McKees Solar Park

Newarkers will soon have the option to pay a bit more for electricity in order to have their power come from 100 percent renewable sources, such as McKees Solar Park off Cleveland Avenue, pictured here.

2020 is a year all of us would rather forget. Yet even in the face of social distancing and remote working, the City of Newark made real progress in making our city more environmentally sustainable.

Each January, the Conservation Advisory Commission (CAC), comprised of nine citizen volunteers appointed by the mayor and council to advise the council on environmental policy and programs, reports its accomplishments to city council. The CAC annual report for 2020 tells the story of not just the CAC’s efforts but also those of engaged citizens, city government staff, businesses, schools and organizations – all of whom collaborated and persevered to make Newark more sustainable in 2020.

Much of the CAC’s work is guided by the city’s new Sustainability Plan, adopted by the city council in late 2019. I encourage interested citizens to review the Sustainability Plan, which is available on the city’s website (https://newarkde.gov/1067/Newark-Community-Sustainability-Plan). Here are the highpoints of the CAC’s work last year and why it matters to the city:

1. Helped citizens take conservation actions: We raise citizen awareness about the importance of conservation and sustainability by writing Conservation Corner articles (like this one!), posts on the city’s Facebook page, and participating in City events like Community Day. Sharing our work with citizens and getting their conservation ideas helps make the city more sustainable.

2. Promoted the planting of native trees and shrubs: We could not hold the third-annual Newark Reforestation Day in November due to the pandemic, so instead we planted native shrubs and trees at Curtis Mill Park. The CAC also helped re-write the city’s landscape screening and treatment ordinance, which will help more trees be saved or replanted during development projects. These efforts help Newark retain our Tree City designation by The Arbor Day Foundation, while also cleaning our air, shading us in summer, and giving wildlife native habitat.

3. Reduced plastic straw use in the city: We helped city council pass a resolution to encourage city restaurants to reduce their use of plastic straws. Thousands of plastic straws are used each day in Newark, so reducing their use means less plastic waste on our streets, in our waterways and heading to our landfills. Plastic takes thousands of years to decay, so not using a straw can help our environment for thousands of years in the future.

4. Raised citizen awareness about Newark’s anti-idling ordinance for clean air: We discussed with the Newark Police Department the challenges of enforcing the ordinance. We also launched a social media campaign to discourage idling. Idling is a big contributor to air pollution in the city. Not idling saves money, gas and keeps our air and lungs clean.

5. Made the city’s building code more environmentally friendly: We recommended that city council accept the revisions to the city’s building code developed by the planning commission. The revised code will mean that more sustainable buildings that use less energy and pollute less are built in Newark.

6. Promoted green energy projects: We allocated green energy funding to partially pay for the city’s Seiberlich Trane energy efficiency solar project, which will help the city generate solar power using the roofs of its buildings and decrease their energy usage. Plus, we recommended that the city allow Newark’s electricity customers to purchase 100 percent renewable energy, an idea that a citizen brought to the CAC.

7. Supported an innovative UD food waste recycling proposal to the National Science Foundation: The project would use food waste as inputs for new materials. We hope this groundbreaking project is funded.

The CAC will continue its conservation work in 2021. We invite Newark citizens to get engaged with making Newark a leader in sustainability. Through collaboration and cooperation, we can all make Newark a great and a green place to live and work.

The Conservation Advisory Commission was created in 1977 to advise the city of Newark in the development, management and protection of its natural resources, with appropriate consideration of Newark’s human and economic resources. It meets the second Tuesday of each month at 7 p.m. in council chambers. The public is invited to attend and provide input. Commission members provide this monthly column to inform area residents on conservation issues.

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