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Stimulus Dollars for Green Roofs Spark Questions from Taxpayers

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A nearly $90,000 stimulus funded green roof was installed on top of the National Weather Center in Norman A nearly $90,000 stimulus funded green roof was installed on top of the National Weather Center in Norman
OU Landscape Architecture professor Reid Coffman is heading up the project and said the green roof will catch rain, reducing stormwater runoff, and the plants act as a buffer to the sun, which will in turn cut energy costs. OU Landscape Architecture professor Reid Coffman is heading up the project and said the green roof will catch rain, reducing stormwater runoff, and the plants act as a buffer to the sun, which will in turn cut energy costs.
The project was approved, without many questions by the Oklahoma Water Resources Board because 20 percent of their stimulus dollars from the Environmental Protection Agency must go to green projects. The project was approved, without many questions by the Oklahoma Water Resources Board because 20 percent of their stimulus dollars from the Environmental Protection Agency must go to green projects.

By Amy Lester, Oklahoma Impact Team

OKLAHOMA CITY -- Numerous taxpayers are voicing frustration over a new nearly $90,000 green roof on top of the National Weather Center in Norman all funded by stimulus dollars.

"It's a waste, it could be utilized better," said Norman resident Marye Benelli.

"I think the money could go toward something better," said Norman resident Mark Rentzel.

A green roof is essentially when someone deliberately covers the rooftop or part of it, with plants or trees. When it rains, the water is captured in the trays and used by the plants. It prevents storm water runoff and acts as a buffer to the sun, reducing energy costs.

"We are very excited about this project," said Asst. Professor of Landscape Architecture, Reid Coffman. He is the lead investigator heading up the project. This is the first green roof in Oklahoma.

"I think taxpayers could benefit from this in time when we understand the technology. We hope to reduce air conditioning cooling costs and improve drinking water," Coffman said.

The project has a price tag of $86,067 stimulus dollars. Here's how it breaks down:

  • $27,026 for stipends and benefits for professors and a grad student  
  • $13,756 for the University of Oklahoma's facilities and administrative charge
  • $45,285 for materials and equipment

That means OU and the staff are getting nearly half of the total budget, which has not sat well with some taxpayers.

Click here to read about the project and see the budget breakdown

"I feel like that's really excessive. Ninety thousand dollars seems like a lot of money for something like a green roof," said Norman resident Lauryn Carter.

"I think that OU gets plenty of money anyway from projects and that stimulus money should probably go toward the city instead of OU," said Norman resident Marye Benelli.

Coffman said the dollars spent on this project make sense. He's getting nearly $10,000, the equivalent of his salary during the summer, to work over the summer, when professors are not paid by the university. Coffman said he'll work on this research full time over the summer. He explained that the first green roof in a marketplace is not cheap.

"That's pretty modest I think, compared to a lot of large research projects. This is just our start up," Coffman said.

Expenses aside, many are wondering how did the project get stimulus dollars in the first place? The Oklahoma Water Resources Board is the first agency that approved it. 

"You may not see as an individual the benefit today but, the information that comes out of this type of a project will be beneficial to all Oklahomans," said Jennifer Wasinger, Assistant Chief of the Oklahoma Water Resources Board's Financial Assistance Division. 

All agencies that receive money from the Environmental Protection Agency must spend 20 percent on green projects. The OWRB mainly scrutinized the application to make sure it fit into that category.

"We were making sure that it was eligible for funding under our program and yes, that it fit within the guidelines that EPA provided to us," Wasinger said.

It easily fit into the guidelines because the EPA considers green roofs categorically qualifying for stimulus dollars, which means they automatically qualify since they are a practice the EPA considers beneficial.

"We're trying to demonstrate new approaches that create jobs in a new green industry which is one of the president's goals of the stimulus program," said Stephanie VonFeck, EPA office of water.

While this project does not create a large number of jobs, VonFeck said it may spur a whole new industry in Oklahoma, creating future jobs. 

But that explanation may not be enough for some who find themselves aggravated, wishing they had a chance to say where stimulus money should go.

"It is a little frustrating that I didn't know any way that it could be changed, that we could have a say into where our tax dollars go stimulus money wise," Benelli said.

The Topix forum is an opportunity for website users to share their opinions. The comments do not reflect the opinions held by the Oklahoma Impact Team, The News On 6, or NEWS 9. We reserve the right to remove any posting or comment.
  • NewsOn6.com Poll

  • Do you think stimulus dollars should fund green roofs?

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