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All Hands on Deck

  The nonprofit HandsOn New Orleans opened its tool library co-op — the first of its kind in post-Katrina New Orleans — at 1204 S. White St. this month. The library houses 4,800 tools for homeowners, volunteers, nonprofits and others to use in renovation projects, painting, planting, landscaping and more. To join the tool library and start checking out tools, members must present a valid photo ID and proof of address in the Greater New Orleans area. Membership is $10 a month or $100 a year. It is open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Saturday and by appointment.

  HandsOn New Orleans, a HandsOn Network affiliate, encourages active citizenship through volunteer service. Since 2006, more than 15,000 volunteers have participated in the program.

Take it Easy

  New Orleans' Regional Transit Authority (RTA) debuted its fleet of more fuel-efficient Lil' Easy public minibuses, adding two new lines in the Lakeview and Gentilly neighborhoods. For $1.25, riders can hop on the 14-seat vans, which run from 5 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily, at a number of locations.

  The Gentilly route offers two main stops (by the Winn-Dixie supermarket at Chef Menteur Highway and Desire Street and at the University of New Orleans at Alumni Drive), with 52 additional stops available if requested in advance. The Lakeview route offers three main stops (Canal Boulevard at City Park Avenue, UNO at Alumni Drive, and the Jefferson Parish (JeT) transfer point at Veterans Memorial Boulevard and Carrollton Avenue in Metairie), with 43 additional stops available with advance notice. Call the RTA at 827-7433 to request a ride at any of the flexible-route pickup points.

  The RTA unveiled its first Lil' Easy fleet in the Lower 9th Ward earlier this year ("Biodiesel on Demand," Microgreens, Mar. 31), and officials say the number of riders using the service increased significantly from its January debut through May. RTA spokesperson Rosalind Cook says the Lakeview line averaged 160 riders by Friday of its first week, and the RTA anticipates that number will grow in the coming weeks.

Fuel in Full Bloom

  Business partners Will Bradshaw and Reuben Teague of Green Coast Enterprises have developed a new program to convert blighted, unloved properties into small-scale biofuel farms. Green Coast, with help from partners GTECH Strategies and Limitless Vistas, has filled a Central City lot with sunflowers. Once the seeds are harvested and pressed for oil, Bradshaw says the oil will be given to Operation REACH's Gulfsouth Youth Biofuels Project. That program converts waste vegetable oil into biodiesel fuel and promotes biofuel as an alternative to fossil fuel.

  "They're a pretty good biofuel crop, and they're a pretty good remediation crop, but they're a great beautification crop," Bradshaw says. "Everyone feels good about sunflowers."

  Limitless Vistas, a youth-driven green workforce training program, provides the "farm" labor, while Green Coast handles the properties and management. The Pittsburgh-based GTECH Strategies partnered locally with Green Coast to extend its beautification efforts. Project Sprout's future plans include taking requests for property maintenance (at a fixed fee) to turn more lots into similar farms.

Food Stamps Go Far at Farmers Market

  The Crescent City Farmers Market now offers a food stamp "market match" program. For every $25 spent using a Louisiana Purchase food stamp debit card, the market will match it with another $25 in "crescents," the market's token-based currency, equivalent to the dollar. Families can double their groceries at the market each visit until Aug. 15. The market is open twice a week, and families can use the card at each market once a week for a total weekly match of up to $50.

  The program is supported by the Ford and W.K. Kellogg foundations. Market days are Tuesday from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. at Uptown Square (200 Broadway St.) and Saturday from 8 a.m. to noon at Magazine and Girod streets.

Clearing the Carbon

  The Red River Restoration Initiative, a 1,182-acre forest carbon sequestration project, achieved Gold Level Validation from the Climate, Community and Biodiversity Alliance (CCB). The project, which aims to restore and protect the native forest at Red River National Wildlife Refuge, is supported by the Conservation Fund's Go Zero program, which will raise donations to plant 350,000 native cypress, oak and hickory seedlings on the refuge in hopes of removing approximately 426,000 short tons of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere within 100 years.

  The CCB awarded the Red River initiative the Gold Level certification — which meets all CCB criteria for environmental efforts —for its plans for cleaner air, filtered water, restoration of sensitive wildlife habitat and enhanced areas for public recreation, according to Go Zero director Jena Meredith.

  Project partner Environmental Synergy Inc. president Carol Jordan says years of conversion from forest to farmland along the Red River Valley has degraded its nutrient-starved floodplains and made it inhabitable for wildlife, adding to the 20-million acres of forest already lost along the Gulf Coast. The initiative seeks to reverse the damage.

  Go Zero's supporters include Dell, Delta, Gaiam, Land Rover Portland, New Jersey Resources, The North Face, Philadelphia Eagles, Travelocity and U-Haul, as well as private contributors.

Energy Bills

  Louisiana lawmakers passed three bills this month that aim to expand energy efficiency, renenewable energy and solar power projects and create green jobs in the state. House Bill 858, authored by Rep. Erich Ponti, R-Baton Rouge, provides a 50 percent tax credit for solar installers. Senate Bill 224, authored by Sen. Nick Gautreaux, D-Meaux, allows municipalities to set up Sustainable Energy Finance Districts, which would enable them to finance citizen-driven renewable energy projects through a tax-exempt bond. HB 733, authored by Rep. Walt Leger III, D-New Orleans, offers a tax credit for green job employers.

  In addition, the Louisiana Senate Natural Resources Committee passed HCR 93, authored by House Pro Tem Karen Carter Peterson, D-New Orleans, which would create a commission to study the effects of climate change and its policy in Louisiana.

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