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Prince George’s County municipalities jump into environmental initiative

By Daniel J. Gross,

From creating environmentally friendly buildings to organizing farmers markets, some town and city officials in Prince George’s County are participating in a statewide program to spark neighborhood improvement projects.

In reference to the town’s projects to improve its environmental sustainability, John Moss, Bladensburg’s town administrator, said that they were using this as a “motivation and engine to help drive our policies forward.”

Five Prince George’s municipalities have registered for the Environmental Finance Center’s Sustainable Maryland Certified program at the University of Maryland, College Park, which offers specialized training and expert advice on launching environmentally friendly projects and seeking grant funding from federal and state agencies for those projects, program spokeswoman Jennifer Cotting said.

Laurel, Mount Rainier, Colmar Manor, College Park and Greenbelt are participating in the free program, along with eight others from outside the county. Hyattsville and Bladensburg currently are in the registration process.

To register, town or city councils must pass a resolution stating their intent to pursue Sustainable Maryland certification. Municipalities also must submit documentation of the environmentally sustainable projects they’ve completed.

To gain certification, municipalities must obtain 150 points toward sustainable efforts through initiatives such as developing a water conservation plan, adopting a pet waste ordinance or establishing a local business directory, Cotting said. Developing a water conservation plan awards 15 points, while adopting a pet waste ordinance awards five. Each project can earn a municipality between five and 20 points.

Gaining certification provides the municipalities with free training sessions and guidance from EFC staff, potential grant opportunities for certain improvement projects and even “bragging rights,” Cotting said.

There is no financial incentive for being a part of the program, but if it continues to gain momentum, the program will seek to obtain grants that certified municipalities can acquire, Cotting said.

Being certified also will better a town or city’s standing among public or private groups who might offer grant funding for environmental projects, she added. As an example, she cited the Easton-based Town Creek Foundation, a private, philanthropic organization focused on creating sustainable environments.

Moss said town officials applied to learn additional strategies for meeting the town’s environmental goals.

“We’ve done a number of things to be accounted for in a positive way,” Moss said, noting that the town’s new “green” policy, which includes limiting the use of paper in administrative offices, purchasing recycled paper and using solar panels to power town offices. “But in another way, there are things we need to do better. This [program] forces us to think about those things.”

Those areas of improvement include carpooling when feasible, hosting community clean-up events and limiting the idling of town vehicles, Moss said

He added that, while seeking grant funding for future projects is a potential benefit as the program develops, it’s not the primary reason for participating; rather it is a healthy competition that will keep the town focused on green initiatives. Pursuing such initiatives will leave the town in better shape for future administrators and residents, he said.

The Hyattsville City Council passed a motion Sept. 12 to participate in the program.

Jim Chandler, Hyattsville’s director of community and economic development, said the program would fit well with the town’s environmental initiatives, such as creating an on-street bioretention system to manage storm water on Hamilton Street and conducting a sustainability assessment during the Arcade Building remodeling on Gallatin Street to see whether the building can be LEED-certified. Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design standards rate the building on the environmental friendliness of its construction, which Chandler said is important in reducing waste.

“These are the types of projects we’re looking at to really highlight sustainability practices and make it more a part of everyday city practices,” Chandler said.

Mount Rainier officials registered with the program in August and said they have already accomplished many projects to bring the city closer to certification.

Last year, the city planted 100 trees to celebrate its centennial, City Manager Jeannelle Wallace said. She also cites Mount Rainier’s renovated environmentally-friendly police station and longstanding commission for the preservation of trees.

Colmar Manor, which completed registration in July, is participating to provide an incentive to start new initiatives, such as hosting a farmers market, which promotes community-based food and local business, said council member Vivian Jackson (Ward 3).

“It should help us out over time with grants and it will show that we’re not only talking the talk but walking the walk,” Jackson said.

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