County government goes green

The Baltimore Sun

The environment will take center stage in Carroll County this week, as the commissioners launch a green-themed National County Government Week celebration in connection with Earth Day, which is today.

With the heightened focus on Carroll's water shortages and the calls for a related conservation campaign, the environmental theme will help highlight efforts already underway in the county, government spokeswoman Vivian D. Laxton said.

Members of the county's Environmental Advisory Council say that under the leadership of Commissioners Julia Walsh Gouge and Dean L. Minnich, such issues have finally gained traction in a county once resistant to change.

"It used to be the environmental council was stacked with people who were devoted to seeing that little progress was made," said Sher Horosko, a council member. "The Environmental Advisory Council now has backbone. The commissioners have appointed people who care and who are working to produce sound recommendations for change."

In addition to water, county officials are studying how to reduce how much solid waste Carroll buries in landfills.

The county government complex will launch a pilot single-stream recycling program tomorrow, so employees can start discarding recyclable papers, plastics, glass and cans all in one bin. Mixed together in one truck, those recyclable materials will be transported to the Recycle America facility in Elkridge.

The trash haulers that operate in the unincorporated areas of the county will start offering the service to residents on July 1, said Vinnie Legge, the county's bureau chief of recycling operations.

"The haulers are all for it," Legge said. "The more recycling they do, the more their fees go down with the less trash collected. There's no tipping fees for recycling."

The county office building will still collect aluminum cans separately for CHANGE Inc., the organization that provides services for individuals with developmental disabilities.

Legge also encouraged residents to take advantage of the county's free electronics recycling drop-off at Northern Landfill.

As county officials consider building a trash-burning facility, the local Sierra Club is holding a forum at the Westminster Senior Center on Thursday night about reducing solid waste through recycling and composting.

The Carroll County Cooperative Extension office offers workshops on composting and recycling cut grass, including one at the extension office on Tuesday night.

At the landfill, yard waste is no longer accepted in plastic bags, which caused the leaves decomposing inside to reek, Legge said. Residents must empty their waste out of the plastic at the landfill or dispose of their lawn trimmings in special 30-gallon, double-lined brown paper bags, she said.

On Tuesday, the county commissioners will honor the winners of revived environmental awareness awards in five categories that recognize individuals, institutions, agriculture, business and students.

Throughout the week, county employees will educate the public on various themes such as land preservation, water and protecting air quality.

The county will promote an energy-saving initiative launched last year to replace heating and cooling equipment, improve ventilation and replace lighting with more efficient fixtures, an effort estimated to cut county expenses by $5 million during the next 15 years, officials said.

"The week gives us a way to show people what we've been doing all along for the environment," Laxton said. "They'll learn what we still need to do about things like water and the landfill."

Throughout next week, on-air environmental trivia contests will run on radio station WTTR 1470 AM, with prizes for the winners. County employees will visit area elementary schools to talk to fourth-graders about steps they can take to protect the environment, Laxton said.

Al Gore's award-winning film on global warming, An Inconvenient Truth, will also show today at Carroll Arts Center.

The activities come as the Westminster City Council recently passed a resolution promoting energy conservation to counter global warming but stopped short of endorsing a climate-protection pledge signed by leaders of more than 400 cities and towns.

The Catoctin chapter of the Sierra Club has asked the Carroll County commissioners to sign this national pledge, known as the U.S. Mayors Climate Protection Agreement.

The agreement, which vows to work to reduce greenhouse gases, was designed to bypass President Bush's opposition to the international Kyoto Protocol, which took effect two years ago. Anne Arundel and Howard county executives have already signed the pledge. Horosko said she hopes the county will draw more attention to global warming and front-end solutions through waste reduction and water conservation.

"It's always nice to have the environment take the front seat for a change," said James E. Slater Jr., the county's environmental compliance officer.

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