Archive for July 5, 2008

Sanford, FL Wastewater Treatment Plant First in North America to Use “Gasifier”

A small wastewater treatment plant in Sanford will become the first in North America to use a new “gasifier” to convert biosolids into clean energy that will help power the facility.

Houston-based MaxWest Environmental Energy is spending $1.7 million to install equipment at the new plant off State Road 417 near Orlando Sanford International Airport. MaxWest chose the Sanford facility, says William Baker, vice president of marketing for MaxWest, because the plant was already using cutting-edge technology.

In many municipalities, sludge that’s produced during wastewater treatment is trucked to landfills or to remote farmland, where it’s spread over the soil to dry. But sludge carries phosphorus and nitrogen, which can pollute groundwater, and methane gas, identified as a contributor to global warming.

Earlier this year, the Sanford plant installed a drier to treat its sludge. Starting in September, the gasifier will use sludge processed by the drier to produce thermal energy to heat the drier, replacing the natural gas the city now buys. “So we have a closed-loop system, and we can turn off the natural gas,” Baker says.

MaxWest will own and operate the gasifier, and the city will pay the company $258,000 a year for 20 years for the power it produces.

Initially, the power generated will be used to operate only the drier. Paul Moore, the city’s utilities director, says if everything works well, the city and MaxWest will consider other options, such as using the gasifier to produce power for the entire plant; selling off excess capacity in the gasifier to other municipalities; and selling excess power produced in processing the dried sludge.

The city estimates a savings of $9 million over the life of the contract. MaxWest is working with eight other Florida municipalities to set up similar gasifiers.

Source: Florida Trend


Leave a comment »

Obama’s Stated Goal is For Middle School and High School Students to “Volunteer” for 50 Hours a Year.

Finally, we need to integrate service into education, so that young Americans are called upon and prepared to be active citizens.

Just as we teach math and writing, arts and athletics, we need to teach young Americans to take citizenship seriously. Study after study shows that students who serve do better in school, are more likely to go to college, and more likely to maintain that service as adults. So when I’m President, I will set a goal for all American middle and high school students to perform 50 hours of service a year, and for all college students to perform 100 hours of service a year. This means that by the time you graduate college, you’ll have done 17 weeks of service.

We’ll reach this goal in several ways. At the middle and high school level, we’ll make federal assistance conditional on school districts developing service programs, and give schools resources to offer new service opportunities. At the community level, we’ll develop public-private partnerships so students can serve more outside the classroom.

Source: Text of Obama’s Speech: DNC 2008.

Well, there speaks a person that is truly clueless about middle and senior high school students. And parents. And schools.

Okay, so the schools are going to have to set up an enormously expensive program to make sure that children get in their 50 hours per year of “community service”? They are also going to have to set up the programs for the kids to give their service to? Oh, mercy. When he’s talking about cutting Federal assistance to school districts that have poor children that do not enact such programs, he isn’t talking “voluntary”, he’s talking “mandatory”. He’s telling the schools that if they don’t do this, the school lunch program will be cut, as well as funding for children with disabilities.

What other school programs should be cut in order to reach this goal, I wonder, since schools here are already talking about the possibility of going to a 4-day school week in order to lower heating, cooling, and transportation costs? Kids currently spend @ 6 hours per day in classes, so this 50 hours of service would work out to over a week and a half of their school year in “public service”. Maybe the Feds want to lengthen the school year and FUND IT for an additional 2 weeks, but the Feds are very good at mandating and extremely poor at funding those mandates. Putting an expensive program in place without funding means that academics are going to have to be cut.

I wonder how this program is supposed to be staffed? Schools have had to cut back on teachers, aides, administrators, school maintenance, janitorial staff, and bus drivers because they do not have the funding. Perhaps the Homeland Department of Forcible Volunteer Enforcement can send people to administer the program without using school facilities in the summer, and drive around to pick them up. Good luck with that. The schools have trouble getting kids to actually come to school and these kids cannot be forced to even do their schoolwork. I imagine the kids in question (and their parents) would take an even dimmer view of forced labor without remuneration.

I’m wondering what private businesses would try to take on 50 hours of community service x thousands of kids every year. I know that, as a business owner, I wouldn’t. The liability issue alone should one of those kids be injured while on the premises would be a deterrent to private businesses. Indeed, some businesses are reluctant to take on adult volunteers because of the liability issue. That leaves local government. The kids may be picking up trash in parks and….picking up trash beside the road, and….maybe sweeping or vacuuming in a public building. It isn’t as though they’ll be doing anything worthwhile. Again, they’ll have to be closely supervised by an entity who may not have the personnel to adequately supervise large numbers of students or the background check to ensure that the supervisor has no record of exploiting children (which just means that he or she may not have been caught).

Who is going to be held liable if one of those schoolchildren is snatched by a sex offender? The school? The park or public library? The Federal government that mandated such foolishness? Who is going to be responsible for the scheduling nightmare of transporting thousands of schoolkids in and out for their mandated volunteerism? Who is even going to pay for the fuel for that? Their parents are going to be at work during the day, and I doubt that Obama is planning a nightshift for the kids who themselves often hold jobs after school. Who is going to set up the volunteer schedule such that rival gang members from different schools are kept apart during their volunteer hours?

I have had experience supervising involuntary community service people; i.e., youth in trouble with the law, before in my position as a manager at the local fair and at the American Red Cross. The volunteer help was worth considerably less than what we paid for it, which was nothing. It took several staff to supervise in order to attempt to keep theft, destruction, and horseplay to a minimum. It disrupted our day and actually left us with more work to do in setting things right that they had screwed up. My daughter works for the City of Jacksonville and they, too, *have* to take in the “community service” workers. She says that everything has to be locked up to keep it from being stolen and, in addition, the “volunteers” are always sneaking off to engage in sex instead of doing any sort of work. They have to be closely supervised on a one-to-one basis.

Comments (4) »

Daytona Beach Homeless to be Put to Work

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – The city of Daytona Beach may soon start recruiting panhandlers to clean the city, paying them with a stipend and a place to stay.


I applaud Daytona Beach’s efforts to get people back into productive life. However, I know that studies have shown that panhandlers often earn a higher hourly wage than I do! Those studies were nearly enough to make me put on my favorite Sunday jeans and baggy T-shirt, grab a bucket for collecting the spare change rattling around in everybody’s cupholder, and making a sign “MeeMaw Needs LASIK”. I suppose alternatively I could threaten “I will flash if I get no cash!”

If I were one of those panhandlers, I’d probably be picking up trash with one hand and collecting change with the other.

The news story says that the cost per panhandler would be @$2,500 per person. I’m hoping that is the total cost, not the weekly or the monthly cost. Otherwise, as a taxpayer, I’d be getting a better deal if I started making signs and begging on street corners.

Leave a comment »


“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

Ask Poe Htoo if he’s ever read the American Declaration of Independence and he’ll shake his head no as a smile spreads across his face. He knows it’s something special. He recognizes that word. Independence.

But the 31-year-old Burmese-born refugee hasn’t gotten to that document yet in the hours he spends at the library in downtown Jacksonville studying English and reading about history. He’s had to scale back his reading lately after starting a new plumbing job to support his wife and three sons.

But if you ask Htoo about freedom, he understands. Htoo knows all about freedom now.

Eleven months ago, Htoo and his wife Nee Loh, 28, boarded a plane from a refugee camp in Thailand with their children. More than a day later, they arrived in Jacksonville, a new city in a new country whose language they didn’t speak but whose government promised them refuge from the inhumanity the couple had suffered for decades.

Just like the immigrants who settled in America more than two centuries ago, the Htoo-Loh family came across the world seeking the same freedoms the Continental Congress adopted in its 1776 declaration.

The refugees dreamed of living in a nation governed by the ideals set forth in that document 232 years ago today. They were principles that birthed a democracy, principles sealed – first then and many times since – in the spilled blood of American patriots.

“He is at this time transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to compleat the works of death, desolation and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty & perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages …”

Htoo was among the more than 30,000 people from the country now known as Myanmar that the United Nations refugee agency said left Thai refugee camps to resettle in other countries since 2005.

Htoo was 5 years old when his family left his native country to flee fighting and oppression targeting ethnic minority villagers. Loh’s family did the same when she was 12. The two met, married and started a family in a Thai camp, making the most of the best living they could expect.

The family of five lived in a barn. They had to trek for clean water. Htoo got malaria. There was never enough to eat. They lived amid filth. Worse still, they grew used to living with fear.

“When we live in Thailand, my wife be afraid of Thai police,” Htoo said, surrounded by his family in their apartment off Philips Highway this week.

“And in Burma, we be afraid about soldier.”

Then Htoo grinned, the joy spreading all the way to his eyes, as the children – 10-year-old Eh, 7-year-old Ah and 3-year-old Eh Law Soe – chewed bubble gum and watched cartoons nearby.

“And here,” he said, “we can go anywhere.”

“They have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do.”

Pinned to two walls of the family’s living room are maps of Jacksonville, one so big it’s taller than the 3-year-old.

Jan Ward, the family’s Catholic Charities caseworker, said Poe Htoo knows every bus route in the city and has a keen enough sense of direction to tell her if she’s about to make a wrong turn when they’re driving downtown.

Ward’s agency is one of a few that helps resettle refugees in Jacksonville. The nonprofit’s specialists greet them when they get off the airplane. They get them settled in housing and register their children for school. They teach them things like how to catch a bus, get a library card, open a checking account, find English classes.

But after a few months, the refugees are expected to embrace their new country’s opportunities and become self-sufficient. Government assistance only lasts so long. There are always more refugees waiting for refuge.

In Htoo’s case, he not only found one job, he quit that job when his paycheck didn’t clear and found a better one, Catholic Charities volunteer Peggy Sidman said.

Sidman, an attorney for Jacksonville’s City Council, has become a kind of godmother to Htoo and his family. She uses her time to do things like take the children on their first movie theater outing. She uses her connections to corral resources to help the family financially.

Sidman said she introduced Htoo to another city official who got him a job interview. That connection turned into an opportunity to work full-time for Comfort Plumbing Inc. Flamur Fejza, who came to America as an Albanian refugee nine years ago, co-owns the company.

“That’s why I’m trying to help him,” Fejza said. “I hope they do well.”

After 11 months of American living, their caseworker said Htoo and his family are.

Another wall of the family’s living room is papered with awards the 10-year-old won at San Jose Elementary School. Among them is a “citizenship certificate” that Eh got for good conduct at school.

“He takes great pride in his work,” his fourth-grade teacher wrote on a report card of mostly B’s, but nothing less than a C. “Eh is making excellent progress.”

“For the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.”

Inside the bedroom the Htoo boys share, there is a modest shrine to Buddha meant to bring happy tidings to the children who sleep three-to-a-bed at night.

The two-bedroom apartment is dingy but kept with pride. A dish catches drips from the bathroom sink across from bathtub walls soggy with age and disrepair. There isn’t a dirty dish elsewhere, including the small kitchen where boxes of instant oatmeal line up near bottles of Thai oyster sauce and a 27-quart bin of white rice.

The family has found an Asian food market nearby, but the Htoo boys aren’t shy when it comes to their new tastes.

“I like pizza,” says Eh, the 10-year-old.

“And ice cream,” pipes up 7-year-old Ah.

Then it’s the little Htoo’s turn.

“Me too!” the 3-year-old says, speaking for the first time in more than an hour, and in English, to guests in his family’s home. “Like hamburger!”

As many Americans mark the Fourth of July with a day off from work and some of the those foods, today Poe Htoo will also have a day off.

A day to spend eating and relaxing at home with his sons, before his wife returns from her Super 8 housekeeping job and joins them for their first Independence Day celebration.

They aren’t quite sure what it’s all about yet.

“Freedom, right?” Htoo says. “I cannot explain.”

But really, he can.

Ask him what he wants out of life in America for his family.

“We need to work and study here. We have a job. We have a house.”

Htoo saves this for last:

“Feel safe here,” he says., (904) 359-4161


What a wonderful story to illustrate the meaning of the 4th of July and the Declaration of Independence. I, too, wish them well and welcome them as new citizens of our country, and wish to thank Ms. Murphy and the Florida Times-Union for publicizing their story. I am proud to be part of a community that lends such a helping hand to others.

If you wish to offer financial aid to people that are settling here after fleeing oppression and death squads in their homeland, follow the link to the story. Catholic charities is doing some good work.

Comments (1) »