The Town of Bel Air was one of 13 Maryland municipalities honored at the Sustainable Maryland Awards Ceremony at the Maryland Municipal League's annual Fall Conference last month in Rockville.
Bel Air sustainability program is an enviable achievement, one that governments at all levels should emulate.
The Sustainable Bel Air Project was begun about five years ago by town Planning Director Kevin Small, shortly after he came on board with the town.
The original sustainability plan was adopted by the Board of Town Commissioners in January 2013 and has been refined since and runs the gamut from installing reduced energy street lighting, to promoting community gardens and local food production to hiring goats for invasive species control at town parks.
The town has successfully encouraged many of the schools serving Bel Air to become Certified Green Schools and has promoted a health and wellness program for town employees, as well as establishing a green purchasing police in 2014 and a buy local campaign in partnership with the Bel Air Downtown Alliance.
Bel Air was one of nine Maryland municipalities to originally become Sustainable Maryland Certified in 2014, and the town successfully became re-certified again this year. Town officials believe Bel Air was among the first, if not the first, of the state’s 157 municipalities to actively purse sustainable certification. There are 39 municipalities that are Sustainable Maryland Certified communities to date, according to the Environmental Finance Center of the University of Maryland that runs the program.
"Teamwork, passion, ingenuity and guidance from Sustainable Maryland enabled our Town to achieve Sustainable Maryland Certified," Mayor Susan Burdette said in a statement. "Under the direction of our planning and public works directors, we created community gardens for apartment dwellers and children to grow their own food, partnered with the county government to hold a reuse/recycling fair, cleared invasive species from our parks with a goat herd and initiated an energy efficiency audit since our first certification in 2013."
"The projects unified town commissioners, staff, volunteers, residents, local church groups, Scouts, seniors and school children to decrease our carbon footprint and increase environmental protection for the future of Bel Air," Burdette said.
The mayor amplified those remarks during Monday evening’s town meeting where she recognized Small for his efforts if initiating and implementing Bel Air’s sustainability program.
Burdette said the program has become “Kevin’s passion,” and praised him and other employees for their involvement, which in many cases has involved them volunteering on their own time.
When Small presented the first draft of the first sustainability plan in 2012, our immediate reaction was, “That’s a nice plan but one that may be too ambitious to succeed.” We obviously have been proven wrong.
In talking about where sustatinability fits in the larger scheme of things Monday, Burdette was right on the mark when she said: “Our global future depends on it.”
The Town of Bel Air has shown that sustainability can be achieved and fostered in all aspects of the local community. And if a small town in Maryland can do this, why should we expect the same across our state, our nation and, as Burdette said, across the globe.