July 28, 2008

Blues Turn Green: Keesler Projects Keep Environment in Mind

By Mary Perez, The Sun Herald, Biloxi, Miss.

Jul. 28--BILOXI -- The traditional Air Force blues have taken on a shade of green as Keesler Air Force Base looks out for the environment and our tax money while protecting the nation's freedom.

Ride around the 2.63-square mile base, the most densely populated in the Air Force, and it resembles a college campus with its Live oak trees, green lawns and manicured golf course. Look closer and you'll see recycling bins, police patrolling on bicycles -- a program so successful it's being considered at other Air Force bases -- and large construction projects that are using green technology.

Construction debris from about a dozen buildings on the base and 1,028 new homes is kept to a minimum. About 31,000 tons of concrete was crushed and used as road base. Demolition debris from old three-story dormitories was sent to Congressman Gene Taylor's Artificial Reef Program.

"It's something we're really proud of. Our engineers have done a great job of being environmentally conscious," said Col. Greg Touhill, commander of Keesler's 81st Training Wing.

Touhill shows his environmental concerns and keeps fit by riding his bicycle to work "at least once a week." He also came up with the idea for bicycle patrols on the base and in Keesler housing areas and Maj. Joseph Musacchia ran with it.

The program has benefits they didn't anticipate when they set loose "The Falcons," a force of 20 trained defenders who see more and hear more than they did in air-conditioned cars. "It translates to better policing," Touhill said, and also saves $30,000 tax dollars annually.

The Air Force Air Education Training Command is considering introducing bike patrols at other bases.

"They think it's a great idea," said Col. Jeffrey Jackson, commander of the 81st Mission Support Group.

Another green project is the planting of three trees for every one cut after Hurricane Katrina.

"So far we've planted over 2,000 trees since the storm," Touhill said. In June, Keesler was recognized as a Tree City USA by the Arbor Day Foundation for the 15th consecutive year.

Keesler is also waging war on environmental waste on several levels. The base set a record in 2007 with more than 5,000 tons of recyclables, and Touhill said he wanted to boost that number significantly.

They earned $120,000 for recycling paper, glass, copper and other materials.

"It stays out of the landfill," said Robert Marks, recycling center manager, and saves on the trash bill. Used toner cartridges, computers and other electronics are recycled and desks, chairs and household goods are sold to others working on the base.

Last December, Keesler converted to biodiesel, a mixture of diesel gasoline with oils and fats, that reduces hydrocarbon emissions by 20 percent. They are also looking at low speed vehicles and even pedal power, said Touhill.

Victor Bertrand, pollution prevention manager, said the base recycles oil and looks for safe chemicals to keep toxic materials off the base. Keesler saved millions of gallons of water last year with low flow plumbing. Beyond switching to energy-saving light bulbs, Keesler installed advanced electric meters and next month will implement an automated system that switches off lights, computers and air conditioning when not in use.

The central energy plant at Keesler Medical Center is being replaced with new technology that will cost $21 million, said Jackson, and new medical equipment is being purchased with energy savings in mind.

These green initiatives are being implemented across the Air Force, which shows they are being good stewards of the environment and the taxpayers' money, Touhill said.

Keesler takes the LEED

When Keesler Air Force Base in Biloxi completes the largest home construction project in the history of the Air Force, it will more than double the number of LEED environmentally certified homes.

Currently 490 homes in the nation are LEEDS certified. Keesler will add another 748 as it rebuilds houses destroyed by Hurricane Katrina.

"These homes are certainly among the most energy- and environmentally-conscious houses in the nation," said Col. Greg Touhill, commander of Keesler's 81st Training Wing. The $288 million project was already under way when the Air Force decided to become LEED certified. All 1,028 homes will be Energy Star, making them 15 to 20 percent more efficient than a standard home, and 748 will be LEED homes.

Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design uses green building practices inside and out. To reduce framing waste, the walls, floors and roof panels are fabricated off-site. Drought tolerant native plants and turf were used for landscaping. Crape myrtles saved from demolition were transplanted to the neighborhoods and the homes were designed around the large oak trees on the site.

Bike and walking paths create a walkable community and all residents have access to playgrounds and basketball courts to promote fitness.


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