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Green Committee looks into grants, education opportunities

Date: 10/5/2009

By Courtney Llewellyn

Reminder Assistant Editor

EAST LONGMEADOW There are a lot of ways to be "green" - reducing the amount of things you use, reusing whatever you can, and recycling your paper, plastic and glass.

There's more you can do, though, and one goal of the town's Green Committee is spreading the word on the additional steps that can be taken to fix our planet now and preserve it for the future.

Carleen Fischer Hoffman, a member of the Green Committee, came before the Library Board of Trustees last week to speak with them about establishing a "Green Learning Center" in the library.

"I joined the Green Committee because I figured there has to be more to do and I had 'ideas,'" Fischer Hoffman said. "While on the committee I realized that the town doesn't do too much to educate the townspeople about recycling and being green. It is no fault of the town, it's just that everything is so new. So, I got a bee in my bonnet. How can we educate on a regular basis besides sending stuff in the mail that people will probably ignore anyway? Then I came up with the Green Learning Center."

The center would take up a small space in the library and would house books on green initiatives, information from the town - such as a recycling schedule and a list of what can and can't be recycled - and some interchangeable, semi-permanent displays.

Fischer Hoffman said the first display is a simple one that will also catch people's attention: it holds an aluminum can, a plastic bag and a glass bottle and lists how long it takes each item to break down in a landfill.

"It's takes 200 to 500 years for the can to break down," she explained. "I hope that makes people think, 'Holy cow, I didn't realize it took that long. Maybe I should be recycling.' It's about shock value."

She added that the Library Board of Trustees were impressed and interested in the proposal, but there were some reservations about her plan because it could cause some controversy.

"That's good, though," Fischer Hoffman said. "A controversy would start some conversations."

Her plan is to have the Green Learning Center open to the public by January.

Green Communities Program

Another way the Green Committee is looking to improve the town is by becoming a Department of Energy Resources-certified Green Community. Jim Barry, the Western Massachusetts Regional Coordinator for the Green Communities Division, recently attended a Green Committee meeting to outline how East Longmeadow could become one of these communities.

The program offers support for municipalities with an Energy Audit Program (EAP), Energy Performance Contracting Technical Assistance, Green Communities grants, a Loan and Technical Assistance Program, Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grants (EECBG) and an Energy Information Reporting System (EIS), backed up by regional coordinators and outreach.

"The grant program is one of the first in the nation," Barry said. "There is a $10 million trust fund specifically for [Green Communities grants]," but, he added, the money is set aside for municipalities that act as quickly as possible.

There is a checklist of things the town must do before they can be considered for Green Community funding, and one of those things is setting aside a geographic area of the town where renewable energy can be generated.

"I think the industrial zone would be OK for that," Don Anderson, a member of the Planning Board and the Green Committee, said. "If not, an overlay could also work." Establishing the area would require town vote approval, however.

Town Accountant Tom Caliento noted that grants like this could be used to create a five megawatt solar panel field, the energy from which could light the whole town. The projected cost for something like that is $20 million to $30 million.

The next Green Committee meeting is scheduled for Oct. 20 at 5:30 p.m. in the Town Hall Hearing Room.