From putting up solar panels to changing the frequency of trash pickup, Frederick County and several of its municipalities have made progress on sustainability issues to affect climate change, but more work needs to be done, according to local officials.
“We don’t have a choice. The change is not coming. The change is here,” Frederick Mayor Michael O’Connor told the audience at an event Wednesday night at Hood College.
O’Connor spoke on a panel along with County Executive Jan Gardner, Frederick County Councilman Kai Hagen, Emmitsburg Mayor Don Briggs, and Myersville Mayor Wayne Creadick.
Each official talked about steps their jurisdiction has taken to increase its sustainability efforts.
Gardner said the county has installed a solar hot water system at its adult detention center, added hybrid vehicles and electric buses to the county’s fleet, and set a goal of getting 20 percent of its electricity from renewable sources by 2022, among other things, Gardner said.
The budget she recently proposed to the County Council includes $300,000 for a composting demonstration project, which should extend the life of local landfills and improve water quality, she said.
Hagen noted that it was exciting to know that there are officials at the county and municipal levels who care about the environment.
The county is moving in the right direction, but more remains to be done, he said.
“It’s not nearly enough. It’s just not,” he said.
But he said he takes heart from recent polling that shows that coverage on traditional media and social media of weather-related disasters is having an impact on more people taking the issue of climate change more seriously.
Emmitsburg has spent millions of dollars on a new wastewater treatment plan that gets almost all of its energy from solar power, installed electric vehicle charging stations, and installed 14 miles of multi-user trails, Briggs said.
“We’ve got to jump in front of this thing and pull it along,” he said.
As a public official, Creadick said it’s easy to get people to make a commitment, but harder to get them to actually act.
Among other steps, Myersville changed trash pickup from twice a week to once, a step that O’Connor said Frederick has also taken.
That wasn’t a politically popular decision, but has made people more conscious of the amount of trash they produce, he said.
The town’s council and staff has also gotten iPads, and greatly reduced the amount of paper they produce, Creadick said.
While the challenge of climate change can seem daunting, O’Connor said there are no small steps that counties or municipalities can take.
The city has upgraded streetlights in several neighborhoods to LED lights, and is always looking to add pedestrian and bike trails to get out of cars and walk or bike, O’Connor said.
But he said governments will always face obstacles to doing everything they’d like to increase sustainability.
“The challenge, of course, is financial,” he said. “There’s no lack of will among our residents and our elected officials to meet the challenge that’s ahead of us.”