Leaky Reporting by the Post-Gazette

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette last week cast an uncritical eye — in fact, you could call it cheerleading — upon a project touted as part of Allegheny County’s “Green Initiative.” The report began:

A black and yellow butterfly landed for a moment on one of the white flowers transplanted on the roof of the County Office Building.

Darla Cravotta was delighted to see the insect taking advantage of the new garden under construction 70 feet above Forbes Avenue, Downtown.

“It’s like a scene from ‘Avatar,’ ” she said.

Ms. Cravotta, who is special projects coordinator for Allegheny County Executive Dan Onorato, was one of the tour leaders Tuesday on a visit to the first “green roof” being installed on a government building in southwestern Pennsylvania.

Turns out the county is spending $621,000 in federal stimulus funds to install “a variety of ground-hugging evergreens, succulents, perennials and annuals on top of the 80-year-old office building.” This will allegedly produce energy efficiency and extend the life of the roof. But did P-G reporter Len Barcousky ask even one penetrating question? Like…

  • How much in maintenance costs will county taxpayers incur?
  • Where has this been proven efficient elsewhere?
  • What if it doesn’t rain? How much will it cost to irrigate the roof?
  • Does this cause other problems for the structure? Etc….

A television station in Oklahoma City reporting about a similar project there offers a better journalistic example:

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….

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.

And it continues in balanced fashion from there. Meanwhile, the P-G interviews no concerned taxpayers or skeptics about wasteful stimulus funding. In fact a trade publication that promotes such initiatives, Environmental Protection, casts more of a wary eye on the Allegheny green roof than does Barcousky:

The county administrators acknowledged that the 1923 building already had a history of roof leaks, a problem that could be made worse by putting structures up there. “There are people who are understandably nervous about more roof leaks,” (monitoring consultant John) Buck said.

By all means — put a bunch of stuff up there that requires more water!