A new green patch has recently been planted in Downtown Binghamton, only it’s not on the ground. It’s on the roof of Binghamton City Hall and the City Council Chambers.

The completed green roof was unveiled on Sept. 22, after construction began this past March. In a statement on March 11, Mayor Richard David said the vegetated 22,500 square-foot roof will catch approximately 325,000 gallons of stormwater runoff annually, with eight stormwater catchers and water intake from plants.

“Binghamton’s green roof will be a symbol of ongoing progress in sustainability, resiliency and innovation,” David said. “We continue to lead the region by embracing and securing funding for smart green [projects] as we face the environmental challenges of the 21st century.”

$1.6 million of the $2.1 million project was funded by the Environmental Facilities Corporation (EFC), a New York state company which provides financial assistance to infrastructure projects related to water quality. The funding came through its Green Innovation Grant Program, a grant from the EFC for regional stormwater infrastructure.

The project, which was originally announced in David’s 2017 State of the City address, is expected to decrease the strain on the sewage system which catches water runoff, oftentimes polluted from substances on the street. According to Robert Holahan, associate professor of environmental studies and political science at Binghamton University, the roof will put rain into more productive use.

“In the combined sewer system areas of the city, this means less volumetric flow during heavy rain events that would otherwise trigger a combined sewer overflow into the Susquehanna River, in the municipal separate storm sewer systems (MS4) areas of the city,” Holahan wrote in an email. “This means less volumetric flow picking up garbage and petroleum residue flowing directly into the river.”

In addition, green roofs help alleviate the urban heat island effect, a human-caused phenomenon that shows warmer temperatures in urban areas compared to their nearby rural areas. Because of the positive effect green roofs can have on urban heat, Gabriella Vallario, a junior majoring in geography, supports the green roof initiative.

“This project will reduce urban heat, thus contributing to aid [the fight against] global warming,” Vallario wrote. “Any projects that help reduce human interference with the environment is valid and should be promoted.”

The green roof can also provide a habitat for birds, bees and other animals, according to Holahan. Saheel Raut, a second-year graduate student studying computer science, said he believes green roofs are a good move by the city and advocates for more solar projects.

“[For] buildings where green roofs are difficult to implement, solar roofs would be a perfect replacement,” Raut wrote. “I heavily support the green roof [initiative], as it clearly shows how it would not only have financial benefits over time but also environmental benefits. Green roofs would be a stride in the right direction.”

Although green roofs provide benefits, they are not without their potential downsides, Holahan wrote.

“Because these are designed to store water, there is a lot of engineering that goes into making sure that water doesn’t seep into the roofs [and] leak into the building,” Holahan wrote. “To maintain that over time requires regular, costly maintenance. Unfortunately, quite often a green roof is built, and, then, everyone moves on without spending the resources to make sure it is still effective in the long term.”

As the city continues to push for ways to become sustainable and cooperative with the environment, Holahan wrote that flooding should be the main issue on the table when it comes to considering green infrastructure projects. In 2005, 2006 and 2011, the city experienced catastrophic floods that damaged already dilapidated buildings. The 2011 flood displaced nearly 20,000 Binghamton residents. In response to the flood, there were many buyback programs which has increased the green space in the floodplains, Holahan wrote.

“The most important thing in Binghamton’s case is simply to recognize that we are at the confluence of two rivers and that the floodplain zones of the city should not be rebuilt up,” Holahan wrote. “Leaving the floodplain zones as unconstructed areas is the single, simplest and best thing we can do to prevent future flooding.”

Raut wrote that the city should be producing more sustainable projects similar to the green roof.

“Climate change is not a hoax, whether or not people acknowledge it,” Raut wrote. “Project like these will reap rich dividends over time.”

Vallario shared similar sentiments about the environment.

“Our world [and our environment] is what we rely on and right now it is being compromised,” Vallario wrote. “Global warming is an immediate threat, and any project that helps reverse its effects should be in motion.”

Author: Kimberly Gonzalez , PIPE DREAM