Flying cars? Not yet. Colonies on Mars? Still no. But that doesn’t mean we can’t think big. In this new section of Evansville Business, we’ll challenge the innovators, trendsetters, and leaders of the community to spark public conversation. The questions we’ll pose to them: How can we make Evansville a better place to live? How can we attract businesses? What would make people want to work in the River City?
A few parameters for the query: “Impossible” is a useless word, funding needs no consideration, and concrete details are for future discussion. Otherwise, we’d thwart the real effort to think big. We don’t want limitations, yet. We want vision and possibility. There’ll be time to naysay it later.
Here, inspired by our Green Issue, we asked Dona Bergman, the city’s director of the department of sustainability, energy, and environmental quality, to think about Evansville’s future. She is the perfect guinea pig for such an experiment because Bergman’s job is to look “for creative ways to find green initiatives,” she says. We want from her energy-efficient ideas to save the city money and show businesses that the third largest city in Indiana is a place where progress is on the forefront of our minds.
First, though, a message from Bergman: We are a progressive town ahead of the curve in many green policies. “There are a lot of things we do that are quite progressive, but what we fail to do is promote that. We have Midwestern modesty, and we don’t blow our horn as well as others,” she says. “Wesselman Woods Nature Preserve does recycling. We did the LED street lights in 2004. We capture methane gas from a wastewater treatment plant, and we burn it to help power the plant. We have hybrid buses. We have a no idling policy. We have the Front Door homes (a city-backed program to revitalize an urban neighborhood), probably the most energy-efficient homes in Southern Indiana. We have a city arborist who raises his own trees. We have a two-for-one tree planting policy. If we take down a tree on a public space, we put two in its place. We have one of two surviving air pollution control agencies in Indiana (good job, Hammond). Give us a few million more dollars, we could do even more.”
And those are just the achievements Bergman can rattle off the top of her head. What follows is the immediate future.
Backed by a $1.2 million federal grant, Bergman hired Energy Systems Group of Newburgh to perform energy audits on the major city buildings and the county jail. From there, they develop a game plan, including upgrades
and retrofits in every firehouse and replacement of the lighting in public parking garages with energy-efficient alternatives. When the energy audit reports are completed later this year, the city and ESG will enter into energy savings performance contracts, which guarantee the city will realize the energy savings promised. If the city doesn’t save the amount ESG promises, then ESG cuts them a check to make up the difference. If the city saves more than ESG predicts, “that’s gravy,” Bergman says. “We get to keep that. It’s a way to minimize the risk for the taxpayers and really stretch those energy-efficiency block grant dollars.” That means the $1.2 million grant could leverage out to $2.5 million in energy saved.
Expected completion date: End of 2011.
Out now is a request for proposals from Bergman’s department for recycling stations at high-traffic, high-visibility areas such as the Civic Center Complex and popular parks. The company that wins the bid “will install very attractive, combination recycling and waste container stations,” Bergman says. “That company would handle collection of the waste, proper disposal of the recyclables, repair, maintenance, cleaning — the whole bit.” And that company will make money on the effort by selling sponsorships or advertising on those recycling containers. The idea is like the advertising seen on public bus benches, and Bergman expects these recycling bins to be installed by the end of the year.
Cost to the taxpayer: $0.
Gas prices are hovering around $4, and this June, the City of Evansville is encouraging Evansvillians to ride buses with “Free Fridays,” which, as the name suggests, means there is no charge for riding city buses on Fridays. Should the Environmental Protection Agency issue an ozone alert (a government-issued declaration of an unhealthy amount of pollutants in the air) on any day this summer, free bus rides are available for everyone that day. To support free days, the city has found funds from a federal grant.
Length of program: Now through the end of summer.
These programs fit into the larger scope of how to make Evansville a better place to live, and if Bergman had her druthers, Southern Indiana would be a healthier region for our grandchildren and great grandchildren. “If I could come in another life in 50 years or 100 years,” says Bergman, “I’d love to see more bikeways and pathways and less big-box stores — a city where people can walk safely to their grocery store or school. The water is clear, and the lead is out of the soil. I always work for a utopia even though it is not necessarily achievable.”