Spurred by a viewing of Al Gore's documentary movie about global warming and a pep talk from County Executive Ken Ulman, Howard leaders are setting out to make the county a national model for progressive environmental practices.
"It's really going to take us all working together to make a difference," Ulman told more than 100 leaders from his administration, county schools, Howard Community College, the Columbia Association and private groups - as well as other elected officials - at a screening of the movie An Inconvenient Truth that he arranged.
Ulman used an unusual Cabinet meeting Wednesday at the college's new performing arts building auditorium to make it clear that he wants unified support for the nine environmental items he is proposing in his first budget, and allies in promoting a "green" agenda. He said he first viewed the movie in January, and decided to follow the advice in the movie's parting credits to spread the word and start making changes.
"We're trying to lead the way, but there needs to be a real collaborative effort," said Joshua Feldmark, who is heading an environmental study commission Ulman created shortly after taking office.
"We hope the long-term goal is that Howard County will be a model nationwide for true sustainability. This is more than just county government," Feldmark told the crowd after the 100-minute movie concluded.
The film showing "is a really good idea," said Del. Elizabeth Bobo, who this week was elected chairwoman of the county's eight-member House of Delegates contingent
As part of the "green" theme, Howard County is sponsoring Earth Day festivities from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday at the Dorsey Building on Bendix Road, off Route 108. The event will include the shredding of up to three boxes or bags of paper or data storage devices such as compact discs per family, as well as other activities geared to family education and children.
Ulman's budget proposals include:
$100,000 to study the global-warming gases the county government produces and to create a climate action plan.
$400,000 to buy 25 hybrid energy cars for county inspectors as a pilot project in "greening our fleet." Ulman said the gasoline-electric vehicle technology has not progressed enough to use in police vehicles or for heavy equipment. The money is also to study a timetable for a more extensive fleet conversion.
$100,000 for a solar energy demonstration project at one or two small county buildings - perhaps involving a building in Schooley Mill Park.
$400,000 for a Green Fund to determine how county buildings and operations can be more environmentally friendly. That means low-energy light bulbs, traffic lights, or other items.
A cost-neutral project to pipe methane gas from the Alpha Ridge Landfill to help provide energy to the new Public Safety Training Center being built on the property.
$2.3 million in the capital budget to further planning for the Robinson Nature Center on land along Cedar Lane, north of Route 32. "This will be an unbelievable showcase of 'green' technology," Ulman said, adding that he wants the center, which should be completed by 2011, to exhibit ways that citizens can improve their home energy and emissions practices.
$200,000 to finance a program in conjunction with the private Howard County Conservancy to offer conservation easements that carry tax reduction benefits to people who own small parcels of land, as a way of preventing the lots from being developed.
Ulman said the program would apply to tracts of fewer than 50 acres in developed areas. Ned Tillman, past president of the conservancy, said the group's philosophy is changing from preserving land adjacent to preserved parcels, to seeking smaller tracts in older residential areas.
$50,000 for a "Green Howard" public education campaign.
$280,000 for blue, trash-can-style, wheeled recycling bins that could hold up to 65 gallons of materials each for up to 5,400 residences in the Elkridge area. Ulman said this, too, is a pilot project to see if residents will use the larger containers and if collections increase. If distributed countywide, the new containers would cost $4 million.
Maggie J. Brown, president of the Columbia Association, said the homeowners association has bought six hybrid cars and is looking for other energy-saving strategies. Ulman's showing of the Gore movie was the first time she had seen it, Brown said.
"It's pretty powerful," she said, noting that as a research chemist, she strongly believes in the danger of global warming.
"We've got to do something. We've got to get busy."