Friday, June 29, 2007

Green Alcatraz

What wonderful plans for the old prison.

28/06/07 02h36 GMT+1
AFP News brief
From prison to eco-paradise: the greening of Alcatraz
by Helene Labriet-Gross

Once a sinister home to notorious mobsters and murderers, Alcatraz is in line for an environmental makeover that could see the imposing former prison island become a tree-hugger's paradise.

Under plans by the Golden Gate National Recreation Area which manages the rugged rock in the middle of San Francisco Bay, Alcatraz is poised to be transformed into a beacon for progressive communities.

Although Alcatraz slammed shut its prison doors for the last time in 1963, the island continues to welcome hundreds of visitors on a daily basis, becoming San Francisco's premier tourist attraction.

Those demands place an energy and resources burden on Alcatraz that is impossible to be satisfied locally, with all of the facility's fuel, water and waste laboriously transported back and forth across the bay.

However, the US Parks Service is now studying plans to make Alcatraz self-sufficient in an attempt to lessen the impact on the environment and provide an example to the rest of the United States.

By 2014, authorities expect to have installed a waste reprocessing plant as well as a de-salination plant to provide drinking water.

"Currently, we have to carry all the water requirements we have on the island over to the island," said Brian O'Neill, superintendent of the Golden Gate National Park. "We have to haul off all the sewage."

"We pump it. It comes through the plumbing system, and it's pumped on into a boat, and then it's taken over to the mainland, to San Francisco, and discharged into the city sewer system."

Fuel is shipped over to the island regularly to be pumped into generators to provide power, something that authorities want to phase, looking to wind, solar and even tidal power to provide alternatives.

"What we want is to explore various forms of alternative energies, that would eliminate the need to use fossil fuel," O'Neill told AFP.

"We want to look at photovoltaic cells on various buildings, we want to look at tidal power, because right off of Alcatraz, there's enough power to supply our needs. And we want to look at wind. It would be a combination."

Tidal power is increasingly being viewed as a viable provider of energy by authorities across the San Francisco area.

Last week, local utilities and officials announced plans to conduct an exhaustive study into whether the churning tides of the Bay Area could be harnessed to provide energy.

By 2009, a solar-powered boat -- "Solar Sailor" -- will be operational and ready to transport daytrippers from San Francisco to the island.

O'Neill said he wants to see Alcatraz and other US national park properties lead the field in terms of their environmental policies.

"We want the national parks to be an exemplar of the best practices," O'Neill said. "We want people to be inspired by the way we conserve water, the way we use alternative energies and green products, and how we recycle to live more sustainably."