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West Orange Lauded for Environmental Initiatives at Earth Hour Event

Cynthia Cumming

Thursday, March 27, 2014 • 1:27am

WEST ORANGE, NJ - On Tuesday, March 25, West Orange was applauded by state and county agencies for its green initiatives at a special Earth Hour Event sponsored by the West Orange Environmental Commission at Thomas Edison National Historical Park.

Saturday, March, 29, is the annual Earth Hour event, when over 1 billion people in 154 countries worldwide will turn their lights out from 8:30 to 9:30 p.m. in support of energy conservation and a broad range of conservation issues. The initiative originated in Sydney, Australia in 2007 and has grown exponentially across the globe since. West Orange is an official Earth Hour national sponsor.

The Empire State Building, the Freedom Towers, homes, and buildings across the seven continents will turn off their lights between 8:30 and 9:30 p.m. This year's tag line: "Use Your Power" at Earth Hour.org, along with Spiderman, Earth Hour's Official Ambassador for 2014, was noted at the WOEC's presentation.

Mike Brick, Chairperson of the West Orange Energy Commission, was enthusiastic about the efforts of West Orange, and excited that the West Orange Energy Commission had evolved into the West Orange Environmental Commission, allowing for grant opportunities and additional efforts to define West Orange as a green community. Brick referenced the commission's cooperation with TENHP and light bulb developer Bob Rosenzweig in the township's efforts to connect history and energy efficiency.

Brick recognized the Downtown West Orange Alliance, who is utilizing Edison's squirrelcage bulbs in various businesses along Main Street, and also plans to develop vertical gardens, water gardens, and green roof gardens along the Main Street corridor in the near future.

Tom Ross, TENHP Director, welcomed guests as he referenced TENHP as an "environmentally friendly park" that educates visitors about energy sustainability practices.

With their ongoing partnerships with the Thomas Edison National Historical Park, the Essex County Environmental Center in Roseland, the National Audobon Society, and the Rutgers Cooperative Extension, West Orange continues to be on the cutting edge of environmental initiatives.

The township was lauded for their efforts by Amy Rowe of Rutgers, for rainwater storage and cooperation with the Passaic Valley Sewerage Commission in the management of flooding issues along the Rahway River Watershed, and cooperation with the 1,000 Raingardens effort.

Council President Susan McCartney, who is township liasion for the WOEC, noted how important it was "for us to work with each other to take ordinary things and make them extraordinary."

In April 2013, it was announced that West Orange had received a Sustainable Bronze Certification. The certification is voluntary but difficult to to accomplish. To achieve certification, the township had to 'submit documentation to show it has completed a balance of the program’s sustainability actions, meeting a minimum of 150 points.' From a possible list of 117 actions, a town usually selects 10-12 to achieve the necessary points. West Orange received a score of 170.

Some of these actions included areas like commitment to environmental stewardship, community gardens, supporting local businesses, conservation of energy and water, waste reduction and recycling. In addition to reaching the required points, each community has to create a Green Team and select at least two (for bronze-level) of the seven priority actions that include 'energy audits for municipal buildings, a municipal carbon footprint, a sustainable land use pledge, a natural resource inventory, a water conservation ordinance, a fleet inventory, and/or Energy Star Portfolio Manager.'

Also in April of 2013, West Orange was named a Tree City, USA, for the seventeenth year in a row. The national accreditation comes from the Arbor Day Foundation, in partnership with the U.S. Forest Service and the National Association of State Foresters. To qualify, the township had to meet four program requirements: a tree board or department, a tree-care ordinance, an annual community forestry budget of at least $2 per capita and an Arbor Day observance and proclamation. John Rosenow, founder and chief executive of the Arbor Day Foundation, said: "Everyone benefits when elected officials, volunteers and committed citizens in communities like West Orange make smart investments in urban forests.”

In September of 2013, West Orange began Single Stream, or commingled recycling, for residents. This initiative allowed residents to place all recycling at the curb on their specified recycling days. Paper, newspapers, paperboard - e.g., cereal boxes), soft cover books, and corrugated cardboard (separately bound); plastics, metals (e.g.. tin, aluminum, and steel) may all be placed on a resident's weekly refuse pickup (Monday, Tuesday, or Wednesday depending on your zone), can be placed curbside, with the caveat that the items cannot be bagged in plastic as it gets entwined in the trucks' mechanisms. Single stream recycling will generate $1.09 million dollars in savings over the course of the five year contract.

The township also operates an extensive recycling center on Mt. Pleasant Avenue.

Kelly Wenzel, a West Orange resident who works for the NJ Audobon Society, applauded the township for its conservation efforts and its commitment to 'connect with nature and provide stewardship for the future," two of the goals of the Audobon Society itself.

Tara Casella of Essex County Executive Joe DiVincenzo's office acknowledged West Orange for its integral participation in Essex County Parks, including the Environmental Center in Roseland( The Essex County Gingerbread Sustainable Homes and Habitat Contest received an Excellence in Educational or Interpretive Programming Award) and South Mountain Recreation Complex, which includes Turtle Back Zoo. 

Matha Van Loon, a science teacher at Edison Middle School, who along with fellow science teacher Joanne Kornoelje and Principal Xavier Fitzgerald, have labored for the past several years to establish Edison Green Gardens, a community garden, at EMS, spoke about their efforts and excitement to provide an opportunity for residents to grow fruits and vegetables that would also benefit the less fortunate in the West Orange community.

Public elementary and middle schools have been recognized in their efforts for flower, community and tree gardens in township sustaintability and environmental efforts.

At West Orange High School, AP Environmental Science teacher Pete Ficuciello heads the Fight for Green Club, who continues to advocate for green initiatives at the high school and throughout the community.

The speakers at the Earth Hour support event expressed their appreciation of the West Orange Community and its extensive initiatives to develop a sustainable sensibility in the township.

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