Local green trend expected to continue into the new year

Town across Sussex County, as well as the country as a whole, will be stepping it up in 2009 to continue efforts to go green. The last few years have already seen great strides toward environmental friendliness in the area, and that trend is expected to continue.

Many of the coastal towns already have municipal contracts with Delaware Solid Waste Authority (DSWA) for curbside recycling, including Bethany Beach, South Bethany, Fenwick Island and Millville. Millville also worked this year with the Center for Inland Bays to create a demonstration rain garden and native plantings at town hall – something the Town of Fenwick Island and the Bethany-Fenwick Chamber of Commerce did as well.

Bethany Beach this fall discussed possible ordinances on geothermal heating and air units, as well as possible ordinances regarding residential wind turbines and solar panels. They decided this past August that they would first concentrate on existing popular technology, such as geothermal and solar, before getting into more extensive ordinance proposals that might involve the town’s height restrictions, such as those involving wind power.

Fenwick Island’s Environmental Committee researched and learned a lot this past year. They reported on the ongoing oyster gardening project, had representatives from the Center for Inland Bays come and talk to them about rain gardens, listened to Artesian Water about how water gets from the aquifer to the tap, and learned the ins and outs of power generation from Jim Smith of Delmarva Power.

As for the future, at Fenwick’s most recent Charter and Ordinance Committee meeting, Mayor Audrey Serio requested that the committee consider for future discussion some incentives for solar and wind turbines for both residential and commercial uses in the town. The committee is in the first stages of researching and plans to have both solar and wind installation companies come and talk to the committee in the future.

“The incentives may include zoning, such as setbacks and height, and/or financial, such as waiving of some permit fees. This request was made under ‘new business’ and was very brief and only preliminary,” said Committee Chairman and Councilman Bill Weistling Jr.

This past week, Ocean View Mayor Gordon Wood introduced a preliminary idea regarding saving trees in town, which could be similar to Bethany Beach’s tree ordinance or another Fenwick Island project that came to fruition this year – the Tree Triage, in which new native trees were planted for environmental reasons. The proposal came up as the town council again adopted an Arbor Day resolution that makes it eligible for grants that have helped pay for trees planted in John West Park.

The Tree Triage Program started nearly two years ago, when the Environmental Committee in Fenwick Island received a Department of Agriculture Urban Forest Tree Planting Grant to increase the tree canopy within the corporate limits of the town.

“Trees really help with the natural heating and cooling,” explained Fenwick Island Town Clerk Agnes DiPietrantonio. “They help to moderate temperature, aid in soil retention, filter harmful chemicals from the water and air, and provide a habitat for birds.”

Also, Ocean View Town Manager Conway Gregory mentioned that the town has discussed placing solar panels on the new public works building, should that project move forward in the near future.

“With the state of the economy the way it is, this project may not move forward for another year or two. We are very cognizant of the need to utilize green technologies in our future projects and, as they are developed, every effort will be employed to determine if the green technology is applicable and feasible for any future projects,” he said.

Sussex County beat state officials to the punch in December and implemented a pilot program for its own “Super Green” project, to encourage environmentally sensitive development and building practices. The initiative complements the proposed State of Delaware “Super Green” initiative that is currently under development.

The county’s program would award points to projects consisting of 20 or more units for meeting certain criteria, such as preserving open space, using larger buffers than required, reusing historic buildings onsite, dedicating land for schools and other public facilities, using solar technology for street lighting, and building a percentage of homes to meet energy efficiency and material requirements set by organizations such as the National Home Building Council or LEED.

According to the county, the key difference between the state’s proposed initiative and Sussex’s program would be the addition of the two less-stringent layers of recognition for builders who incorporate “Super Green” practices in their projects.

“The county believes its program will allow more projects to qualify for some level of recognition,” explained County Administrator David Baker. “Not every project is going to measure up to the high bar being considered at the state level. But by offering some level of recognition and incentives at a less-stringent level, we believe we can encourage more environmentally friendly building throughout the county.”

The county also “went green” this year with a new recycling policy for government offices this past spring. Through a partnership with the DSWA they replaced most of their offices’ conventional waste cans with single-stream recycling receptacles.

They also adopted a groundwater protection ordinance this past June, to establish various land-use rules for properties within areas identified by Delaware environmental officials as “integral to the local water supply.”

And, in December, they adopted a specific “open space” definition. The ordinance spells out what cannot be considered open space under existing county regulations and planning documents. This new definition takes effect Jan. 1, 2009.

The groundwater protection ordinances and the specific open space definition both satisfy pledges the county made in conjunction with its 2007 Comprehensive Plan update. As of December, approximately six of the 23 proposed ordinances have either been adopted or are in the works.