Group Pitches ‘Green’ Coordinator To City

Network: Sustainability Chief Would Save H’Burg Big Bucks

Posted: April 8, 2013

HARRISONBURG — The Harrisonburg Rockingham Green Network has asked City Council to add a sustainability coordinator to oversee a systematic reduction of Harrisonburg’s carbon footprint.

For fiscal 2014, though, the request comes late in the planning process.

City Manager Kurt Hodgen will unveil a draft budget for fiscal 2013 to City Council on Tuesday. The spending plan would take effect July 1 and end June 30, 2014.

Hodgen will wait for direction from council before looking at adding a sustainability coordinator, city spokeswoman Mary-Hope Vass said.

The cost of the position, including benefits, would be around $60,000, said Joni Grady, a member of the network’s steering committee.

“Spend a little money now to save a lot of money in the future,” she said.

The green network exists primarily to inform the public and government about energy conservation and its long- and short-term benefits.

Charles Hendricks, the network’s vice chairman, said “staggering” savings could await the city if it committed to a coordinator, although no estimates were provided.

Hendricks owns the Gaines Group, an architectural firm with offices in Harrisonburg and Charlottesville, which already has a sustainability coordinator. Hendricks says the position has made a positive impact on the city.

“The old buildings we have [in Harrisonburg],” Hendricks said, “small changes could make a huge difference.”

For example, his Harrisonburg office is in the downtown Bank of America building, which has no insulation or central heating and cooling, while its windows are also “old and leaky,” he said.

 A coordinator could oversee changes to city-owned buildings while offering the private sector advice.

Hendricks said the city wouldn’t necessarily have to employ expensive, high-tech conservation equipment.

“You’ve got to do the easy stuff,” Hendricks said, referring to low-tech practices such as insulation, energy-efficient lighting and making sure heat and air conditioning isn’t escaping through open windows and doors.

The city is planning to renovate its downtown office space, a project that will include moving many departments out of the Municipal Building, which has numerous mechanical and structural issues.

According to the green network, the coordinator would promote greenways, bike paths and urban gardens; enhance recycling efforts; evaluate emissions controls; and oversee development of solar and wind energy projects, among other duties.

Councilman Richard Baugh said he and fellow representative Kai Degner have talked about a sustainability staff member for years. The full panel also broached the subject at a January work session.

“You’re going to see more and more places talking about it,” Baugh said.

No city department is solely responsible for studying energy efficiency or sustainability of a given project, but those issues are addressed, he added.

“That’s what [the position] would bring to the table,” Baugh said.

Councilman Abe Shearer said the city would have to ensure that such a position wouldn’t simply replicate what other staff members are already doing.

“We have to be careful not to just create a new position with a fancy name that, in fact, just steps on the toes of existing employees,” he said. “It’s a valid concept, but at this point lacking in details.”

Councilman Charles Chenault suggests the position be paired with a new bicycle and pedestrian coordinator, a job he has supported creating.

He notes that the city already has a stream health coordinator for Blacks Run.

“Abe’s raised some good questions,” Chenault said. “Who is going to control it? …  It certainly hasn’t been formally before us.”

Mayor Ted Byrd was out of the area and declined comment in an email Friday, while Degner could not immediately be reached.

Contact Preston Knight at 574-6272 or pknight@dnronline.com



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