DEC Announces Winners of 14th Annual Environmental Excellence Awards

State Recognizes New York Organizations and Municipalities as Innovation and Sustainability Leaders

New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) Commissioner Basil Seggos recently recognized seven organizations for their state-of-the-art programs and commitment to environmental sustainability, social responsibility, and economic viability at the 14th Annual New York State Environmental Excellence Awards celebration, held at Union College’s Park Hall.

DEC Commissioner Seggos said, “I am proud to present this year’s Environmental Excellence Awards to municipalities and organizations that are demonstrating outstanding leadership by adopting innovative solutions to protect our environment and strengthen our economy. These projects set a high bar for others to follow as we collectively address critical environmental issues such as fighting climate change and reducing greenhouse gas emissions, protecting pollinator habitats critical to our agricultural economy, advancing the use of electric vehicles, protecting the vitality of our waterways, and keeping potentially hazardous materials out of landfills. Congratulations to all of our outstanding award winners.”

At the event, the awards were presented by DEC acting Chief of Staff Julie Tighe. This year’s award winners are setting an example for others across the state by implementing innovative energy efficiency programs, engaging students and communities in sustainable practices, harnessing the power of creative partnerships, and generating economic growth.

The winners include:

Bethlehem School District’s Green Team (Albany County): Bethlehem School District is an outstanding model of innovative environmental education and student engagement. Almost a decade ago, the district formed a “Green Team,” a partnership of dedicated administrators, teachers, parents, and students cultivating environmental awareness, responsibility, and leadership in the district’s schools, as well as within the larger community. The district demonstrates an impressive and wide-reaching educational model that has resulted in annual accomplishments that include recycling more than 96,000 pounds of paper, composting more than 20,000 pounds of food waste, donating more than 1,000 pounds of fresh, organic produce to the Bethlehem Food Pantry, and partnering with a local restaurant to offer a special menu featuring produce grown in the school’s gardens.

Chautauqua County Department of Planning and Economic Development’s Stewardship of Aquatic Resources (Chautauqua County): Most New York municipalities collect an occupancy tax from visitors who stay in hotels, motels, and bed and breakfasts. Instead of being placed in a general fund, Chautauqua County invests the revenue in projects and programs that promote the sustainable use of its natural resources. This approach demonstrates the important connection between having healthy lakes, streams, and ponds while also enjoying a strong tourism-based economy. Over the past eight years, the county has invested $2.6 million from the hotel occupancy tax revenue in water quality improvement projects. As a result, the county has received plans for an estimated $50 million in hotel and hospitality investments. Chautauqua County’s water resource improvements include: removing nearly 14 million pounds of aquatic vegetation from Chautauqua Lake; eliminating more than 360 tons of soil entering waterways through various soil stabilization projects; and reducing nearly 400 pounds of phosphorus and 850 pounds of nitrogen from entering waterways by investing in green infrastructure such as rain gardens, vegetated swales, and porous pavements.

Hudson River Sloop Clearwater’s Great Hudson River Revival Zero Waste Initiative (Westchester County): Clearwater’s longtime strategy of inspiring, educating, and engaging people is a powerful formula for success. The Clearwater’s Great Hudson River Revival (Revival) began in 1978 as a series of small concerts to increase environmental awareness and raise funds for the Sloop Clearwater. Today, it is a national model for organizations wishing to reduce the environmental footprint of large public events. The annual revival draws up to 20,000 attendees, in addition to at least 1,500 volunteers, musicians, and vendors. Event coordinators offer a sustainable event that actively engages attendees in waste reduction, recycling, composting, and sustainable living. Composting and recycling stations are conveniently set up around the festival grounds and trained volunteers help people put things in correct bins and take care of materials disposed of incorrectly. The event has, over the past several years, diverted an impressive 80 percent of waste from landfill including 4 tons of recyclables and 33 tons of compostable material.

NYS Department of Transportation Region 4 and Seneca Park Zoo Society’s Pollinator Protection Project (Livingston County): This innovative effort by the New York State Department of Transportation’s (DOT) Region 4 office demonstrates a commitment to sustainability, motorist safety, and pollinator habitat protection. The initiative directly supports the Pollinator Protection Plan to Protect New York’s Agricultural Economy developed by Governor Andrew Cuomo’s Pollinator Task Force. In 2015, DOT Region 4 modified the mowing schedule for a six-mile section of Interstate I-390 between Route 408 (Mt. Morris) and Route 258 (Sonyea) near Rochester. This 93-acre area offers refuge for migrating monarch butterflies and other pollinators. As a result, there are now more than 18 species of naturally regenerating wildflowers and grasses providing food and habitat for pollinators. Bees and butterflies are now able to successfully complete their life-cycle without being disrupted or damaged by mowing. DOT Region 4 is working in partnership with the Seneca Park Zoo Society and two interpretive gardens are now thriving at the Mount Morris and Geneseo Rest Areas. Nearly 13,300 vehicles travel this section of I-390 each day. Educational signs at the gardens give rest area visitors information about the plight of pollinators and provide tips about what New Yorkers can do to protect these important species.

Oneida-Herkimer Solid Waste Authority’s Go Green School Recycling Program (Oneida County): Dedicated to advancing innovative solid waste solutions, the Oneida-Herkimer Solid Waste Authority has helped pioneer the greening of Oneida and Herkimer counties. The authority has been recognized as a national model for its regional recycling efforts. The authority’s Go Green School Recycling Program is an example of a well-designed and creatively implemented education/outreach and engagement program, which involves all but two of the 30 public and private school systems in the two-county area. In addition, the authority’s Recycling Educator successfully engages students, teachers, custodians, parents, and school faculty in recycling and composting programs. Participating school districts realize significant benefits, including substantially reducing waste being generated, helping to reduce greenhouse gas generation, conserving natural resources, and achieving direct cost savings. One elementary school is now annually diverting 10 tons of material from the landfill while sending 40 tons of material for recycling, which means an annual savings of nearly $2,000.

Ulster County’s Net Carbon Neutral Operations (Ulster County): Ulster County has received national recognition for its outstanding commitment to environmental stewardship and is one of only three New York municipalities certified by DEC as a Bronze Level Climate Smart Community. County leadership is dedicated to increasing the county’s energy conservation, energy efficiency, and renewable energy generation. Specifically, Ulster County is purchasing 100 percent green electricity from sustainable sources, prohibiting all food service providers from using polystyrene foam, and promoting safer alternatives; expanding and improving the operation of the composting facility at the Ulster County Resource Recovery Agency in Kingston; greening and right-sizing their vehicle fleet by adding seven plug in hybrid sedans and one all-electric vehicle in 2017; and installing a network of nine charging stations at county-owned facilities. This is the greatest number of municipal electric vehicle charging sites in the State, including New York City. The chargers, powered by renewable energy, provided nearly 1,400 charging sessions, saving more than 1,700 gallons of gas.

DEC established the Environmental Excellence Awards in 2004 to recognize those who are working to improve and protect New York’s environment and contribute to a healthier economy by advancing sustainable practices and forming creative partnerships. To date, DEC has recognized 80 award winners. They are an elite group of committed organizations leading by example and serving as models of excellence within their industry and community. Union College, host of this year’s award ceremony, was an award recipient in 2008 for its campus-wide commitment to sustainability. A statewide review committee, made up of 20 representatives from the public and private sectors, shared advice in selecting the award winners from an array of competitive applications received in May.

Mark Warford, Assistant Principal, Bethlehem Central Middle School, said, “The Bethlehem Central School District is honored to receive this prestigious award. The goal of all educational institutions is to prepare our students for the future. This includes helping them to understand the role that they play in terms of the health of our planet and empowering them to make good environmental choices. The recognition of the Bethlehem School District Green Team by the Governor’s office helps us to further promote and share this important information and move us all toward a sustainable future.”

Steve Lurie, Clearwater Festival Director, Hudson River Sloop Clearwater, said, “Thank you to the New York State DEC for this prestigious award. More than fifty years ago, Pete and Toshi Seeger founded what we now call Clearwater’s Great Hudson River Revival or The Clearwater Festival. Our Zero Waste program grew out of Toshi’s original Litter Picking Committee. Today, Zero Waste is truly a team effort consisting of more than seventy volunteers led by our wonderful coordinators MJ Wilson and Susan Mayer, Clearwater Festival staff, our vendors as well as the great staff at Croton Point Park. Throughout the festival the volunteers help educate attendees about why recycling, composting and striving towards zero waste is so crucially important for our environment, which we all share. Clearwater is truly grateful to receive this award and we hope to continue to honor Pete and Toshi’s legacy for years to come.”

State Department of Transportation Chief of Staff Cathy Calhoun said, “We strive to build and maintain our transportation system with an eye towards reducing impacts to the natural environment in keeping with Governor Cuomo’s commitment to protecting nature and wildlife in New York State. The simple act of delaying mowing along our ‘Butterfly Beltway’ encourages growth in the monarch butterfly population and protects pollinator food sources, keeping the I-390 corridor in sync with the surrounding landscape.”

Pamela Reed Sanchez, Executive Director, Seneca Park Zoo Society, said, “Being recognized by DEC with this award, and for this partnership, is vitally important for the Seneca Park Zoo Society to achieve our vision of being a national leader in education and conservation action for species survival. The increased exposure to our mission and vision will help us take the next steps to ensure this vision is achieved.”

Emily M. Albright, Director of Recycling, Oneida-Herkimer Solid Waste Authority, said, “The Authority is committed to environmental education and introducing lifelong recycling habits at an early age. We are honored to be receiving this award.”

“I firmly believe that we have a fundamental obligation to protect our pristine environment for all our citizens as well as for future generations,” said Ulster County Executive Mike Hein. “This recognition is both personally humbling and a strong testament to the work my administration has done, in conjunction with amazing partners, to deliver meaningful environmental stewardship. It is an honor to be recognized as the only net carbon neutral county in the State of New York, in addition to having the highest concentration of municipal electric vehicle charging stations and committing to purchase of all our electricity from renewable sources.”

For additional information about the program and past winners, and to learn about applying for the 2018 Environmental Excellence Awards, visit DEC’s website.

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