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Tunica Biloxi go green

MARKSVILLE, La. – “For hundreds of years, the Tunica Biloxi people existed in harmony with the land. They coexisted with the seasons and flora and fauna found from the gulf to the northern hills, sustaining themselves on nature’s bounty.

“Today, many tribal members live on their reservation in Marksville. The reduction in the abundance of their lands over the centuries has not resulted in a loss of respect for the land or for Mother Nature,” states a release from the tribe.

It is because of this respect that the tribe has built its first solar home, at 400 Melacon Road, on the Tunica Biloxi Reservation. And it won’t be the last.

Sylvester “Joe” Barbry, the tribe’s housing authority director, hopes to erect a new and even greener home every year.

Some of the building methods used to make the home more energy efficient include the use of 2 x 6 boards, a heat barrier system, solar panels, a 65 gallon solar water heater and energy efficient appliances.

Barbry said the boards give additional insulation and the house is wrapped with a heat barrier that also replaces the felt that would typically line the roof.

“This thing has silver backing and it’s white material on the front; you roll it out just like you do the black felt, then you nail your shingles over it,” he said. “It prevents air from going in or coming out and helps to provide insulation for the house.”

Electricity in the home is generated by solar panels on the roof, which, according to Barbry, will cut the monthly bill from about $120 to about $30.

“As long as you’re generating electricity in the solar panels, you use that first in the house. If it doesn’t generate enough there’s a switch that turns it over to the power company; and if it’s generating more than enough it deducts the amount of energy you’re using. You can accumulate hours that they (power company) have to pay for.”

Barbry said building a green home doesn’t cost much more than building a regular home.

“You’ll pay a little more up front, but in the long run, you’ll save,” he said, noting that 2 x 6 boards are more expensive than the 2 x 4 boards that are regularly used.

A $50,000 grant from Enterprise Community Partners, Inc. of Santa Fe, N.M. enabled the tribe to go ahead with the project. And help from HUD will enable tribal members to purchase the homes for 20 percent less than the construction costs.

According to Barbry, this three bedroom home cost the tribe about $115,000 to build, but will cost members only about $85,000 after HUD helps out.

He hopes to track and evaluate the utility costs and make each subsequent home more energy efficient, until someday when the home generates 100 percent of the owner’s usage.

An open house was held Feb. 26, at which, Barbry said the home was well received.

“They just thought it was fantastic. … there’s carpet in the bedrooms, vinyl in the kitchen and den areas, nice size rooms and they say they love the master bath because it has a big Jacuzzi in it.”