La Plata, MD is Environmentally Friendly
PHOTO CREDIT: Todd Bennett
In Charles County, living the good life means doing what’s good for the environment.
And no one is too young to participate, as evidenced by the Maryland Green Schools certifications recently earned by Arthur Middleton Elementary School and Milton M. Somers Middle School.
Green Schools Certification
To earn certification, students at Middleton Elementary created a wetland behind their building and constructed an accompanying outdoor classroom. Somers Middle planted a garden populated by native species and fed by a new rainwater irrigation system.
“Students and teachers from throughout the system rolled up their sleeves and got their hands dirty to help with these projects, not just to earn the green certification, but because the kids love doing it,” says Glenn Belmore, the school system’s special assistant for environment, safety and risk management.
The entire process took two years and required the schools to document green classroom activities, school-wide conservation practices and the existence of community partnerships geared toward environmental education.
Sustainability in Electricity
That same emphasis on education and partnership drives green initiatives at Southern Maryland Electric Cooperative (SMECO), Charles County’s electric utility.
“We stand with our customers in helping them save money on their electric bills and go green,” says SMECO spokesman Tom Dennison.
In fact, the not-for-profit utility has set up an entire department to do just that. Led by Environment and Energy Conservation Manager Jeff Shaw, the team staffs an energy-conservation hotline, hands out compact-fluorescent bulbs at community events and installs free programmable thermostats in customers’ homes.
“Jeff and his team will even do an on-site cost-benefit analysis for solar power, wind power, changing out windows, whatever the customer needs,” Dennison says.
SMECO also blends renewable energy credits, biomass and hydropower into its fuel mix and has a comprehensive in-house environmental program.
But SMECO isn’t the only public entity leading by example. In 2007, the town of La Plata earned LEED certification for its town hall, in part by installing a rainwater irrigation system for the property’s landscaping.
“In southern Maryland, there is concern about the availability of potable water,” says La Plata Town Manager Daniel Mears. “We wanted to show something that can be done to conserve that resource.”
Green Building Committee
The town has also formed a Green Building Committee tasked with reducing the environmental impact of the area’s rapid growth. One of the committee’s first assignments is to evaluate applications for $500 mini-grants to fund community-driven environmental projects.
Charles County government is also working to improve the area’s environment. The county provides bimonthly curbside recycling, plus transfer and drop-off stations where residents can take recyclable items that won’t fit in curbside bins.
“For businesses interested in recycling, we do an on-site visit to identify the items in their waste stream that can be recycled and at what cost, then we help them design a customized recycling program that can be implemented through a third party,” says Dennis Fleming, the county’s chief of environmental resources.
The county also offers free tours of its Waldorf facility, which contains a landfill and composting and recycling facilities. Groups ride in a county-provided bus or van and go home with goody bags full of educational materials and products made from renewable or recycled materials.
Like SMECO, the county rounds out its green initiatives with a comprehensive in-house program. Elements include recycling county waste, installing programmable thermostats in county buildings and adding hybrid and biodiesel-fueled vehicles to the county fleet.
“It boils down to responsible government,” Fleming says. “With all the growth we’re experiencing, we’re trying to ensure that we’re sensitive to the environment and giving people a conduit to work within their community for some of these solutions.”
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