Maps available online

The U.S. Geological Survey has launched its Map Locator and Downloader, a Web-based tool that delivers topographic maps easily, quickly, and affordably. The system uses open-source software and the Google Maps programming interface to let users search by ZIP code, address, or navigating on an interactive map.

Viewers can pan, zoom, change the map to see satellite imagery or a seamless topographic map view, order printed maps, or download a scanned map in PDF. Visit http://store.usgs.gov.

N.C. considering private loan for public road

The North Carolina Turnpike Authority is considering borrowing money from a private lender to bridge the gap in toll revenues for the planned Triangle Expressway. Executive director David W. Joyner said the 18.9-mile, $850 million Triangle Expressway through Research Triangle Park and western Wake County could start construction on schedule next year, opening for traffic by 2011, if money to cover the shortfall is secured in the next several months. The turnpike board will evaluate its options for public and private money at its November meeting.

College Powered by Landfill Gas

A New England school has kicked off the 2007–2008 school year by setting forth an eco-friendly energy plan.

The University of New Hampshire (UNH), Durham, has launched EcoLine, a project that will use enriched, purified gas from Waste Management Inc.'s landfill in nearby Rochester. The plan supplants commercially produced natural gas as the primary fuel at UNH's cogeneration plant, meaning the school will receive up to 85% of its energy from a renewable source.

“UNH is proud to lead the nation—and our peer institutions—in this landmark step toward sustainability,” says UNH president Mark Huddleston.

Construction is underway on the gas processing plant, plus the 12.7-mile underground pipeline that will transport the gas to the campus. Estimated cost of the project—which includes construction of a second generator plant—is $45 million.

Big Dig Failure Penalties May Be Negligible

The collapse of the Big Dig tunnel a year ago had several huge impacts. One commuter lost her life. The head of the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority lost his job. But one company involved in the failure might not pay a very high price for its contribution to the tragedy.

In August, Powers Fasteners Inc.—the Brewster, N.Y.-based company that supplied the epoxy used in the project—was charged with involuntary manslaughter. Prosecutors claim the company failed to tell managers of the nearly $15 billion project that the adhesive would not be able to handle the weight demands, and that it would most likely pull away over time.

If a jury finds the company guilty, the highest criminal penalty that could be levied against it is $1000. Attorney General Martha Coakley said while the fine “does not seem to be even close to an appropriate punishment,” the modest amount is tied to laws that have been on the books dating back two centuries ago.

While the penalty might be paltry, Powers Fasteners could be hit with tens of millions of dollars in a civil suit currently being considered.

Close Encounters of the Garbage Kind

Taking out the garbage is a mundane chore—that is, unless toting the trash involves a walk in outer space.

Every space journey since astronauts first started their extraterrestrial schlepping has created its share of refuse. Much of the unwanted material goes back to earth—NASA and other agencies try to avoid littering the cosmos if they can, but sometimes the practice is necessary. In a recent house-cleaning of the international space station, several pieces of bulky equipment had to be removed, and because of a 2010 deadline for ending all shuttle flights, there's not enough room on remaining missions to return the junk to Earth.

A few months ago, American spaceman Clayton Anderson—an avid sportsman back on his home planet—tossed a 1400-pound ammonia tank away with one mighty shove.

“I'll be sending my bill in the mail for trash disposal,” Anderson joked to Mission Control.

Earthlings shouldn't worry about the litter raining down on their heads—according to scientists, the detritus will most likely circle the earth for several months before reentering the atmosphere and burning up.

A Tasty New Weapon in the Battle Against Bottled Water

Sales of bottled water continue to soar, creating an ever-growing mountain of empty plastic containers for the solid waste industry to deal with. The American Water Works Association's “Tap Water Delivers” and other campaigns seek to combat the problem, with some success.

One manufacturer has introduced a product to help quench the public's thirst for convenient filtered and flavored water, while keeping the pile of bottles from growing. PUR Flavor Options filters tap water (either directly from the faucet, or inside a pitcher) and adds calorie-free flavor at the press of a button. The product costs far less per gallon than similar bottled products.

Yes, but how does the stuff taste? Our editors tried all three flavors—strawberry, raspberry, and peach—and results were generally favorable, although mixed. One avid water drinker reported that, after struggling to figure out the flavor-adding mechanism (a button near the handle needed to be pressed), she found the concoction tasty. Peach was the favorite flavor, and one person proclaimed the strawberry flavor “weird.”

Want to get your own fruity fluid from the faucet? The filters and pitcher are available at most mass retailers; visit www.purwater.com to learn more.