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Effort’s Under Way to Green Guilford

August 1, 2008

By Gerald Witt, News & Record, Greensboro, N.C.

Aug. 1–If Guilford County is going to work together to protect the environment, then it must gather its greenies.

That means developers, environmentalists, politicians and regular people must trade ideas, according to Green Guilford, a plan that would help unite those groups to improve the air, water and land.

On Thursday, environmentalists, a Deep Roots Market manager, a High Point city administrator, economic developers, a professor, Guilford County staffers and others agreed to send the plan to the county commissioners for review.

But getting it past the board, and the public, may be tougher than it appears.

“You have to do outreach and public education to get even elected officials to pay attention,” said Carolyn Allen, former Greensboro mayor and self-termed “tree hugger.”

Education and organization are major components of the tentative plan, along with:

–Supporting government purchases of environmentally-friendly goods. –Creating a neighborhood sustainability advisory board. –Tapping into existing soil and water conservation groups.

A Web site driven by the coalition could result, according to Guilford County’s director of community and economic development, Rob Bencini, who is organizing the group called Green Guilford.

Bencini stressed that the group is still in the planning stages — it must get past the Guilford County Board of Commissioners, where the topic of money is sure to arise. So far, no specific dollar amounts have been mentioned.

And the plan needs refining, which may come when it goes before the county commissioners in an Aug. 12 work session.

“It needs widespread support from the staff and county commissioners,” said Kim Yarbray, fundraising chairwoman for the Sierra Club’s Piedmont Plateau Group.

Yarbray worked to help Greensboro become a “Cool City” in 2007, which means that by 2012, the city committed to lowering its greenhouse gas emissions by 7 percent of its 1990 levels.

A solid goal also is needed for Green Guilford, she said: “With unknown landscapes, people get scared.”

Another, loftier aim is to make a multijurisdictional group to drive positive environmental impact, a page stolen from King County, the home of Seattle. There, the Puget Sound Partnership united 11 counties, businesses, developers, Native American tribes and activists to clean water for salmon — a mainstay in the Pacific Northwest economy.

“The more buy-in we get, the greater it would be,” Bencini said of Guilford’s plan to borrow from that partnership.

But gaining that buy-in could be the biggest challenge. The relationships among Guilford County’s cities can get tense when regional projects — even those for a greater good — get underway.

For example, the Randleman dam project to create a reservoir for High Point, Greensboro and other municipal water supplies was fraught with construction delays and other holdups; by the end, several municipalities accused others of dragging their feet to finish.

And water conservation and quality is no small issue, particularly on the heels of 2007′s severe drought, whose effects still linger as Guilford County heads into another round of August temperatures.

Clean air is another green concern for the county where Interstates 40 and 85 connect. The EPA in 2005 cited the county for high soot levels in the air.

As groups rise to handle those and other environmental issues, public attention naturally goes to the problems.

But the county would benefit to band those groups — and effort — together, according to the Green Guilford plan.

“We have so many groups that are not talking,” Bencini said. “How do we make it work?”

Contact Gerald Witt at 373-7008 or gerald.witt@news-record.com

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Copyright (c) 2008, News & Record, Greensboro, N.C.

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