Archive | August 2014

Fracking Foe’s Billboard Signs Will Come Down


—These billboards are at the center of an Ohio lawsuit against a local man who opposes fracking and related activities.

—These billboards are at the center of an Ohio lawsuit against a local man who opposes fracking and related activities.

An Ohio opponent of fracking and activities relating to shale oil and gas has been sued in state court by a deep well injection company and its on-site manager. As I wrote last week for Midwest Energy News, the case to force him to remove two billboard signs fits into a broader pattern.

Various citizen groups and advocates feel that public agencies and private companies are not listening to concerns about the rapid expansion of shale gas activities in the state. More detail about the lawsuit is available here:

Now it seems that fracking foe Mike Bolls will have to take down the billboard signs after all—and without any court ruling in the case. Bolls says the owner of the billboards has given him until September 9 to remove the signs.

The reason, Bolls says, is pressure on the owners from lawyers for the injection well company. According to Bolls, the company threatened to add the billboard owner to the lawsuit if they did not terminate the contract.

Bolls notes that the billboard owner and his wife are both in their 70s. “They’re just not wanting to go through the battle of having to fight a court case at their age,” Bolls says.

The contract with Bolls was a month-to-month oral arrangement, so Bolls says he won’t get any money damages or refund as a result of the early termination. But Bolls speculates that other billboard owners could lose money if anyone who was offended by a sign could get it down with the threat of a lawsuit. People would be less likely to rent billboards, he reasons.

Taking down the signs won’t automatically make the pending lawsuit go away. For one thing, the complaint’s request for injunctive relief goes further than that. Moreover, the plaintiffs have also sought an unspecified amount of punitive and compensatory damages.

Whether they will proceed with the case remains to be seen, however. And Bolls says he wouldn’t change anything he’s done.

“I would not have done anything different,” he says. “I believe the message is true.”




Dancing and Darts

DanceSport at Gay Games 2014. Image (c) Kathiann M. Kowalski.

DanceSport. Image (c)  Kathiann M. Kowalski.

Gay Games 2014 has lots of the same events as the “regular” Olympics. These include rowing, swimming, ice skating, track and field, and so on. The week has also offered a variety of other sports that demand skill, practice, and devotion from their athletes.

In fact, the Gay Games are ahead of the “regular” Olympics in some areas. Golf won’t return to those games until Rio hosts them in 2016. But the Gay Games has already had its golf competition at the Firestone Country Club in Akron.

Similarly, the “regular” Olympics had bowling as a demonstration sport in 1988. But the Gay Games had its competition out in Wickliffe on the far east side of Cleveland. And while the “regular” Olympics has equestrian events, the Gay Games had a whole rodeo.

Earlier this week I went to two other sports that aren’t in the “regular” Olympics: DanceSport and Darts. Both were held at the Renaissance Cleveland Hotel on Public Square. Fortunately, the events were in separate ballrooms.

DanceSport is a ballroom dance competition. Imagine something like “Dancing with the Stars,” but with more modest costumes. Some of the outfits were brocade or tuxedo style. Others had chiffon drapes or skirts that floated and swirled with dancers’ motions.

The couples I saw were the women’s finalists. The dancers moved with grace, skill, and style. When the groups got to the “A” classification, the dancers were indeed—as the emcee said—“a-MAY-zing!”

Bullseye! Image (c) Kathiann M. Kowalski.

Bullseye! Image (c) Kathiann M. Kowalski.

The darts competition was just as amazing. The last dartboard I handled hung in my son’s old bedroom and was surrounded by holes in the wallpaper from missed throws. The Gay Games competition had a row of electronic dartboards along one wall of the ballroom. The dartboards automatically scored each hit, and computers tracked teams’ progress through different brackets on a large electronic screen.

The room hummed with chatter as groups of men competed in teams. A team member would step up to the duct tape line on the floor, take three shots, and then remove his darts. Then the next team member stepped up. It was like going to a bowling alley on league night—but with dartboards and sharp projectiles instead of bowling lanes and heavy balls.

The last time I threw a dart was when I was at the MBL hands-on environmental program for journalists. It barely landed on the random number chart we were using to determine transects for field sampling.

These contestants easily got all their darts to land on the dartboard. In fact, I saw at least six instances in which players got all three darts right on the bullseye. If it were me, I’d have stood there jumping up and down and calling for someone to take my picture. These guys calmly removed their darts so the next player could throw.

Just as bowling alleys offer refreshments, so did the darts competition. A snack bar offered nachos, trail mix, and warm pretzels.

Plus, there was a full bar. As one Gay Games volunteer at the competition said, for most people, “If you’re going to throw darts, you’re going to do it in a pub.”

“This is my kind of sport!” added another.



Three Cheers for the Gay Games

CHEER at Gay Games 9 in Cleveland's historic Music Hall. Image (c) Kathiann M. Kowalski.

CHEER at Gay Games 9 in Cleveland’s historic Music Hall. Image (c) Kathiann M. Kowalski.

Monday night found me at Cleveland’s Music Hall for the Gay Games’ CHEER competition. And there was lots to cheer about.

For starters, the atmosphere was great. Enthusiasm filled the historic theatre, and the crowd was wowed from the start of the opening ensemble routine through every stunt and pom pom team’s performance.

The athleticism and skill in the stunt routines was incredible. These teams were equal to or better than many college cheerleading teams as they did lifts and acrobatics.

Peppy music for each routine added to the energy level. Robot Unicorn hit it right on the head with their choice of The Lego Movie’s “Everything Is Awesome.

I’ll admit I was a bit skeptical when emcee Sanford Smith announced that the second part of the evening would be the pom pom competition. But these were not your 1980s Dallas Cowboy Cheerleaders.

Instead, teams performed intricately choreographed dance routines that incorporated pom poms into the dance. And they surpassed dance routines I’ve seen at professional NBA basketball games. My favorite was probably the Cheer New York team’s number, where the variations on hip street clothing really gave you a sense that they could be dancing in the streets of the Big Apple.

Beyond all that, here are three more things to cheer about:

1. The teams were very diverse.

Duh! I know, this is the Gay Games, so you’d think the coed teams would be diverse. But the diversity went beyond making sure LGBT people were included.

As judges scored each team, Smith invited different team members on stage to talk a bit about who they were and their experience with cheerleading. One mom of 4-year-old twins traveled to Cleveland for the games, while her partner was back at home in California with the kids. Another woman had been encouraged to get involved by her husband; they were moving soon because his medical residency had just finished, and she hoped to start up a cheer team in Seattle.

There were young men in their 20s, and a British man nearing 50. And then there was Caesar, who is mostly deaf. When he was growing up, people told him “You can’t dance, you can’t cheer, you can’t hear,” he said. “It bothered me, and I did it,” Caesar added.

2. The teams were not your stereotypical cheerleaders.

Again, duh! But again, it was more than gay pride.

Some of the women were cute, tiny, and petite. And some of the men were tall and muscular. However, there were both men and women with lots of curves who fit the classic endomorph body type. This was a refreshing change from my memories of grade school and high school.

Cheer New York performs in the pom pom competition at Gay Games 9. Image (c) Kathiann M. Kowalski.

Cheer New York performs in the pom pom competition at Gay Games 9. Image (c) Kathiann M. Kowalski.

3. It’s all for a good cause.

Competing against each other was actually not the teams’ usual focus. Instead, they raise money for charity.

“”What we really do is raise money for people living with HIV/AIDS and other diseases, such as cancer,” Smith said. The group also supports the Gay Games scholarship fund.

Towards that end, funds from a goodwill collection at the end of the evening will go to help the AIDS Task Force of Greater Cleveland. The organization provides a wide range of services, from health and adequacy to assistance with food, housing, and transportation. And that’s something to cheer about too.


Welcome–And Not So Welcome

Giant letters on the Cleveland Public Library form a welcome banner for Gay Games 9. Image (c) Kathiann M. Kowalski.

Giant letters on the Cleveland Public Library form a welcome banner for Gay Games 9. Image (c) Kathiann M. Kowalski.

Cleveland has rolled out the welcome mat—or at least giant signs and big banners—for Gay Games 2014.

Presented by the Cleveland Foundation, the week-long athetic games will attract approximately 8,000 participants from more than 50 countries and 48 states, plus Washington, D.C. All told, about 20,000 to 40,000 people will gather in Cleveland, Akron, and surrounding suburbs to take part in sports, cheer on athletes, and participate in additional activities and events.

As far as numbers go, the games are not as big as the 2016 Republican Convention is expected to be. Nonetheless, it’s a pretty huge event, and lots of local volunteers are greeting visitors, giving tours, helping with directions and registration, and performing other tasks. My guess is that the participants and their families and friends will feel they are indeed welcome by the cities.

Contrast this with the plight of LGBT homeless and missing youth.

Situations vary greatly from person to person, Dan Hansen told me at Bellefaire JCB’s exhibit booth in the registration hall yesterday. He’s a case manager for the organization’s homeless and missing youth and street outreach program. He also mans the hotline several days a week.

Sadly, some parents abuse their children—straight or LGBT.

However, over 50 percent of the overall clientele have behavioral issues, Hansen noted. Teens often wrestle with depression, anger, and other issues too. Whether the client is straight or LGBT, Hansen and other staff work to deal with the problems.

In some of those cases, conflicted feelings about sexual identity could aggravate those issues.

“Twenty-five to 30 percent of our clientele struggle with sexual identity issues,” Hansen told me, He bases that estimate on his own experience, although some national statistics place the number as high as 40 percent.

Even when teens know their sexual identity, family members may not accept it. Hansen told me about one very extroverted young man who “was out and proud.” He’d gotten into some trouble with the law and was no longer welcome at home with his grandmother.

“I tried to reason with Grandma to accept him back in the home,” Hansen said, “and she was willing—as long as he didn’t throw his gayness in her face.” After lots of work to help her see how extroverted the grandson was, she finally agreed to let him come home.

In another case, a girl’s behavior problems were so serious that she could be considered “criminogenic.” Yet as Hansen saw it, her adoptive parents seemed to mind more that she was gay.

Both teens are now over 18—and thus out of Bellefaire JCB’s program. Yet many more straight and LGBT youth continue to face the harsh reality of homelessness. And the Bellefaire JCB program—and others like it in other cities—struggle to do what they can in crisis situations.

“We’re a temporary bandaid,” Hansen said.


NOTE: Bellefaire JCB’s hotline for homeless and missing youth is 1-216-570-8010.

For help in areas outside the Cleveland area, teens can contact groups such as Covenant House or call the National Runaway Safeline at 1-800-RUNAWAY.

Fish on Drugs–Part 2

Perch on low levels of an anti-anxiety drug might live longer—at least in a laboratory setting.

The new study from Swedish scientists revisits the issue of pharmaceutical pollution in wastewater. The team also raises questions about whether risk assessment tests should consider broader issues. The study appears in this month’s issue of Environmental Research Letters.

In the study, the researchers dosed Eurasian perch with Oxazepam. That common anti-anxiety drug belongs to the general class of drugs known as benzodiazepines.

The Eurasian perch, Perca fluviatilis. 1879 image by Alexander Francis Lydon through Wikimedia Commons (public domain in the U.S., U.K., and various other countries).

The Eurasian perch, Perca fluviatilis. 1879 image by Alexander Francis Lydon through Wikimedia Commons (public domain in the U.S., U.K., and various other countries).

As with many medications, some of what goes into people typically comes out in one form or another through urine. Most wastewater treatment plants are not capable of removing pharmaceuticals, however. Thus, they flow out into lakes and rivers with the rest of the plants’ discharge.

The concentrations found in the environment are very dilute, so the research team kept the levels used in their study far below the lethal dosage as well. At different points during embryonic development, groups of perch were exposed to different levels of the anti-anxiety drug. A control group of roe had no exposure.

After the roe hatched, the team monitored the behavior and survival rates. The concentration of the drug and the days when the roe were exposed made a difference on how long the fry survived. The bottom line: Perch in the higher-dose group lived longer than those in the lower-dose group and the control.

Does this mean having fish on drugs is a good thing? Not really.

Just last year, four of the five co-authors for the new study reported in Science that exposure to Oxazepam significantly increased perch boldness and feeding behavior. I reported on that study for Great Lakes Echo last year.

On the one hand, it makes sense that getting more food could help the fish live longer, especially in a safe lab setting. Out in the environment, though, bolder fish foraging for food could expose themselves to more predators. The fishes’ increased feeding could also potentially upset aquatic food webs. And other organisms that are key to the aquatic food web could suffer from hormone disruption or other ill effects. And, of course, there’s not one drug, but a whole brew in low concentrations in wastewater plant effluent.

Yet the new study raises an important question about the nature of risk assessments. Almost by definition, most studies focus on risks of harmful effects.

“A new, conceptual view of ecotoxicological testing should include the possibility that a substance can improve the health of an organism and make individuals affected by contamination more competitive than non-affected individuals,” co-author Tomas Brodin says in a press release from the Institute of Physics, which publishes Environmental Research Letters.

In theory, “standard” studies should already reflect some potential therapeutic effects. If something is helpful, there will be fewer ill effects as compared to a control. And in practice, considering all the pros and cons for every species in an aquatic food web is difficult.

I expect the new study by Brodin and his team will draw lots of comments among the scientific community. Meanwhile, low levels of drugs keep flowing out with wastewater discharge.

Ohio utilities fight net-metering rules

My latest feature at Midwest Energy News considers the clash of interests between utilities and customers who feed energy into the grid:

Ohio utilities take net metering fight to state Supreme Court

A case going before the Ohio Supreme Court could have a major impact on distributed generation in the state, while raising questions about corporate separation and possible conflicts of interest for regulated utilities.

Read more. . .

Ohio customers' electric bills have two main parts: distribution and generation. Image by Kathiann M. Kowalski.