on mowing in the city and lots of damage was caused to equipment.
During public comment, Joshua Ramirez-Roberts, who recently announced a bid for City Council, also expressed some concerns about No Mow May, saying it caused an increase in invasive species in many people’s lawns.
Ultimately, the commission enjoyed No Mow May and learned a lot in the first year. Moving forward, the commission plans to re-evaluate the manner in which they conduct the month, focusing more on educating the city about how to be an environmentally-responsible resident.
“Taking that opportunity to make it [No Mow May] even more of an educational opportunity,” chair Tom Alwin said. “So that it’s No Mow May, but it brings in more information about what you can do throughout the year in regard to pollinators and your carbon footprint.”
City receives grant to help combat storm damage, recognized nationally for recycling program.
The commission meeting ended with a couple of announcements from Walls, including that the city has received an $850,000 EGLE High Water Grant it applied for in November. The grant will be used to develop a wet-weather resilience master planning document.
“We will update our levels of service and do 1D and 2D hydraulic and hydrologic modeling,” Walls said. “Basically, what we would do is plug in climate models into a 2D map of the city and anticipate flow and direction changes, flow volumes, and all this different stuff under different climate scenarios. And then determine what your level of service or design standard for stormwater infrastructure would be to accommodate for different storms.”
Walls also announced that East Lansing has been nominated for recycling program of the year in the country.
East Lansing is up against Denton, Texas, and Queen Creek, Arizona, in the small community category of the Resources Recycling Conference. Walls said the nomination is largely due to nationwide interest in the East Lansing robotics recycling project.
Correction and Clarification: This story was updated at 3:30 p.m. Thursday, July 20, 2023 to correct an inaccurate headline. Cliff Walls, the City’s environmental specialist and staff liaison to the Commission on the Environment, provided this additional information to ELi in an email.
“The decision before the commission related to the regulatory status of the wetland for any applicant, not just Merit Labs. The title would make more sense if the Commission was considering a wetland use permit application from Merit, but that was not the decision before the Commission. With the wetland under two acres in size, the Commission was required to review recommendations from our wetland consultant and make their own recommendation to Council, who makes the final decision on if a sub two-acre wetland will be regulated (and therefore require a permit for any regulated activity).
“The title is misleading for multiple reasons, primarily because the project itself was not the issue or action item. Also, while not directly related to the decision, the proposed project is not “over” the wetland, or even within wetland setbacks. Any potential regulatory requirements or “permit trigger” would be related to potential increases in run-off volumes to the pond (which they’ve proposed addressing with an infiltration swale); not occupancy/filling. Part of the reason the Commission determined it should not be regulated by the City is because it is already under the jurisdiction of the Ingham County Drain Commission, which would regulate any modifications to their drainage infrastructure. The title makes it sound like the City greenlit a project to pave over a wetland, when that was not the decision before the commission or a realistic outcome of their decision. EGLE has their own determination to make regarding the wetland’s regulatory status under their rules, so I feel this title is misleading without that context. Also, while the EGLE grant project is around $850k overall, our grant was $600k. The rest is match.”