Crunchy-granola, us? Somewhat

By Rick Gershman
Published May 25, 2007

Everyone can help conserve natural resources at home, and every little bit helps.

But environmentalism is just as important at the city level, advocates say. For years, they've pressed Tampa officials to work harder to "go green."

Results have been mixed. The City Council declined last month to support a resolution, initiated by council member John Dingfelder, that would have offered incentives to developers who build environmentally sensitive buildings. The council will hold a workshop later.

But some action is afoot. Environmentalists have another vocal advocate in council member Linda Saul-Sena, and city staffers presented a report to the council last week indicating efforts they're taking to get greener.

The presentation to the council, "Greening Tampa, " was by David McCary, director of the city's department of solid waste and environmental program management.

McCary told council members about forming a "City Green Team" of six city staffers who will manage core elements in making Tampa more green-friendly.

The efforts include recycling, conserving energy, improving water quality and buying environmentally friendly products.

The city also wants to improve air quality by using alternative fuels and transportation. That includes hybrid vehicles that are being used in a pilot program.

McCary cautioned that the city needs to be careful to balance green ideals with economic realities.

Each of the city's six hybrid cars cost $6, 600 more than a standard vehicle, which McCary said was "within reason." But when an employee asked about purchasing a particular 2 1/2-ton hybrid truck, it would have doubled that vehicle's cost from $60, 000 to $120, 000 - an unacceptable margin. The city didn't buy the hybrid truck.

"Just for the sake of calling it 'green, ' the hybrid version increased the cost by 100 percent, " he said. "This is what I mean when I say 'calculated' steps. We have to be stewards of your dollars and the taxpayers' dollars."

Other elements of the plan are water conservation, addition and maintenance of bicycle and walking trails, and improvement of mass transit.

While Tampa has never been considered a leader in green efforts, these are steps in the right direction, a local environmentalist said.

"The Sierra Club has been striving to encourage Tampa to try to become a green city for many years now, " said Bev Griffiths.

She's the chairwoman of the organization's Tampa Bay Group, which was "very excited" when Mayor Pam Iorio signed a climate protection agreement in February. The agreement, through the U.S. Conference of Mayors, urges administrations to enact policies and programs to reduce global warming pollution and promote positive climate change.

Iorio also has been a major advocate of mass transit, especially light rail, a key issue for Griffiths' group. Members also hope the city will do a carbon dioxide emissions inventory, an estimate of the amount of air pollutants discharged into the atmosphere by various sources over a given time.

During last week's meeting, Saul-Sena wanted to make sure the city was taking basic steps too.

She asked McCary: "Are we looking at the increased costs of our own buildings, like looking at turning off the lights at night, lowering the thermostat at night, making sure that any additional city reconstruction or new construction is as energy-friendly and green as possible?"

McCary assured her that those all were elements of the program.

Council member Joseph Caetano asked how much the "green team" would cost the city.

Cost should be minimal, McCary replied. The program, he said, seeks to help current managers think "outside the Dumpster" and add green methods without greatly adding costs.

Rick Gershman can be reached at rgershman@sptimes.com or 226-3431.