Cape's green advisory board finishing its first year

Wednesday, August 25, 2010
Gary Culbreth uses a neutral-pH glass cleaner in a restroom Tuesday at Cape Girardeau Central Middle School. At least 90 percent of the cleaning products used in the Cape Girardeau School District are green. The city's green advisory board has been at work almost a year. (Fred Lynch)

A group of environmentally conscious Cape Girardeau residents has volunteered hundreds of hours in the last year brainstorming how city government can reduce its carbon footprint.

The Cape Girardeau City Council passed an ordinance to create the Girardeau Goes Green Advisory Board at the end of August 2009. Since then, the board has compiled various ideas and created focus groups to develop an inventory of what "go green" initiatives are already taking place in the city.

"It's not an advisory board to tell the people in Cape Girardeau what to do. The focus is on city government and how they can be more efficient," said Kathy Conway, former advisory group chairwoman. "The council also felt like Cape Girardeau could be a role model for other communities."

After the city council approved the ordinance and the board got organized, it formed four focus groups -- waste management, outdoor energy, transportation and energy.

A survey by the waste management focus group was one of the advisory board's largest accomplishments in the last year, according to Conway. The survey was developed to gather information on waste management practices in Cape Girardeau. Focus groups interviewed heads of each city department to compile the data.

"It's nearing completion, and that will be ready for analysis by September," Conway said.

Since meeting with city personnel on conserving natural resources, the outdoor energy focus group has been interested in developing "green spaces" at city buildings, parks and rights of way. Group members were impressed, however, with how natural landscaping practices were already used at Cape Splash and at the Cape Girardeau Public Library.

"There's a lot of native plants in between the lazy river. That was put there so there wouldn't be a lot of landscaping costs or upkeep," said Red Redinger, advisory board chair.

Native plantings were also used in medians in the library parking lot, he said.

"The idea is they're native. They survive here naturally. They're not like exotics, so they take less water, which is a resource, and they take less maintenance, obviously a cost to the city," Redinger said.

As city staff develops Transportation Trust Fund-4 plans, Conway said they hope to help provide ideas on the use of green spaces and community gardens when maintaining or constructing new roadways.

The transportation focus group has discussed recently the use of biodiesel fuels and investigated several companies the city could buy biodiesel from. In the next year, the focus group plans to continue investigating the option and meet with staff in order to pinpoint a percentage of biodiesel fuels already used in their fleet and how it could be increased.

"What we're trying to do, most importantly, I think, is going to make for a healthier community," said Glen Williams, the newest member of the transportation focus group. "As we try to do this -- reduce congestion on our roadways, burn cleaner fuels -- we can save our city money."

Williams, a professor in the Department of Communications Studies at Southeast Missouri State University, got involved with the group because he thought it was a good opportunity for Cape Girardeau to become a leader in reducing its environmental effect. He said he has already been involved in promoting alternative transportation in Cape Girardeau and has hopes the city can expand bike trails.

The energy focus group has been busy discovering what Cape Girardeau is doing to keep its facilities energy-efficient. The focus group is comparing operating costs of the Arena Building before and after improvements were made in 2009. They're reviewing how much cost savings can be achieved through efficiency improvement projects. Improvements to the arena were recently made with Cape Girardeau Parks and Recreation tax revenue, including a new heating and cooling system and a reflective white roof.

Renewable energy

"Our big goal is we want the city to start using renewable energy and supporting renewable energy," said Redinger, who is also a member of the energy focus group.

The energy focus group's members will soon present to the advisory board their thoughts on the city joining the Pure Power program through AmerenUE, which is already the city's electricity provider. Customers participating in the program pay an extra 1.5 cents per kilowatt-hour on their bill each month to support renewable energy.

The energy focus group plans to present to the advisory board that the city purchase the equivalent of around 10 percent of its power through the program, which could cost the city around $7,200 a year.

Rather than simply recommend the idea, the energy focus group is researching what the city is saving currently after making improvements to facilities like the Arena Building, Redinger said.

Assistant city manager Heather Brooks and council member Debra Tracy, city liaisons to the board, said they're both pleased with the group's professionalism and cooperation.

"They're fully aware that the city doesn't have a lot of money, so they're conscious about needing to be cost-effective," Brooks said. "It's been amazing to see these dedicated volunteers so committed to taking a look at this and trying to make improvements."

The "go green" attitude is contagious, Tracy said.

A number of Cape Girardeau businesses have made the effort to reduce their effect on the environment, including Broadway Books and Roasting Co. and Natural Health Organic Foods.

Janet Woods-Jackson, owner of Broadway Books and Roasting, said the business doesn't use Styrofoam products. Its carryout containers are made from corn, making them biodegradable, she said, and all of the plastics and glassware are recycled. Coffee grounds are given to area gardeners instead of thrown away.

"If you've been around the coffee house culture, most are environmentally conscious," Woods-Jackson said. "But there are simple things we can all do to help."

At Natural Health Organic Foods, Becky Brown, one of the store's owners, said the business has implemented an in-house recycling program, in addition to encouraging their customers to reuse bags. Staff also uses and sells "green" cleaning products in the store.

"I've always felt that's important, especially if you have small children in the house," Brown said. "I guess in some ways we've been doing green things right from the get-go, selling organic foods that have no pesticides, no environmental toxins."

Tracy said Cape Girardeau businesses and residents with ideas on green initiatives should seek out the advisory board and share their ideas.

The Girardeau Goes Green Advisory Board meets at 7 p.m. the second Tuesday of each month at the Cape Girardeau Public Library.

ehevern@semissourian.com

388-3635

Pertinent Address:

401 Independence St., Cape Girardeau, MO

605 Broadway, Cape Girardeau, MO

135 S. Broadview St., Cape Girardeau, MO

Map of pertinent addresses

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