DJC Green Building Blog

Oso mudslide: Were the risks ignored?

Posted on April 3, 2014

The following post is by DJC staff:

Disaster-resiliency expert Stephen Flynn has posted a piece about the Oso mudslide on Northeastern University Seattle’s Re: Connect blog.
Flynn is a professor of political science and director of Northeastern’s Center for Resilience Studies in Burlington, Mass.

Oso mudslide

He spoke with the DJC in February about lessons from Hurricane Sandy and the need to better prepare for natural and manmade disasters.
In his post he says we tend to ignore the risk of disasters until they happen and says builders, developers and planners have a role to play in changing that.

He writes:

It is purposeful denial, bordering on negligence, which allows residential property development in dangerous areas. That negligence is fed by a self-destructive cycle that begins when builders and developers with short-term interests are granted local permits to build new homes on low-lying barrier islands, flood plains, or near steep hills in the wilderness. These homes then require investments in new public infrastructure, which in turn require additional tax revenues to build and sustain. In order to expand the tax base, towns end up approving new property development adding new fuel to growth. When the foreseeable disaster inevitably strikes, individual property owners are often wiped out and the American taxpayer ends up picking up most of the tab.

Read the whole thing here and tell us what you think.

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4,800 new lights save money at the Paramount

Posted on October 15, 2013

The following post is by DJC staff:

The Paramount Theatre has installed new lights that will reduce energy consumption and save $43,000 a year.

Paramount chandelier after an LED retrofit.

It cost $438,000 to replace about 4,800 lights, including huge chandeliers, with energy efficient LEDs, compact fluorescent lamps and T-8 tube lighting. About $136,000 came from Seattle City Light energy efficiency incentives.

“When you consider the number of bulbs in this theater and what it takes to simply keep them all in good working order, this project is just good dollars and sense,” Seattle Theater Group Executive Director Josh LaBelle said.

Seattle City Light said in a press release that this is the second lighting upgrade it has been involved with at the Paramount. Incentives also helped to fund a retrofit of the Paramount’s neon sign in 2009. Both upgrades were made while preserving the historical character of the theater.

More information about City Light incentives for businesses and homeowners is available on its website.

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When it comes to certified wood, GSA is right to question LEED

Posted on April 4, 2013

The following post is by William Street:

Contrary to what Meghan Douris wrote in these pages in your Building Green issue (“Is LEED’s Future with Federal Projects Under Threat?” 2/28), the Government Services Administration is correct to seek opinion regarding LEED’s acceptability for public procurement projects, given the cost involved with LEED certification and LEED’s unfortunate discrimination against two respected and widely used certification standards, the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI) and the American Tree Farm System (ATFS).

Photo by Luciano Burtini/sxc.hu

There's more than one forest certification system.

The fact that GSA is seeking input on their use of green building rating systems is a positive development. This will hopefully shed light on the problem with GSA’s use of the US Green Building Council’s LEED rating system. USGBC, unlike Green Building Councils in Italy, Germany or Australia -- all of which recognize the importance of all forest certification systems -- has been victimized by narrow interest groups seeking to push their own political agenda at the expense of actual science-based energy efficiency, local jobs, competitiveness and inclusivity. USGBC has never publicly explained why they only reward wood certified to the Forest Stewardship Council standard.

PEFC, the world’s largest and only purely non-profit forest certification system -- which includes SFI and ATFS,  both of which are independent, non-profit, charitable organizations -- has proven on every continent and in all governmental procurement and independent and neutral evaluations that it is a superior system to FSC. PEFC affiliates are recognized by Green Building Councils in many other countries, but not by the USGBC. Thus, wood products from SFI and ATFS are placed at a market disadvantage while forest products from FSC (many of which are sourced outside of the U.S.) are accepted, even though FSC‘s for-profit structure is not recognized by, and fails to comply with, the International Accreditation Forum (IAF) and ISO guidelines.

In the U.S., SFI and ATFS are the only forest certification systems to require and enforce compliance with the International Labor Organization’s core labor standards for forest workers.  Strong labor standards mean safer work, better wages, sustainable jobs and viable rural communities that depend on them.

Rather than attempt to create a monopoly for FSC, USGBC should do what practically every other national and third-party system has done: recognize and reward wood from all sustainably managed forests. To do otherwise is to promote deforestation in the tropics and the conversion of sustainably managed forests here into resorts, golf courses and second homes.

It’s well past time to stop fighting over the well-managed forests of North America and start speaking with a single voice to send a unified message to the rest of the world: that green buildings benefit from using wood from all sustainably managed forests. By speaking with a single voice, Americans can truly be a force against deforestation and the conversion of forests to other land uses.

William Street is director of the Woodworkers Department of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers.

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It’s time to redesign our neighborhoods

Posted on March 5, 2013

The following post is by Kathleen O'Brien:

After participating recently in the King County Sustainable Cities Roundtable to discuss “Beyond Net Zero: Resilience, Regeneration, and Social Justice" Ron Sims agreed to an interview for the Daily Journal of Commerce's Green Building Blog.

Q. As the King County Executive, you worked to promote sustainable development through policies, such as the green building and low impact development demonstration ordinances. And, as the Deputy Secretary of HUD, you got to see first-hand how communities across the country are addressing the issue of sustainability. From these vantage points, where do you think we should be focusing our energies?

Ron Sims

A. The neighborhood.  A well designed neighborhood correlates directly to a good quality of life. And that means things like community gathering places and safety, such as from crime, pollution; access to nature, such as street trees; and more transit options, such as walkability, and bike lending stations.  It's easier to create new neighborhoods with these features than it is to redevelop existing neighborhoods, but we have to incentivize reinvestment that incorporates these design features for truly sustainable communities.

Q. How would you propose going about doing this?

A. I've never seen a developer turn down density bonuses in return for more bus stops, low-income housing, etc.  We need to get creative and open the door to more thoughtful mixed development, including residential options. We can tie some of this to demolition in an area. But we need to plan further out.  We need to ask the question: "What should this neighborhood look like in twenty years?"

Q. Sustainability advocates hold that sustainable development incorporates not simply environmental health, but economic vitality, and social equity, as well. Sometimes this gets lost in the development timetable. How can we do a better job of maintaining the prominence of all three legs of the stool as we try to practice what we preach in the field?

A.  I repeat: We need to begin planning long term to take advantage of opportunities as they come up, and to have a roadmap in place.  It's by redesigning existing neighborhoods to be healthier, safer, greener that we'll be addressing social equity, and the health of our economy.  Right now, energy efficiency is "hot." But new technologies and new neighborhoods are still the domain of the well-to-do. It hasn't gone viral. If we really worked on existing neighborhoods, we'd be addressing issues faced by the poor and culturally diverse.  You know, you can predict health and longevity rates by zip code.  Neighborhoods should and will still have their personalities, their "feel,"  but every neighborhood should have the basic green features I mentioned earlier.

Q. Is there a leverage point that sustainable advocates can focus on to bring about better neighborhoods and a better quality of life for all?

A. There's actually two.  Most people are unaware, but at HUD we learned that the most significant cause of mortgage defaults in this past recession was the cost of transportation --  it amounted to 42% of income. This was often in excess of the 34-36% of income of the average mortgage. If someone lost a job that required them to have a car, they were still left with a car payment. So better transportation planning (including infrastructure improvements) would help.  Energy costs was another big chunk of the reason for defaults -- 28-30%, so the emphasis on energy efficiency is good.

Q. With the specter of climate change-related disasters becoming more real, there has been a greater focus among sustainability advocates on "resilience" in the face of catastrophes. Disasters seem to bring out both the best and worst of us. How do we prepare and use the opportunity to course correct for the greater good?

A. I'm repeating myself, but it's to plan, plan, and plan again.  We learned a lot from the Nisqually Earthquake; we were able to apply what we learned when 9/11 happened.  After the earthquake we decided we needed to build a structurally and technologically sound center that could function independently.  We learned to plan for the "worst" case -- and not the best "reasonable" case.  We had to plan, memorialize in writing, and train.  Going forward, we need to take climate change and related disasters into consideration when we are re-designing our neighborhoods -- particularly the infrastructure side of things.

Q. Last question: What advice would you give young green building professionals and public sector advocates who are looking to be leaders in the kind of sustainable transformation  you are talking about?

A. People think change is easy. I like to say, we are running a marathon, but because we've run out of a lot of chances, we need to do it at a sprinter's pace.  Will this be rewarding every day? No it won't be. Will it be a long path? Yes it will be.  If you believe that what you are doing serves the greater good, some day (not now) you will be able to take a deep breath, reflect on what you've been able to accomplish, and say WOW.

Kathleen O'Brien is a long time advocate for green building and sustainable development since before it was "cool." She lives in a green home, and drives a hybrid when she drives at all. She continues to provide consulting on special projects for O'Brien & Company, the firm she founded over 20 years ago, and provides leadership training and mentoring through her legacy project: The Emerge Leadership Project.

 

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New module from Marysville solar manufacturer

Posted on November 30, 2012

The following post is by Silicon Energy:

Silicon Energy, a manufacturer of solar photovoltaic modules in Marysville, said it is releasing the Next Generation Cascade Series PV module.

The first generation came out in 2007.

The new module uses less embedded material, which improves performance and output.

Silicon Energy's new photovoltaic panels.

Here are some features of the new module:

· Anti-reflective coating on the front glass

· Advanced encapsulant

· Lighter weight mounting hardware

· About 30% fewer roof penetrations to reduce costs and speed up installation

· 12 AWG wire for reduced voltage drop

· Amphenol connectors with a higher current rating and increased reliability

· American Fittings Raintight conduit connectors that improve mechanical and electrical bonding

Gary Shaver, president of Silicon Energy said, “Our relationships with suppliers and research laboratories allows our engineering team to integrate innovative concepts and advanced material sciences into our products. We’re excited to see how architects and building designers integrate our new, even more attractive Cascade Series PV modules into the building envelope and overhead structures to achieve contemporary and functional designs.”

The module has a double-glass, open-frame design to shed water, dirt and snow. Airflow behind the module keeps the system cooler, which boosts performance.  Custom mounting hardware colors are available.

Silicon Energy is shipping the Next Generation module to Washington customers and will introduce it in other markets early next year.

Silicon Energy was founded in 2007, and is located in Washington and Minnesota.

 

 

 

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Crunch the numbers and preservation wins

Posted on November 16, 2012

The following post is by Kathleen O'Brien:

New is not always better.

I have to confess that I've been a little put off by local historic preservationists self-righteously declaring that "preservation" equals sustainability and leaving it at that. Yes, yes, I understand that recycling buildings intuitively makes sense, but since sustainability sometimes asks us to think counter-intuitively, I needed more. At a recent Sustainable Cities Roundtable conducted by King County's Green Tools Program, I got what I needed.

Photo courtesy of McKinstry

The previous owner used stacks of wooden pallets to keep the ceiling from falling in on this 104-year-old railroad building in Spokane, but McKinstry bought it and spent $20 million to create high-tech office space for its 150 Inland Northwest employees.

Robert Young, PE, LEED AP, is professor of architecture and director of the Historic Preservation Program at the University of Utah, and author of the new Island Press release, "Stewardship of the Built Environment." He was guest speaker at the Roundtable. Young provided some very satisfying arguments for promoting preservation and building reuse as a sustainability strategy. In making his arguments, he gives equal weight to what he terms SEE (or what some of us have called the "three E's"): social, economic, and environmental factors, and defines stewardship of the built environment as "balancing the needs of contemporary society and its impact on the built environment with the ultimate effects on the natural environment."

The Historic Preservationists have been at their best when justifying conservation due to social factors, and Young does speak to this. What I appreciated is that he also addresses environmental and economic factors in an analytical but highly accessible manner. One of the areas he touched on in his talk was the idea of calculating energy recovery as part of understanding the energy performance of preservation vs. new construction. As Young notes in his book, "the argument for measuring embodied energy to justify the retention of a building is (still) met with skepticism." He claims this is largely because embodied energy is considered a "sunk cost" and therefore not part of decisions about future expenses. I think he would also say it's because of our societal preference for the glitter of "new" vs. the practicality of "existing," which may not be part of the accounting equation, but certainly humming in the background.

In his talk, Young used his own home to compare the energy recovery periods required to simply perform an energy upgrade to his home, to abandon the home and build a new one in the suburbs, or to demolish and rebuild in place. When he accounted for the embodied energy in the new buildings (whether in place or in the suburbs), the energy to demolish the existing building, and operating energy required for the remodeled or new building, it became clear that the remodel was the best choice when considering true energy performance. In scenarios provided in his book, energy recovery calculations result in recovery periods that exceed "the expected useful lives of many buildings being constructed today." And this is without calculating in the transportation energy expenses that are likely to accrue when the new building is built in a greenfield out in the suburbs.

In the economic realm, Young compared the job creation resulting from highway, new, and rehab construction. In jobs per million dollars spent, rehab wins again. Although a small part of the construction activity (Young estimated 5%), rehab creates roughly 5 more jobs per million dollars spent than highway construction, and 2 more jobs per million dollars spent on new construction. If I am interpreting Young's figures correctly, just by turning our economic recovery lens on rehab and away from highways and new construction we could potentially create between 6-12% more jobs per million dollars spent on construction. (And we might actually reduce the environmental, social, and economic negative impacts of sprawl -- even if it's "green")!

Young's talk introduced some great food for thought, but I'm so glad to be reading his book. In his concluding chapter, "Putting it All Together," he provides a list of "challenges" for stewards of the built environment, ranging from advocating outcome-based codes (since prescriptive codes are based primarily on new construction practices) to presenting project lessons learned (both positive and negative) to "decision makers and policy shapers who mediate building preservation and reuse policies." Lots to work on.

Kathleen O'Brien is a long time advocate for green building and sustainable development since before it was "cool." She lives in a green home, and drives a hybrid when she drives at all. She continues to provide consulting on special projects for O'Brien & Co., the firm she founded over 20 years ago, and provides leadership training and mentoring through her legacy project: The Emerge Leadership Project.

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When greening your office space, don’t overlook the plugs

Posted on November 6, 2012

The following post is by the New Buildings Institute:

To help commercial building owners and occupants get control of the growing amount of energy used by office equipment and other electronic devices, New Buildings Institute released the Plug Load Best Practices Guide. It is based on research done by Ecova and NBI for the California Energy Commission's Public Interest Energy Research Program, and gives advice on how to save money by reducing energy use in offices.

Lyn Baxter | Dreamstime.com

Plug loads account for 15-20 percent of electricity use on average.

On average, plug loads account for 15-20 percent of electricity use. For offices that have already improved the efficiency of lighting and HVAC systems, that number can be as much as 50 percent. The impact of plug loads can be reduced by up to 40 percent through a combination of no- and low-cost steps such as:

•  aggressive power management settings

•  inexpensive hardware controllers like timers and advanced plug strips

•  occupant-based strategies

When the time comes to replace equipment, buying new energy-efficient models can also reduce energy bills. The guide also gives advice on how to manage energy used by computer server rooms.

According to NBI Senior Project Manager Amy Cortese, "Owners, tenants, purchasing managers, IT directors and building occupants all have a role in managing plug load energy use. Our goal with the Plug Load Best Practices Guide is to help them establish a workable plan for cutting that energy use."

The largest plug load energy users are computers, monitors, imaging equipment, server rooms and computer peripherals.  The guide outlines steps for selecting the highest efficiency equipment for a given job when it's time for replacement. "Simple equipment upgrades and making sure that control settings in most office equipment are enabled can make a huge difference," said Cortese.

"Through this research, we found that occupants can and should play a significant role in managing energy use," she said. "This guide will help office managers engage tenants and occupants in learning about these simple measures and ultimately reducing their own energy and utility costs."

The Plug Load Best Practices Guide is part of Advanced Buildings, a set of tools and resources designed to help improve the energy performance of commercial buildings. Funding support for development of the guide was provided by the California Energy Commission's PIER Program.

New Buildings Institute works with commercial building professionals and the energy industry to promote better energy performance in buildings.

 

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You don’t need new windows to save energy and money

Posted on October 18, 2012

The following post is by Brad Kahn:

It’s a question many owners of older homes have asked: Should I replace my single-pane windows or refurbish them? With a torrent of direct mail selling new windows, many people are led to believe the best option to save money and energy is to replace the old windows with new.

Now a new report from Seattle’s Preservation Green Lab sheds light on an answer. And it may be a bit surprising.

The report, Saving Windows, Saving Money: Evaluating the Energy Performance of Window Retrofit and Replacement, concludes that adding storm windows and cellular shades can deliver essentially the same energy savings as full window replacement — at a fraction of the cost.

Applying 80 years of research using energy simulations, the research team found that saving and retrofitting old windows is the more cost effective way to achieve energy savings and to lower a home’s carbon footprint.

Nationally, home energy consumption accounts for 20 percent of total energy use, and Americans spent more than $17 billion on heating and cooling, so the potential impacts of the research are large.

Source: Preservation Green Lab

This chart summarizes the key findings across cities and climate zones. The bottom line: Don’t assume you need new windows to save energy and money.

The Preservation Green Lab, a project of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, conducted the research, in partnership with Cascadia Green Building Council and Ecotope. It was funded by the National Center for Preservation Technology and Training.

For a great slideshow about the research and links to the full report visit: http://blog.preservationnation.org/2012/10/02/10-on-tuesday-10-things-you-should-know-about-retrofitting-historic-windows.

Brad Kahn is president of Groundwork Strategies and works with the Preservation Green Lab.

 

 

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25 islanders pitch in to put solar on Bainbridge City Hall

Posted on October 1, 2012

The following post is by Kathleen O'Brien:

In August, a 71.28 kW Community Solar Project installed on the roof of the Bainbridge Island City Hall went live. My husband and I are two of 25 Bainbridge Islanders participating in the project.

In a recent communication from Joe Deets, project manager and principal of Community Solar Solutions with his wife, Tammy Deets, we learned that despite a few initial inverter failures that have been quickly addressed, the system is actually performing better than average.

Jake Wade of Puget Sound Energy said, "The production at City Hall is higher than expected...A good south facing array will usually produce about 1000 kWh per year out of each kW installed. We typically see 120 kWh/kW in August. We show the array at 71.28 kW, so we'd expect 8554 kW out of your system. The Bainbridge Island array actually produced 9950 from 8/2 to 8/31."

Photo courtesy of Joe Deets

Good news of course, but there's nothing "average" about this project.  Our household invested in the project because it combines an opportunity to support our community using a sustainable technology and an innovative local investment model.  Northwest SEED's website says, "Community energy brings a higher level of economic benefit to local communities than commercially developed projects. Various studies have attempted to quantify this additional benefit, and generally predict 2-5 times the economic benefit will be provided by a project with 100% local equity ownership, versus one owned by an out of area corporation...The actual impact will vary with every community and project, but generally the higher the local ownership stake, the greater the economic benefit to the local community."

It took several years for this project to come to fruition. The seed was planted during a community gathering organized by Joe and Tammy in 2005. But the enabling policy to make the investment possible and attractive to participants was not enacted until 2010 after years of lobbying by Washington State Senator Phil Rockefeller (also a Bainbridge Island resident).

Washington state’s Community Solar Enabling Act provides direct production incentives to owners of community solar projects up to 75 kW. The law grants community solar projects $0.30 for every kWh produced (twice the incentive for individual on-site production). Projects are eligible for incentive multipliers for using modules and inverters manufactured in Washington, encouraging local manufacturing as well as local ownership. To qualify for these community solar incentives, projects must be located on local government property, requiring innovative partnerships between governments, solar developers and community members interested in supporting solar power.

For the City Hall project, all of the above applies. The city of Bainbridge Island agreed to lease its roof (with its fabulous southern orientation) to the community-based investor group, in return for reducing the city's electricity costs (potentially by half). All 297 panels and 30 inverters are from the Bellingham manufacturer Itek Energy, making it Itek's largest single project to date. Seattle-based Sunergy Systems was the contractor selected to install the project.
Part of Community Solar's appeal is that even when you don't have the right site for solar, you can invest in a project that does. Ron and Ann Morford wanted to install solar cells on their roof, but shading from nearby trees foiled their plans. Instead, they were able to invest in the City Hall project because "it was a great way to make an investment in sustainable energy, partner with others from our community, provide much needed savings for our local government, and get a future return on our investment." For the Morfords, it was a "win-win-win" project. It also was a reasonably priced investment, affording participation by regular working folks, such as my husband et moi!

Hopefully this project has paved the way for more like it.

A kiosk will be installed soon in the City Hall lobby to provide information and up to date data on energy production. It will also be the first stop on the Bainbridge Island Solar Tour on Friday from 1 to 4 p.m. You can see the installation and ask questions. The 2012 Solar Tour is Saturday. For more information, go to: http://solarwa.org/2012tour/sites/bainbridge-island.

Kathleen O'Brien is a long time advocate for green building and sustainable development since before it was "cool." She lives in a green home, and drives a hybrid when she drives at all. She continues to provide consulting on special projects for O'Brien & Company, the firm she founded over 20 years ago, and provides leadership training and mentoring through her legacy project: The Emerge Leadership Project.

 

 

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Chihuly offers lessons in green to 400,000 people a year

Posted on August 31, 2012

The following post is by Kathleen O'Brien:

In recent coverage of the new Chihuly Garden and Glass located at the Seattle Center, much has been said about art — both the art it displays and the dramatic artistry of the building design itself. While art is said to sustain the mind and soul, this particular building goes further, by employing sustainable techniques and taking the opportunity to educate its visitors as to their value.

O'Brien

In spite of a challenging design and an even more challenging schedule — 7 months to TCO — the project is slated to garner a LEED Silver Certification this fall. "LEED can be challenging even under normal circumstances," according to Jason Sturgeon, PM with Schuchart, the project's GC. "The aggressive schedule meant intense planning and coordination to assure that subcontracts were properly bought out and executed to follow guidelines imposed by LEED certification." Sturgeon adds that "it helped that there was significant harmony" between the players regarding implementing LEED.

In addition to Schuchart the team included Owner, Center Art, LLC, Development Manager Seneca Group, and Owen Richards Architect. (Full disclosure: O'Brien & Co. provided technical consultation on the LEED Certification process to the project team.)

When asked why make a fairly complicated project even more complicated, Seneca Group Principal Bob Wicklein cites the opportunity "to educate over 400,000 visitors expected each year about the environment and green construction."

As with many projects, a good percentage of the effort  towards the LEED green building certification is not visible once the building is complete.  Signage and tours will provide visitors with the story behind the story.  Visitors will experience a lush garden but they will also learn that this area was formerly an acre of pavement.  And those who "mourn" the Fun Forest" will be happy to learn that it has a second life — 100% of the Fun Forest exterior walls, roof, and floors were reused in the interior exhibition spaces, cafe, and gift shop.

Photo courtesy Owen Richards Architect

Chihuly Garden and Glass under construction.

Adapting rather than demolishing the old building not only kept tons of materials out of the landfill, it also saved the energy and water used to manufacture new materials and construct a new building. Overall, 97% of all the waste from construction of this project was diverted from the landfill, about 250 tons.

Signage will also point out that The Glasshouse, which was conceived as an indoor-outdoor space, is not fully heated or cooled in a conventional way. It uses natural systems to efficiently moderate temperatures while allowing the indoor temperatures to fluctuate along with outdoor conditions. Using high-efficiency boilers and chillers and other energy efficiency strategies, the rest of the building exceeds local energy code requirements. The restrooms feature low-flow fixtures that reduce water use by more than 30% over standard fixtures, saving an estimated 160,000 gallons of water per year in this building alone.

For each station on the tour, pertinent tips will be provided.  One hopes that while every visitor will be inspired by the space and glass art to be creative, they will take  some of that creative energy to green up their businesses and homes.

Kathleen O'Brien is a long time advocate for green building and sustainable development since before it was "cool." She lives in a green home, and drives a hybrid when she drives at all. She continues to provide consulting on special projects for O'Brien & Company, the firm she founded over 20 years ago, and provides leadership training and mentoring through her legacy project: The Emerge Leadership Project.

 

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