For Immediate Release: October 19, 2000

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Region 4 today honored recipients of its inaugural Environmental Merit Award at the Jimmy Carter Presidential Center in Atlanta, Georgia. These awards were presented in recognition of the creative and productive activities of those outside of EPA in the Southeast who are working in their communities to sustain our natural systems and promote environmental stewardship. The Environmental Merit Awards program provides the Agency an opportunity to reach out to individuals, states, Federal partners, local governments, stakeholder groups, businesses and others who have made specific contributions in 1999-2000 to improve the environment.

"Those honored today have gone above and beyond the call of duty to address public health and natural resource protection issues of concern and, in so doing, have made this region a better place for all of us," said John H. Hankinson, Jr., EPA Regional Administrator in Atlanta. "They have demonstrated that hard work and collaborative problem solving can bring positive environmental results."

The Agency sought nominations of individuals and groups throughout the Southeast who have made special efforts to identify environmental problems or needs and have worked to address them by utilizing innovative techniques and/or successful collaborations with others. As a result, 47 winners were selected from more than 250 nominations. The award categories included individuals, businesses, governmental and not-for-profit organizations from EPA Region 4 (Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina and Tennessee).

A list of the Local, State, Tribal & Federal Government award winners and a description of their projects is attached.

EPA Region 4 2000 Environmental Merit Award Winners

Alabama Cooperative Extension System's Radon Education Program

The State of Alabama currently has no laws or regulations pertaining to radon and the elimination of radon gases from buildings, homes and other structures. An effective outreach program is the only method applicable to create awareness about this serious, life-threatening indoor air pollutant. Since the Alabama program's inception in October 1997, the goal in the 15 counties with high radon levels has been to create awareness about radon and its health risks and to take action to reduce its risks. This has been accomplished through a web site with links to other partnering radon-related agencies and organizations, exhibits, publications and various forms of media coverage. In addition, a non-traditional partnership was formed with the National Speleological Society to add scientific knowledge and enhance the overall understanding of an environment conducive to uranium decay products and their movement. The Southern Regional Radon Training Center is offering a class that teaches homeowners about radon, mitigation and radon-resistant new construction. New partnerships are being formed with homebuilders associations, building code and county officials and the Governor of Alabama. There has been an increasing response from individuals to test their dwellings and seek help and further advice when confirmed elevated radon levels are found in their homes. The success of this program is due to fostering partnerships and uniting homebuilders and homeowners with the common goal of reducing radon levels in Alabama.

Battery Island, North Carolina Bird Habitat Preservation

Battery Island supports the largest colony of wading birds in North Carolina, including 90% of nesting white ibises. This habitat restoration project's goal was to stabilize the shoreline and prevent further loss of the trees that birds need for nesting. The project used many innovative techniques, including lining the shore with large, sand-filled geotubes and filling the area behind the tubes with dredged sand. Not only was the habitat preserved, but the channel was clear for boating. The project was sponsored by the North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources. Other partnering agencies included the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission, North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, National Marine Fisheries Service and the National Audubon Society. This was also the first completed Section 204 project (Beneficial Use of Dredged Material for Ecosystem Restoration) in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, South Atlantic Division. The cooperation of federal and state agencies, non-profit organizations and the public was instrumental in the success of this project.

City of Chattanooga, TN

In less than two decades, the City of Chattanooga has become a nationally recognized leader in sustainable development and citizen partnership. In 1969, the City adopted an Air Pollution Control Ordinance after being cited for having the worst air pollution in the country. By 1989, the City was recognized for being the first metropolitan area to achieve the Ozone Air Quality Standard from non-attainment status. During this time, citizens led several initiatives to improve their own neighborhoods. A community-wide planning process called Vision 2000 lead to innovative plans for revitalizing the once industrialized downtown area. The Tennessee Aquarium, restaurants, shops and a public park now reside on a former brownfield site. The cumulative success of these efforts has led to a "can do" attitude that has united residents, community leaders and state and Federal officials. It has also enabled the City and its residents to meet diverse redevelopment goals, accomplish community improvement projects, improve environmental conditions and create strategies for sustainable development.

Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, NC

The Cherokee Tribal Utilities implemented a successful sanitation program by constructing a waste transfer station and closing an open dump in partnership with several other Tribal and Federal agencies. The station receives and sorts solid waste on the reservation and transports it off site for appropriate disposal and sale. They also receive, sort and transport solid waste from two neighboring counties. The Tribal Utilities conducts a recycling education program in the schools and the community. They recycle many items, including cardboard, plastic, glass, aluminum, used oil, tires and paper and have supported a reservation-wide cleanup effort by launching roadside cleanups and posting signs prohibiting littering.

Forsyth/Hall Counties and the City of Gainesville, GA

The counties of Forsyth and Hall and the City of Gainesville forged a unique partnership to develop plans for protecting the watersheds in their jurisdiction, including Lake Lanier, the primary water supply source for metropolitan Atlanta. The purpose of the Community Watershed Assessment Project was to identify causes of water resource degradation in their watersheds and to work with government and private entities to reduce non-point source pollution. These three governments recognized that a collaborative approach to the assessment of existing conditions, water quality modeling and long-term watershed management strategies would be critical to the protection of this important resource. In 1999, these entities developed an intergovernmental agreement to complete the required studies and develop compatible watershed management plans. They formed a Technical Advisory Committee and held a series of community watershed meetings to educate stakeholders and solicit input on the proposed management plans. This approach increased public awareness of watershed management issues and potential solutions and led to stakeholder endorsement of the recommendations.

Governor's Commission for a Sustainable South Florida

In 1994, Former Florida Governor Lawton Chiles created this Commission and charged it with the task of developing bipartisan consensus recommendations and public support for regaining a healthy Everglades ecosystem with a sustainable economy and quality communities. He chose more than 40 individuals who represented a majority of the divergent groups with special interests in South Florida and the Everglades ecosystem. The Commission included representatives from local governments, business interests, environmental education and public interest groups, state and Federal agencies, regional planning councils, Indian Tribes, citizens and the Florida Legislature. Former Florida House Speaker and State Senator Richard Pettigrew was appointed to chair the Commission. The Commission faced the challenge of how to bring about change that will affect Floridians now and in the future while ensuring quality community development both economically and ecologically. In response to this challenge, the Commission produced an initial report outlining 110 recommendations. Issues addressed in this report included improved coordination between all levels of government, development of alternative water supplies and enhanced pollution prevention programs. In addition, numerous other reports and outreach materials were produced. The Commission has been instrumental in creating an awareness of the need to work cooperatively to regain a healthy Everglades ecosystem.

Hancock County Board of Supervisors, Hancock County Water and Sewer District and Hancock County Chamber of Commerce, Bay St. Louis, MS

Each of these groups brought together people in the community to develop a strategic plan for the management of wastewater in Hancock County. The community initiated the effort to find solutions to the impairment of local water bodies from malfunctioning septic tanks and improve public health from the threat of drinking water contamination in private wells. Through community planning and consensus building, support from the public, business and political sectors has generated more than $15 million in grants and loans for wastewater collection lines. It is projected that by the end of fiscal year 2001, wastewater collection and treatment will be available to all homes and businesses in Southern Hancock County. This was accomplished through an implementation plan developed at the grassroots level. Partnerships were formed bringing local expertise, contacts and resources to the group. Twenty-six organizations, agencies and businesses participated in this effort, including small businesses, industries and individuals. Through this process, a unified solution was developed to address the problem.

Kentucky Natural Resources & Environmental Protection Cabinet, Frankfort, KY

The "Clean Up Kentucky" program is a far-reaching, innovative effort to improve and preserve Kentucky's land, air and water resources. One main target of the program is illegal dumping. There are an estimated 1,100 illegal dumps throughout the Commonwealth of Kentucky. Hidden video cameras have been placed by the Cabinet at illegal dump sites across the state and have recorded people in the act of illegal dumping. Investigators have issued more than 1,000 notices of violations to illegal dumpers. These individuals have collected over 1,800 tons of garbage as part of their restitution and eliminated 297 illegal dump sites. If investigators cannot identify the illegal dumpers, their picture is posted on the Cabinet's web site. A toll-free hotline number has been established so citizens can report illegal dumpers and dump sites.

Marine Corps Recruit Depot, Parris Island, SC

The Depot is largely a non-industrial facility that is committed to reducing its impact on the environment in all operations. The Depot houses the largest volume dry cleaning facility in South Carolina. Perchloroethylene was used as a cleaning solvent and produced 9,000 pounds of hazardous waste annually. The new dry cleaning operation recovers and reuses its cleaning solvent completely eliminating any hazardous waste material. This initiative also has decreased air emissions. Changing equipment at the wastewater treatment plant reduced the need for storage of excess chlorine and sulfur dioxide. As a result, stored hazardous materials were reduced from 8,000 to 2,400 pounds. Other accomplishments include the recovery of more than 3,300 tons of recyclable materials, a 38% reduction in hazardous waste stream and procurement of Freon Leak detection kits. Environmental compliance is a fundamental requirement of the Depot's mission.

South Carolina Forestry Commission, Columbia, SC

The Commission adopted a set of silvicultural best management practices (BMPs) to help reduce non-point source runoff associated with timber harvesting. These pro-active logging practices are improving the state's water quality. One component of the program provides voluntary courtesy BMP exams to forest landowners, foresters and forestry operators followed by site-specific recommendations regarding BMP implementation. Recommendations may include stream side management zones, forest road construction and harvesting systems. The main idea is to leave buffers around work areas to keep exposed soil from washing into the waterways. Education is another major component of the program. Forestry BMP Specialists conduct training throughout the state, which are tailored to the unique operating conditions in each physiographic region. This innovative program has proven to be very effective in increasing the BMP compliance rate statewide and is being used as a model by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration for the section 6217 Coastal Non-point Pollution Control Program.

Tampa Bay National Estuary Program, St. Petersburg, FL

The Tampa Bay Estuary Program is a model for successful watershed management on a grassroots level. It is a partnership of three counties, three major cities, nine smaller cities and regional, state and Federal agencies. A detailed interlocal agreement has been adopted, in which the partners have formally committed to achieving the goals outlined in the Comprehensive Conservation and Management Plan for Tampa Bay. This agreement is the first of its kind for a National Estuary Program and has reorganized the program as an independent regional alliance demonstrating the commitment of community leaders and the public. The Tampa Bay Nitrogen Management Consortium is a unique public-private partnership created to address nitrogen pollution, the primary threat facing the bay. Membership includes local and state agencies as well as key industries. The program has also coordinated multi-jurisdictional monitoring that tracks key parameters for assessing the bay's ecological health. The program has been the catalyst for bringing diverse and previously contentious groups together in a strong alliance dedicated to the achievement of specific, measurable goals for bay improvement.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Folkston, GA

The majority of the Okefenokee Swamp, a world renown blackwater peat wetland in southeastern Georgia and northeastern Florida, is managed by the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge. A wide variety of habitats, including cypress-blackgum forest and scrubland, support at least 1,000 different species of plants and animals. Over the years, the refuge has shifted to an ecosystem management approach by developing effective and lasting partnerships with environmental groups, landowners, local governments and other private citizens that maintain a stake in the future of southeast Georgia. The refuge staff has worked diligently with its partners to educate the public about the biological and hydrological threats to the swamp from a proposed titanium mine. They have also co-founded the Suwannee River Basin Interagency Alliance in conjunction with the Suwannee River Water Management District. This alliance has significantly improved agency coordination in the basin and will ultimately lead to a basin-wide interstate river management plan. In addition, the State of Georgia, the National Wildlife Federation, Safari Club International, local businesses and government agencies have partnered with the refuge in a $1.4 million renovation of the Visitor Center. The Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge staff has consistently worked to ensure long-term protection of the swamp and promote the needs and future of the human communities in southeast Georgia.

Waste Management Team, Auburn University, AL

The Waste Management Team was formed to develop educational materials and programs to support Alabama's agricultural sector in their efforts to comply with new Animal Feed Operator/Certified Animal Feed Operator regulations. It is a multi-disciplinary team comprised of faculty from the College of Agriculture, the Alabama Cooperative Extension System, and representatives from the state Natural Resources Conservation Service offices, Alabama Department of Environmental Management and the Department of Agriculture and Industries. Educational materials have been developed on Nutrient Management Planning and the Certified Animal Waste Vendor Program, both of which are targeted towards livestock and poultry producers. Numerous educational meetings and training sessions have been held to assist these groups. The efforts of this team have greatly contributed to maintaining water quality within the state of Alabama. They have been recognized throughout the state and nationally as a leader in providing the necessary guidance and training at the producer, company and state levels.



Hancock County Water & Sewer District is an Equal Opportunity Service Provider & Employer