Leading from the Left

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Environmental Conversation Saturday

In preparation for Earth Day, I met with a small group of local environmental advocates on Saturday. As I'm still in my first 6 months as a county commissioner, I'm trying to meet with as many interest groups as I can to hear what's on people's minds. I want to find out what people think we're doing well in Orange County, and what we could be doing better. I've had a couple of similar meetings, one with African-American leaders in northern Orange and one with Southern Orange business people.

All of these meetings have been productive, including Saturday's meeting with the environmentalists.

The attendees brought up a wide-range of issues including recycling, the landfill, land conservation, energy efficiency, greenways and bike paths, sustainability and environmental education in the school system.

Andy Ives, a UNC student who was graduated for Cedar Ridge High School, argued that environmental education should be beefed up in our schools. With environmental issues, such as global warming, becoming increasingly prominent, the next generation needs to have as much education as possible about the environment.

Loren Hintz and Carolyn Buckner both urged building more bike lanes along roadways in the county. Loren pointed out that there are very few bikelanes along roadsides in the county. Of course, both Chapel Hill and Carrboro have done a pretty good job of constructing bike lanes but once you get outside of town limits bikelanes are few and far between.

Carolyn also brought up her concerns that we ship our solid waste out of county. It's simply wrong to dump out garbage on some poor county in eastern North Carolina or southeastern Virginia. Carolyn wants the county to look for another landfill site here in Orange so we can do the right thing.

The landfill discussion tied in with another topic we covered in some detail. Several attendees urged us to ban additional items from being landfilled so that we can delay as long as possible shipping our garbage out of county. One attendee in particular stressed that it's simply not right to allow items that can be easily recycled to continue to be thrown into the landfill. Mixed office paper is a good example of something that several folks argued should be banned outright from the landfill since it can be recycled. We've recenlty started curbside collection for office paper in single family neighborhoods in Chapel Hill and Carrboro. It's not yet available in multi-family but we need to move that direction as soon as possible.

Melva Okun suggested that the county set up an energy audit program for homeowners who want to know how they can increase energy efficiency in their homes. And Judith Ferster brought up a number of great points about the county's comprehensive planning process.

I picked up great ideas from the folks who attended. In particular, I'm going to follow up on the recycling questions. Like Carolyn, I really don't like the fact that in about 3 years Orange County will be shipping our garbage to some other community...and let's face it, the community our garbage goes to will likely be poor and minority.