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Orange Barrel Art Squashes Summer Road Work Tension

Fri, 06/23/2017 - 16:47

STEVENS POINT, WISC. – For those cities that are full of messages from residents complaining about road work, one Wisconsin town that is notorious for train delays offers an idea to ease drivers’ frustrations when saddled with summer construction slow downs.

The Stevens Point Area Convention and Visitors Bureau and CREATE Portage County created the Orange Barrel Art Tour and have brought it back for summer 2017 road work.

Sculptures using retired orange barrels, provided through a partnership with a local rental company, will be displayed in Stevens Point through August.

Read the original story on the Stevens Point Journal website.

Watch the making of the Squirrel Monster:

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Baltimore Schools Skip Detention for Meditation & Yoga

Fri, 06/23/2017 - 16:23


By James Gaines

BALTIMORE — Robert W. Coleman Elementary School has been doing something different when students act out: offering meditation.

Instead of punishing disruptive kids or sending them to the principal’s office, the Baltimore school has something called the Mindful Moment Room instead.

The room looks nothing like your standard windowless detention room. Instead, it’s filled with lamps, decorations, and plush purple pillows. Misbehaving kids are encouraged to sit in the room and go through practices like breathing or meditation, helping them calm down and re-center. They are also asked to talk through what happened.

Continue reading the story on the Upworthy website.

PBS also reported on nearby Patterson High School’s successful partnership with the Holistic Life Foundation and mindfulness research with children by Johns Hopkins University. Research connects location-based crime and unemployment rates to higher student drop out and absenteeism rates.

Mindfulness research revealed how parts of the brain stimulated by strong emotions, like fear, show less activity through meditation, while other parts of the brain associated with maturity become active.

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Caregivers are Already Watching Medicaid Get Meaner

Fri, 06/23/2017 - 15:52

As overall federal healthcare funding gets leaner with the proposed Senate Better Care Reconciliation Act of 2017 — a healthcare bill that rolls back taxes and slices through the corset of the Affordable Care Act — deep cuts to Medicaid are making the most headlines.

Medicaid is poised to get meaner. The New York Times is filled with editorials, such as a recent one about leaving states to make difficult choices in how they will provide for the disabled, elderly and health-afflicted that rely on Medicaid.

A recent case in point foreshadows how cuts will fall on people relying on Medicaid, and their caregivers.

Cut to the Colostomy Bag

NH Healthy Families, underwritten by Granite State Health Plan, Inc., and owned by Missouri-based Centene, recently informed its insureds that it will no longer pay for colostomy pouches, which cost between $135- $200 per box.

Under Medicare Part B, ostomy supplies are typically covered. But under a state Medicaid Managed Care plan, the company seems to be relisting the pouches as non-essential durable medical equipment.

One anonymous caregiver was very concerned about the benefit loss. “How often do you go to the bathroom every month? These people have no income source. They are totally disabled.”

Strapped Caregivers 

Medicaid covers long-term care for millions of people, not just the elderly, and its essential to 90 million family caregivers, according to Forbes.

While the Senate bill may promote states’ flexibility in healthcare spending, the loss of more than $800 billion to Medicaid over the next decade would likely remove people from the program, cut services, reduce payments to providers and drastically increase out-of-pocket costs to caregivers.

The collateral damage could prove to be catastrophic to families. The out-of-pocket costs for medical equipment like ostomy products could be $10,000 per year, according to John Schall, CEO of the nonprofit Caregiver Action Network

Cost Control is a Double-Edged Sword

While insurers are exiting many of the exchange marketplaces leaving numerous counties with little to no affordable healthcare plans, Centene Corp. doesn’t plan on slowing down.

According to a Modern Healthcare report, the company’s revenues continue to grow. In 2016, its revenues increased in part through an expansion of its Medicaid coverage. Centene will start offering coverage on exchanges in Kansas, Missouri and Nevada, and expanding its presence in the six states.

Centene’s analysts are able to cut government health costs, and as a result the company has grown and diversified. According to a 2012 article in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, “This country doesn’t have endless dollars. Our job is to provide higher quality care at the lowest possible price,” said Michael Neirdorf, the company’s chairman, president and chief executive officer. “We go to states and ask to take on their sickest populations.”

While their data, known as Centelligence predicts patient risks factors and the company’s health plans offer numerous wellness programs to help prevent high predictable medical costs in the future, Centene also looks where it can cut health care costs for states now.

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Syracuse Developing Small Cells Wireless Ordinance

Thu, 06/22/2017 - 14:03


By Tim Knauss

SYRACUSE, N.Y. – In preparation for the next wave of wireless phone technology, Syracuse officials are proposing legislation to regulate “small cell” wireless transmitters that are expected to begin popping up on urban utility poles.

Small cells are low-powered transmitters, usually about the size of a backpack, that are increasingly used to enhance cell phone coverage in downtown locations, arenas, or other densely populated areas.

Syracuse officials on Friday proposed legislation to regulate the technology. The new law comes in response to requests from at least two carriers to put small cells on utility poles in the city, said Beth Rougeux, director of administration.

Continue reading the story on Syracuse.com.

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DHS: Hackers Cased Voter Registration Systems in 21 States

Thu, 06/22/2017 - 13:44

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) reported to the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee that the agency has confirmed widespread cybersecurity targeting of local election and voter registration systems prior to the 2016 election, according to The Hill.

“We have evidence of election-related systems in 21 states that were targeted,” said Jeanette Manfra, acting deputy undersecretary for cybersecurity and communications at the DHS’s National Protection and Programs Directorate.

While DHS has not released which states’ voter registration systems had been targeted, Manfra confirmed that no vote tallies were altered.

Bill Priestap, assistant director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation counterintelligence division, said the FBI is investigating the hackers’ targeting efforts.

The hackers appeared to be scanning for vulnerabilities, according to a separate report by the Washington Post.

DHS did not disclose the names of the states targeted, or indicate if data had been stolen. Previously, Arizona officials confirmed that the FBI had alerted the state that foreign actors likely breached its voter registration system in June 2016, although only one email address, that of a Gila County election official, appears to have been stolen.

“We could be here in two or four years talking about a much worse crisis,” said North Carolina Senator Richard Burr, the committee chairman, at the hearing.

Read the original coverage on The Hill’s website.

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Maine Votes Millions for Aquaculture, Marine Technology

Wed, 06/21/2017 - 16:33


AUGUSTA, MAINE — Maine voters have approved a special referendum election to invest $50 million in technology.

The proposal asked voters if they wanted the Maine Technology Institute to distribute $45 million in grants for upgrades in aquaculture, marine technology, forestry and agriculture. The Small Enterprise Growth Fund would direct another $5 million to small businesses.

Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap said on Wednesday the bond issue was approved, the Elections Division certified the results and Gov. Paul LePage signed the official vote proclamation.

The legislation will become law on July 21. The vote was on June 13.

Copyright 2017 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

Copyright Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.


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Chicago Public Schools Borrows $275M to Fulfill Pensions

Wed, 06/21/2017 - 16:23


CHICAGO — Chicago Public Schools says it has taken out a $275 million short-term loan so it can meet its obligations with the teachers’ pension fund by a June 30 deadline.

JPMorgan Chase & Co. on Monday purchased “grant anticipation notes” from CPS, the third-largest school district in the U.S., to be repaid with state education aid.

The district says the $275 million “creates sufficient cash” to pay into the Chicago Teachers’ Pension Fund. Another $112 million for district operations will be borrowed separately.

CPS finance chief Ron DeNard says Illinois school districts have suffered because Gov. Bruce Rauner’s administration has failed to provide education funding in a timely manner.

In an emailed statement, Rauner’s spokeswoman Eleni Demertzis blamed the district’s need to borrow on “decades of mismanagement.”

Copyright 2017 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

Copyright Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.


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Mayor Challenges Kids: Log 1M Summer Reading Minutes

Wed, 06/21/2017 - 16:09

Newton, Mass., Mayor Setti Warren launched a summer reading challenge to start June 21st and end September 1, 2017, called Build a Better World.

Warren’s goal is for the city to log one million minutes read before the next school year begins.

Kids in preschool through 5th grade are encouraged to use the city’s online reading log to keep track of the time spent reading alone, with family or friends. The contest counts eBooks as well as audio books.

If Newton children can accomplish the goal, a donor will offer the city’s public library a community prize selected by vote. The prize will either be a new puppet theater, new seats in the graphics section or an education kit.

Learn more on the Newton Free Library website.

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$3M for Rural Health Opioid Programs

Wed, 06/21/2017 - 15:44

The Health Resources & Services Administration (HRSA) has announced it will make 12 awards of $250,000 per year for three years under the Rural Health Opioid Program.

The purpose is to promote rural health care services outreach by expanding the delivery of opioid related healthcare services to rural communities. The program targets reductions in morbidity and mortality related to opioid overdoses in rural communities through the development of broad community consortia that connect individuals substance use disorder to treatment and implement care coordination.

Consortia must be composed of three or more rural healthcare providers. The grant requires consortia:

  • Identifying individuals at-risk of overdose
  • Provide outreach and education on locally available treatment options and support services
  • Educate community members on opioid use disorder
  • Organize patient care activities
  • Support individuals in recovery by establishing new or enhancing existing behavioral counseling and peer support activities

On July 13, HRSA will host a webinar from 2:00 – 3:00 pm EST for interested applicants. Attendees can dialin by calling 800-790-1893 and entering passcode: 6456578.

Applications are due July 21st.

Learn more about the opportunity and access the announcement on the HRSA website.

Apply on Grants.gov.

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There’s $2M for Wireless Technologies Innovation

Wed, 06/21/2017 - 15:22

Innovative teams that can answer the question: ‘How do you connect the unconnected?’ can enter the National Science Foundation’s (NSF) Wireless Innovations for a Networked Society (WINS) Challenges and get seed funding to develop their prototypes.

According to NSF’s partner Mozilla, a lack of Internet access is far more than an inconvenience in the 21st Century — it’s a staggering disadvantage. About 10 percent of the U.S. population — some 34 million people lack Internet access. In rural areas, about 39 percent lack access. On tribal lands, it’s nearly half of all residents.

But when disasters strike, even the millions with daily Internet access suddenly lose connectivity right when they likely need wireless access to maps and messaging applications the most.

While WINS main goal is to spark innovation in wireless technologies that connect communities and get people online after disasters, NSF and Mozilla are working to broaden the dialogue around access and strengthen the network of Internet access problem solvers.

Two challenges each offer $1 million in prizes.

The Wireless Contest

Applicants will be expected to design the hardware and the software applications on top of that network. There will be first, second and third place prizes, along with seven honorable mentions. Prizes will be announced in January 2018 and will range from $10,000 to $60,000.

The second phase of the wireless challenges require working prototypes. The four prizes for WINS’ final stage range from $50,000 to $400,000, and will be announced in August 2018.

The Off-The-Grid Internet Challenge seeks wireless solutions for communication that can be rapidly deployed in post-disaster situations where Internet access is unavailable or compromised.

Projects should be portable, easy to power and simple to access. On its blog, Mozilla offered a few examples of decentralized Internet access innovations:

A portable pack containing a computer, battery and WiFi router that accesses map resources and messaging applications on the computer’s hard drive.

The Smart-Community Networks Challenge seeks wireless solutions for communication that can be built on top of existing infrastructure to enhance Internet connectivity in communities that need greater access.

Mozilla said winning projects would securely cover a high number of users through robust bandwidth over a far-reaching range. An example is a neighborhood wireless network where nodes are housed and draw power from old payphone booths.

Intent to apply letters must be submitted by October 15, 2017, and designs are due in November.

Learn more about WINS and judging criteria on the competition website.

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Kansas Reverses Funding Cuts to Medicaid Providers

Tue, 06/20/2017 - 11:59

The restoration of a May 2016 funding cut will infuse almost every Medicaid provider in the state serving the approximate 400,000 people currently insured through KanCare, according to The Kansas City Star.

Last year, the state approved $56.4 million in cuts to its privatized Medicaid program in order to balance the state budget. About $38.2 million of that came from a 4 percent cut reducing provider reimbursements.

Making Payroll

According to the Star, almost 64 percent of KanCare subscribers are children, while the adults on KanCare plans are either disabled, pregnant or elderly.

Restoring the Medicaid provider reimbursement payments to the 2016 funding level is good news for pediatricians and obstetrician/gynecologists, said Jon Rosell, executive director of the Kansas Medical Society.

“It would certainly impact their bottom line more dramatically than others,” he said.

One provider in Olathe, KidsTLC, said that cut was a loss of more than $400,000 over the course of a year. It’s one of nine psychiatric residential treatment facilities in the state that provides out-of-home placement for children with mental health diagnoses, including substance use and sexual abuse disorders and developmental disabilities.

KidsTLC has 61 beds and another 12 in a program transitioning youth back into the community, employing therapists, counselors, nurses, case managers and other health professionals.

Operator Gordon Docking said with KanCare’s provider reimbursement cuts now reversed, it will be “a little bit easier to make payroll.”

Balancing the Budget Without Medicare Cuts

Last year when some providers said they couldn’t sustain the cut very long, several lawmakers went into the 2017 session looking for ways to restore the money.

The Kansas Legislature recently passed a tax increase to try to ward off future budget imbalances, overriding a veto to do so. They also voted to increase the fees charged to private health insurers who operate KanCare’s health maintenance organization (HMO) plans. The state will use still-available federal reimbursements to pay the HMOs back for the new state healthcare tax.

Read the original story on KansasCity.com.

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Racine Funds Help Homeowners Replace Lead Service Lines

Mon, 06/19/2017 - 17:34


By Anne Meyer Byler

Chad Regalia, chief engineer of Racine Water and Wastewater Utilities, reported that the city of Racine, Wisc., has been replacing public portions of lead service lines for about 10 years. The city has been funding the replacements by setting aside $250,000 per year through water rates for nearly 20 years.

In October 2016, a three-year state-funded program began providing Racine’s homeowners a rebate to help pay for their ends of the lead service lines delivering public drinking water to their homes.

How it Works

Homeowners hire plumbers, and the program pays them $2,500.

Regalia said that since it typically costs about $2,500 to $3,000 for replacement of the private lead service lines, the cost to the homeowner is minimal compared to the overall replacement cost.

For 2017, Wisconsin’s Department of Natural Resources (DNR) has apportioned $500,000 to Racine based on the size of its utility, number of its customers and an estimated 10,000 lead service lines serving 34,000 customers that likely need replacing.

Robin Schmidt, environmental loans section chief, said, “Basically, municipalities are eligible for this program and there are several options for how they choose to implement the program.”

A Struggle Getting Racine Residents to Replace Lead Laterals

Educating homeowners that the city has made money available for private lead service lines replacement has been a challenge, however.

“People may not want to mess up their basement or front yard,” Regalia said.

The city documents what the homeowners’ laterals are made of, and it will do complementary inspections to confirm if they have lead in their water.

Communicating the need to homeowners, even with limited funding available, has been like “pulling teeth,” said Keith Haas, general manager of Racine Water and Wastewater Utilities.

Prioritizing Lead Service Lines Replacement

Regalia said that when the city replaces a public lead service lateral, the private end becomes higher priority.

“If the lead service is leaking, we want to use the money to fix the leak.”

Regalia said the utility is not sure if the DNR funding will be available in 2019 and 2020. He also noted that the city’s pilot program may not replace all 10,000 private lead service lines that might exist in its system.

Assuming 10,000 lead services in the public right of way, and another 10,000 on private property, it could cost the city $50,000,000 to replace the public lead service lines and another $20,000,000 for those on private property.

At a rate of $250,000 per year in our budget, it would take 200 years,” said Haas.

Haas added that when the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency passed the lead and copper rule, the city knew dealing with lead in the distribution system was going to be a major funding challenge.

Access the original story on The Municipal’s website.

Learn more about DNR’s Private Lead Service Line Replacement Funding Program.

Understand the lead and copper rule and how to address lead in city drinking water:

How to Deal with Lead in Your City’s Drinking Water

Find out about ways cities can fund aging infrastructure improvements:

How Can Water Systems Pay for Aging Infrastructure?

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Is Grandma Selling Prescription Painkillers?

Mon, 06/19/2017 - 14:37


by Joe Eaton

Over a span of about two years, Ajellon Dedeaux, a 29-year-old drug dealer, sold thousands of prescription painkillers on the illicit drug market near Sacramento, Calif. Finding customers was easy. The hard part was finding a supply of pills. A reliable source?

“Older people,” Dedeaux said in an email sent from a federal prison in Arizona, where he is serving a 12-year sentence on drug charges. “They want to make some extra money and don’t mind selling the pills.”

Interviews with law enforcement members across the country, along with a review of court cases, confirm that retirement-age Americans have become a new source of illicit prescription painkillers sold on the open market. Some sell their pills due to a financial crisis or to make ends meet. Others are victims of drug dealers, who target them for their prescriptions. And in some cases, caregivers and family members are pilfering their medications for profit or to feed their own addictions.

What helps fuel this troubling trend is not just the poverty faced by some older people. It’s also their ability to easily gain prescriptions from doctors.

Continue reading the story on the AARP website.

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Incorporating Skaters’ Needs into Local Park Planning

Mon, 06/19/2017 - 14:16


By Kyle Duvall

Communities aren’t thinking in terms of one skate park, anymore.

“They are thinking in terms of several parks at different levels because that’s what you need to serve skateboarders,” said Tito Porrata, lead designer and founder of Team Pain Skate Parks, which has built a number of public skate parks in cities across the United States.

Skating No Longer an Add-On

It used to be that municipalities were interested in pre-fab options for incorporating skate park elements into their suite of parks and recreation properties. Cities realized legal places to skate were actually few and far between.

But today, there are more than 4,000 skate parks in the United States, according to the Tony Hawk Foundation. Parks are diverse for various reasons, and location is critically important for design. Such as the ability to design elements that go below grade — that doesn’t fly in some locales.

With skateboarding to debut in the 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympics, there is a certain acknowledged legitimacy for the sport and pastime. U.S. cities are beginning to look more deeply into the needs of skaters in their communities as a master planning exercise.

Cities One-Upping Each Other

Cities had a tendency to put skate parks in places with historic crime, but today they are visible assets. In Carlsbad, Calif., a 23,000-square-foot facility was designed as a community showpiece, according to its designer.

“[They] had me on-site at the Carlsbad skate park to answer questions for the media. They wanted to show why Carlsbad was awesome, and they were using the skate park as a centerpiece,” recalled Kanten Russell, a former San Diego skate park advocate and designer and project manager in the action sport division with the firm Stantec.

Russell added that cities are beginning to look over each other’s shoulders and one-up each other on their skate park designs. Today’s hottest master planning trend is to merge skateable art and architecture right into city infrastructure and design.

Framing Skating for All 

Skatepark styles can be classified, which helps city planners and administrators understand what skaters need.

Establishing a regional park with multiple smaller sites — including “skate spots” or “skate dots” in other parks — spread throughout a region is a master plan with top-down vision. There’s a growing number of skaters riding into their middle ages and beyond, and there is a need to put skate parks closer to where kids live.

But focusing on community outreach to gauge input from all ages is critical to designs that serve the most skaters. The public stature of older skaters can sometimes overly influence skate park designs.

Design firms can also lose sight of the community aspect, designing skate parks to produce talented prodigies, and failing to build camaraderie.

A successful skate park is not dictated by cool designs. It is really dictated by whether or not you are going to see 20 or 30 skaters there every day. That, and are they using all of it, not just one section,” said Russell.

Read the original story on The Ride Channel website.

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The Argument for Skate Parks

Mon, 06/19/2017 - 12:05

“If a city doesn’t have a skate park, it is a skate park.”

That short sentence, tucked at the end of “30 Reasons,” an essay published by Skaters for Public Skateparks (SPS), should jump off the page if you work for a city or town.

Skateboards, BMX bikes, freestyle scooters and inline skates: We see them being propelled by teens (and adults) all around our cities, in and out of traffic, and sometimes grinding across edges in our public spaces. What’s the Alternative?

Building a skate park, which provides many long-term benefits for wheeled-sport participants and the community, according to SPS, a nonprofit skate-park advocacy organization.

Also, says SPS, skate parks:

  • Provide a safe place to recreate
  • Attract skateboarding tourists
  • Add a healthy, athletic outlet for today’s youth facing a greater number of national health issues
  • Offer an accessible, low-cost, equal opportunity way to participate
  • Improve safety — they are much safer for skating than streets
  • Displace less desirable activities in the area they are located in

If skate parks are such a boon to the community, why doesn’t every city have one?

Skate parks are expensive to design and build, approximately $40-$45 a square foot says research from the Tony Hawk Foundation, totaling an average of $262,481 nationally.

Despite the daunting cost, groups are determined to build skate parks in their communities, employing various methods to raise money, through large donations, grants, corporate sponsorship, city funding and even old-school fundraising.

Under The Bridge Asset

After more than 12 years of planning and raising money, the 40,000-foot Lynch Family Skatepark received rave reviews when it opened below the Leonard P. Zakim Bunker Hill Memorial Bridge in 2015.

The park, located in East Cambridge, Mass., along the Charles River, cost $4.5 million, including construction, environmental remediation, planning and design, according to Charles River Conservancy, the nonprofit that oversaw the project.

“That figure includes a $1.5 million donation from Vans, which plans on hosting two skating events per year at the site, an $800,000 donation from the Lynch Foundation, $1.75 million raised via various grant donors, and $450,000 in public money,” according to CRC’s website. The public money includes $100,000 from the Boston Redevelopment Authority, $200,000 from the city of Cambridge and $150,000 in state funding.

Dreaming Big in Michigan

In 2010, a group of young skaters in Armada Township, Mich., formed Armada Board and Bike with the goal of building a skate park in town. They started with just $240 in the bank.

As of last year, the group had managed to raise $1 million toward its goal, beginning in 2011 with a $10,000 award from Reader’s Digest, after the group entered an essay contest called “We Hear You America.” Armada was one of 20 towns that received grants to allow them to kick off or complete projects within their community, according to The Voice.

The money was awarded to the township and turned over to Armada Board and Bike once they became a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization.

“Years of spaghetti dinners, bowling nights and a marathon were put on as fundraisers by a group that was made up of teenagers and parents passionate about the project,” according to the article, as well as in-kind donations from local businesses, support from United Auto Workers, and a $100,000 matching grant from the township.

Spohn Ranch Skateparks began construction in June and it’s expected to open later this summer.

Twice an Angel

Skaters and riders in Houston, Texas, patiently waited 11 months for the Lee and Joe Jamail Skatepark to reopen after the Houston Parks and Recreation Department closed it over safety concerns in April 2016.

In the case of this 40,000 square-foot park, an angel donor paid for its original construction as well as its renovation.

According to the Houston Chronicle, the original facility was built in 2008 with a $1.5-million donation from Houston attorney Joe Jamail in memory of his wife. Joe Jamail died in 2015, but the Lee and Joseph D. Jamail Foundation covered the $2 million renovation.

“This is 11-months-worth of waiting, so a lot of people are pretty impatient today,” Shannon Trevino, the park’s supervisor, said in the article. “They’re just dying to skate — I don’t blame them.”

Skate Park Foundation Grants

For grants, many groups turn to the Tony Hawk Foundation (THF), which awarded $5.4 million to build 560 skate parks in all 50 states, and the District of Columbia between 2002 and 2015, according to its 2015 annual report.

In 2002, Hawk – a professional skater and the face of the sport for many years — established THF “after receiving thousands of e-mails from parents and children across America who did not have a safe, legal place to skate,” according to the organization’s website.

THF has two annual application periods, in June and January and will award as much as $25,000 to projects that meet its strict guidelines.

“The Tony Hawk Foundation seeks to foster lasting improvements in society, with an emphasis on supporting and empowering youth in disadvantaged communities. In the U.S., the foundation supports the creation of public skateboard parks that promote healthy, active lifestyles.”

Learn more about funding opportunities with the Public Skatepark Development Guide.

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How Water Demands Grow in Heat Waves

Fri, 06/16/2017 - 17:35


By John Antczak

LOS ANGELES — When bracing for 120 degrees, it’s all about the water. Drinking it, splashing in it to stay cool, and drinking it some more. A lot more.

That’s what officials were urging and residents were planning Friday as a potentially record-shattering heat wave started enveloping the Southwest United States and threatened to bring temperatures of more than 120 degrees to parts of Arizona and California next week.

People in places like Palm Springs and Phoenix are used to seriously high temperatures, but 120 degrees becomes all the talk around the water cooler. And with the health dangers of heat and dehydration, that’s where authorities hope they keep coming back.

Teresa Flores in Phoenix said she will make sure her two sons and daughter stay hydrated.

“Water, water, water, water,” Flores said. “So even when they think they’re not thirsty, they’re drinking water.”

Jennifer Vollmann brought her 2-year-old daughter to a public pool in downtown Phoenix, where the temperature hit 108 Thursday. With 121 degrees predicted Tuesday, “we’ll be here, she’ll be in the pool,” Vollmann said as her daughter ate a blue ice pop.

Strong high pressure building over Western states is bringing the hot onslaught.

Officials warned of excessive heat across southern portions of Arizona and Nevada, and throughout the 450-mile length of California’s Central Valley. Almost the entire Golden State was predicted to simmer above normal temperatures, easing just short of the coast.

With up to 122 on the horizon, Palm Springs will have cooling centers in community centers and libraries, and Phoenix and nonprofit groups are planning water stations to help the homeless and others.

Palm Springs has soared above 120 several times, most recently hitting 122 on June 29, 2013.

The National Weather Service in Phoenix said the last time the temperature topped 120 was 1995, at 121. The record high is 122 degrees, set on June 26, 1990.

In the Arizona desert near the U.S.-Mexico border, the heat can be so deadly that the Border Patrol reassigns agents and resources to areas that are especially dangerous for immigrants.

“It is physically impossible for the average person to carry enough water to survive several days of walking through the desert,” the agency said in a statement.

The area saw more than 1,400 rescues and 84 deaths last fiscal year, according to statistics provided by the agency. Through April, agents in the Tucson Sector have rescued 160 people and reported 14 deaths.

Las Vegas and nearby cities also are preparing for the first heat wave of the season with extra cooling stations. Tuesday’s high was expected to hit 115.

With the three-day outdoor Electric Daisy Carnival music festival kicking off Friday, organizers used social media to encourage attendees to stay hydrated. It was providing free water during the nighttime event, which has drawn more than 130,000 people in past years.

In California, forecasters said prolonged heat would make snow melt faster in the Sierra Nevada, where massive winter storms coated towering peaks after years of drought. Waterways could flood, with vacationers warned to be cautious near water and avoid camping close to streams.

Camp counselor Sabrina Chu, 17, said she and others in San Francisco were having kids drink lots of water while playing outdoors. The city was expected to have a high of 82 Sunday, well above the normal upper 60s.

“Compared to other places in California, the Bay has pretty consistent weather, so this is unusually hot for the area,” Chu said.

In Southern California, inland valleys, mountains and deserts would likely bear the brunt of the heat wave. Cities such as Redlands and Fontana east of Los Angeles planned to use community facilities as cooling centers.

Back at the pool in Phoenix, Vollmann sounded a note of optimism about temperatures “cooling down.”

“It’ll be 110 soon,” she said.

Copyright 2017 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

Copyright Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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Google’s Methane Sniffing Cars Help Cities Find Gas Leaks

Fri, 06/16/2017 - 17:02

Through a project with Colorado State University, Google Earth Outreach in partnership with the Environmental Defense Fund has helped some major U.S. cities and natural gas utilities find underground methane leaks.

The researchers equipped Google Street View cars with special methane sensors that mapped the locations of leaks, and also assessed the severity of the leaks.

In Boston, Google Streetview took air readings from March to June 2013. The team was able to create a map of leaks emanating from old natural gas lines, some that date back more than 50 years. The project also included testing the equipment in Chicago and Los Angeles, according to Seeker.

According to the snapshot on EDF’s website, Boston had nearly one methane leak for every mile mapped.

Utilities routinely monitor city pipe systems for methane leaks, but its a labor-intensive and time-consuming practice. The new method presents cities with a way to dramatically ramp up such monitoring and advising decision makers where to spend infrastructure repair dollars.

For New Jersey’s Public Service Electric & Gas, the partners were able to better target a three-year, $905 million pipe replacement project. In 2016, the researchers mapped hundreds of miles of urban pipeline over six months and produced a map showing the utility where it could reduce overall methane emissions by 83 percent and replace 35 percent fewer miles of pipeline that what it had planned with its assessments. The utility is currently in the process of replacing 510 miles of old pipes.

How Methane Sniffing Cars Work

The system sucks in city air from an opening in a Google Streetview car’s front bumper, and pumps it into intake equipment in the car’s trunk where it is pulsed with infrared light. If methane is present, it will absorb the infrared light. Light that escapes the tube is measured by computers that use algorithms monitoring the data flow – 2,000 data points per minute. The computers pinpoint the leak locations using GPS.

To avoid street-level emissions from natural gas-powered buses, each route is driven multiple times. Only elevated methane readings that measure two or more times in the same location are included in the mapping.

See it in action:

The team of researchers recently published the study, Rapid, Vehicle-Based Identification of Location and Magnitude of Urban Natural Gas Pipeline Leaks, in Environmental Science & Technology.


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Conn.’s Plan to Get Youth Into Substance Abuse Programs

Fri, 06/16/2017 - 13:51

The Connecticut Department of Children and Families was awarded a four-year Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) implementation grant for $800,000 per year to support the state’s comprehensive statewide strategic plan addressing its growing substance abuse epidemic.

Project ASSERT  (Access, Screening and Engagement, Recovery Support and Treatment) will target Connecticut’s most vulnerable adolescents ages 12-17 and transitional youth ages 18-21 to seek care through publicly-funded substance abuse treatment. Initially, the program will focus on four cities heavily impacted by the opioid epidemic — Hartford, Norwich/New London County, New Britain and Waterbury. In year two, ASSERT will expand into Bridgeport and New Haven.

DCF previously received a two-year SAMHSA planning grant, and is well underway developing training for ASSERT. Mary Painter, director of DCF’s Office of Intimate Partner Violence and Substance Use Treatment and Recovery and principal Project ASSERT investigator, said the agency anticipates service delivery to be ready when funding starts in September.

Increasing Access to Substance Abuse Services

Government agencies across Connecticut are coordinating efforts to address the state’s dramatic rise in opioid abuse through a series of training, referral and medication-assisted treatment (MAT) initiatives under the Connecticut Opioid REsponse Initiative. But DCF has found that access to existing publicly-funded substance abuse treatment is unevenly distributed across the state.  In Norwich, for example, there is no access for transitional age youth to substance use disorders (SUD) services.

For vulnerable adolescents, access is also limited by distance to SUDs clinics and existing bus transportation.

In particular, office-based services may not be realistic for some youth and families residing in more remote areas far from urban centers where bus routes are more concentrated. New Haven County, for example, had the state’s highest number of overdose deaths in 2016 at 524, according to our U.S. Map of Drug Deaths by County, which are based on County Health Rankings. The county is more than 600 square miles and treatment centers are concentrated in Waterbury and New Haven.

Explore the SAMHSA facilities data for New Haven County:

In addition, those who need SUD services may either be unaware the services exist, or don’t know where to access treatment.

Painter also noted individuals may not seek treatment because their insurance doesn’t cover it. And some families may not be able to afford out-of-pocket costs for treatment. About 14 percent of the state’s total population, or about 500,000 people are between the ages of 15-24. Despite having one of the highest average per capita income rates in the country, Connecticut’s largest cities all rank among the top 75 cities nationally in child poverty rates, with 30-43 percent of all children in these communities living below the federal poverty level (based on the 2010 U.S. Census).

When youth treatment services were sought in 2016, service gaps still existed.

DCF data indicated the average annual utilization of the public adolescent outpatient SUD treatment programs was 67 percent last year. While openings persist in outpatient services, intensive in-home services experience increasing delays to admit youth. The number of days from referral to admission increased 46 percent from 26 days in 2015 to 38 days in 2016. System bottlenecks at intensive services may be due to late identification of available services, according to DCF.

Implementing a Multi-Pronged Approach

ASSERT’s chief goal is to increase the quality of care and statewide access to evidence-based screening, treatments and recovery supports for youth and transitional youth. To accomplish these goals, grant funding will focus efforts on expanding treatment services, workforce development, social marketing and implementing evidenced based practice (EBP) for opioid use problems, specifically, for 16-21 year olds.

The funding supports infrastructure improvement and direct treatment service delivery by bringing stakeholders across systems together to strengthen the state’s existing substance abuse treatment network. The program will develop policies, expand capacity and implement financial mechanisms and reforms that better integrate treatment and recovery support.

Inventing Social Marketing Campaigns

To address the lack of knowledge about the availability of publicly-funded SUDs programs, Project ASSERT includes a social marketing effort to increase awareness of treatment, and how to access services.

DCF will train local communities to develop and implement social marketing campaigns promoting substance abuse treatment programs with the goals of reducing stigma, educating the public and increasing awareness around substance abuse disorder symptoms and where to find help. The plan is to hold monthly training sessions over the first nine months of the program with coaching and consultation to continue for the full four years.

As a first action, DCF will hire ASSERT Youth Recovery Specialists who are matched to community characteristics. These specialists  will implement services and support social campaign design with local context. They’ll help develop maps of existing recovery support and alternative peer groups and contribute to the creation of a mobile application that facilitates local access to these services.

The specialists are a chief catalyst in the program’s ability to develop strong, coordinated and accessible recovery services that follow the Alternative Peer Group model.

Increasing MAT Rates

State Medicaid data revealed that MAT for 16-18 year olds is extremely limited. In 2015, only 23 of the state’s 16-18 year olds received MAT, the majority from a single provider.

DCF said it is unclear what the demand for MAT will be just yet, but in moving forward with Project ASSERT, the agency will be conducting a high level performance assessment with university research collaborators under the SAMHSA grant. The researchers are well versed in protocol development, staff training, participant recruitment, research conduct, database management and analyses.

DCF’s goals in helping to deploy the state’s strategy to increase access to treatment are consistent with national MAT guidelines. Project ASSERT participants could be engaged in treatment with methadone or buprenorphine for four to six months, which would be followed with recovery management check-ups (RMCs), allowing for follow-up assessment and analyses of program efficacy.

Improving Training & Education

As part of this initiative, ASSERT includes development of a statewide workforce training plan to increase skills in screening and treating substance abuse, particularly for youth with opioid disorders. A Train-the-Trainer model will be used to increase screening and referral for early intervention by regional programs that serve adolescents with mental health concerns, the state’s mobile outreach program and other community-based youth programs.

Working with Wheeler Clinic, ASSERT will also develop a family curriculum called Current Trends to learn about EBPs and how to access them in order to empower families to partner with treatment providers.  The course is designed to facilitate family engagement in treatment by dispelling myths about treatment and shaping expectations.

There are also components for improving the Current Trends in Family Intervention course to meet Culturally and Linguistically Appropriate Services standards. The course was previously developed in Connecticut under a SAMHSA transformation grant, and is currently offered by 13 college graduate programs in three states.

Integrating Recovery as a Process

A major component of Project ASSERT are RMCs, which Painter said has been shown to be effective in helping youth avoiding relapses.

One key outcome of RMCs is that there is the opportunity to re-engage an individual back into treatment further upstream at a time when they may only need additional recovery support, a brief intervention that helps them to maintain/resume their recovery before substance use resumes to a condition requiring a much higher level of care. It also approaches the condition as a long term, versus episodic one.”

DCF selected Turning Point CT to lead this work because of its experience using technology to link young adults (18-25 years) to a broad array of behavioral health and ancillary services through its website and delivering peer support programs through strong partnerships.

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3 Ways Cities Can Protect Soft Targets

Thu, 06/15/2017 - 13:18

Given the dynamic and evolving threats law enforcement officers in the United States continue to see on a more regular basis, it is critical for municipal agencies to evolve operations to mitigate the risks of an attack.

In every city, there are multiple soft targets, and in order to fully understand the vulnerabilities of these areas, police departments need to continually assess them and document the threat assessment in order to understand their level of risk. For example, public transportation — whether it’s metro rails, trains or airports — continue to be soft targets for terrorists and lone actors.

Here are three things city police agencies should consider in identifying soft targets and updating threat assessments in every jurisdiction.

#1. Identify Vulnerable Soft Targets 

Police departments must regularly identify vulnerable soft targets within their jurisdiction and share these vulnerable areas with key city personnel. Use a database to store and maintain details about the area, including location, two to three points of contact for that location, date of the most recent assessment, date of the next assessment and related emergency response plan.

Based on the horrific incident at the Ft. Lauderdale International Airport, all police departments should declare baggage claim areas at airports as soft targets. Other soft targets include shopping centers, movie theaters, schools, universities, hotels, hospitals, places of worship or other areas of large assembly.

#2.Vulnerability/Risk Assessments 

Vulnerability/risk assessments, which rank or categorize vulnerabilities, are common in technology and critical infrastructure. Police departments can apply the same criteria and fundamentals in ranking the vulnerability of any soft target within their jurisdiction. The general concept is to identify the target, identifying possible threats that can occur and create a response plan.

Once the soft targets are identified, there must be a routine assessment done to understand current vulnerabilities. If new security or access control systems are in place, then those should be documented.

For example, if a university grows from 20,000 students to 30,000 students, that information should be documented. Or if a university receives national media attention for refusing to fly the U.S. flag on campus and there is resulting public outrage, the vulnerability assessment needs to be updated.

#3. Heighten Situational Awareness at Soft Targets 

Areas identified as soft target should have measures in place to heighten situational awareness. This may include posters about a number to dial if you see suspicious activity, overhead announcements (the See Something, Say Something announcement is commonly heard in government transit locations) or an increased presence of security or law enforcement patrolling the area.

Law enforcement needs to share information with the community about what to do if an incident occurs in that area, how to respond to a mass murderer with “Move, Escape, Attack” and make bleeding control kits with tourniquets as ubiquitous as AEDs

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Don’t Forget Walkable Neighborhoods in City Climate Action Plans

Thu, 06/15/2017 - 12:19

Smart Growth America (SGA) is urging mayors to accomplish climate action goals by also driving community development with walkable neighborhoods served by transit. In a post on Medium, the coalition working with communities to fight sprawl since 2000 applauded U.S. mayors that have stepped up in recent weeks to global climate commitments that focus on reducing building and vehicle emissions.

But SGA said that by developing compact neighborhoods, cities can actually reach their emissions goals faster. Making it easier for people to drive less must be part of city climate action plans to reduce emissions:

Compact, walkable neighborhoods are efficient. They use less car fuel, home energy use and water. In 2015, electricity  —  including energy use for homes and businesses  —  accounted for 29 percent of total U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, and transportation accounted for 27 percent. Transportation emissions increased from 1990 to 2015, as Americans drove approximately 40 percent more.”

The organization urges mayors take the following key steps to develop walkable neighborhoods as part of their climate action plans:

  • Make it safer for people to bike and walk
  • Prioritize public transit.
  • Remove obstacles to locating homes and businesses near that transit.
  • Reduce barriers to building on land that has already been developed.
  • Allow mixed-use development
  • Make sure your street network interconnects
  • Support a diverse housing stock

“You’re doing great work out there, America’s mayors. Keep it up—we’re here to support you,” Smart Growth America concluded.

Learn more and get granular with SGA’s climate action details on the Medium website.

Read more about sidewalk, cycling and transit oriented development and funding resources:

How to Get Sidewalk Funding & Money for Bikeways, Transit Paths

The Evolution of Sidewalks

Is the U.S. a Brewing Bike Share Republic?

The Argument Against Cars

$20M for FAST Act Transit Oriented Development Planning

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