Using Sustainable Technologies To Recover From Disaster
Valmeyer, Illinois, was once a community of about 900 on the banks of the Mississippi River, 25 miles south of St. Louis. The Great Flood of 1993 left 90 percent of Valmeyer's buildings damaged beyond repair. The village's levee broke on August 1, 1993, and a "river" continued to flow through the middle of town a full two months later. The flood affected not only Valmeyer residents, but also about 1,600 people living on farms throughout the surrounding countryside. Moving back into their homes was not a choice for most of these 2,500 people. A makeshift trailer village set up by the Federal Emergency Management Agency — "FEMAVille," as it was called — became home for many.
In late August 1993, the County's regional planning committee drew up five options for the future:
A few weeks later, the fourth option was selected. Valmeyer would be rebuilt on a 500-acre parcel on a nearby bluff overlooking the river. In May 1994, the first business reopened in the new Valmeyer — MAR Graphics, the town's largest employer. The first homeowner moved in during April 1995. As of December 1996, 115 new single-family homes had been completed, along with a 24-unit senior citizens' apartment complex, a new school, government facilities, and businesses. About 450 people now live in the new town, and home construction continues.
Valmeyer was the first community to benefit from the assistance of the Working Group on Sustainable Redevelopment. With funding from the U.S. Department of Energy's Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, a Sustainable Redevelopment Team of national experts was assembled to help the town learn about and incorporate sustainable technologies into their new town's design. The group met three times with residents, concluding with a weekend community planning session in June 1994. Later that summer, workshops were offered on passive solar design and ground-source heat pumps.
Seeds planted during those sessions resulted in a number of steps taken to make the new Valmeyer a resource-efficient community. Among the most notable developments are the following:
Energy-efficient home construction
Nearly 50 of Valmeyer's new homes are highly energy-efficient. The Bureau of Energy and Recycling within the Illinois Department of Commerce and Community Affairs (DCCA) offered grants of up to $1,700 to residents who agreed to incorporate a series of resource-efficiency measures into their homes. The measures included high amounts of insulation, energy-efficient windows, low-flow showerheads, water-conserving toilets, and efficient heating and cooling systems. A total of $70,000 was distributed through the voluntary program. A $36,000 grant was also awarded to the developer of the senior citizens' apartment complex for incorporating the same efficiency measures into all 24 units.
The use of renewable energy was encouraged as well. As a result, six passive solar homes have been constructed, and ground source heat pumps are being employed in another six homes.
Energy-efficiency measures incorporated into the village's new school (also home to the town library) could reduce utility bills by up to $35,000 annually. The Illinois DCCA awarded a $78,000 grant to partially finance an efficient heating, cooling, and ventilation system for the school, plus high-grade windows and extra insulation.
The Emergency Services Building, which houses the police and fire departments and other town government offices, employs state-of-the-art solar and energy efficiency technologies to dramatically reduce lighting, heating, and cooling costs. A $30,000 grant from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory was used to hire a leading sustainable architecture firm to design the passive solar, superinsulated building. The DCCA contributed $30,000 to help finance the efficiency improvements.
Future renewable energy development
Down the road, a portion of Valmeyer's energy may be supplied by renewable energy sources. The Illinois State Water Survey has installed a climate monitoring station near the new town to collect data on the area's wind and solar resources.
A second wind energy data collection station was established in Valmeyer by Jack Rozdilsky, who chose Valmeyer as the topic of his 1995 masters degree thesis, titled "Flood-Related Relocation, Sustainable Redevelopment, and Alternative Energy: Planning Recommendations for the Use of Wind Energy in Valmeyer, Illinois." Currently at Michigan State University, he continues to research aspects of Valmeyer's relocation. Valmeyer wind data is available at the Valmeyer Wind Energy Project Web site.
Background information about Valmeyer's flood-related relocation is available at the Sustainable Redevelopment Research Group Web site.
A third renewable energy source, geothermal energy, may also be in Valmeyer's future. An abandoned limestone quarry near the new town includes a 5-million-square-foot area in which the temperature constantly remains at 56-58 degrees F. It may be feasible someday to tap into that constant temperature for heating and cooling portions of Valmeyer using a distributed, water-based heat pump system.
Additional information about the town can be found under Valmeyer — A New Beginning . Two other good articles describing the sustainable redevelopment process used in Valmeyer is Out Of The Mud, written by Gil Friend, and A Town Makes History by Rising to New Heights, by Bruce Watson.
For more information, contact the following:
Dennis Knobloch, Village Administrator
Consider donating to the ongoing Hurricane Katrina relief efforts. The following two organizations are examples of nonprofits that are helping farmers in the South.
Federation of Southern Cooperatives: Land Assistance Fund
Southern Mutual Help Association - Rural Recovery Fund
Hurricane Assistance for Agricultural Producers
News, publications, aid organizations, and federal, state, local and nonprofit resources. Learn more...