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Green Dunedin going for the gold
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The Dunedin Community Center was the first LEED certified green building in the city and was one of the first green municipal buildings to be built in the state.
DUNEDIN – The leaders and residents of Dunedin have made great strides toward becoming environmentally sustainable, but they have even more green goals in the works.

At the end of 2007, Dunedin became one of the first local governments in Florida to earn silver-level Green Local Government status by the Florida Green Building Coalition. Now Dunedin’s City Commission has its sights set on gold status, said Valerie Lane, sustainability coordinator for Dunedin.

The Green Local Government program is basically a point-based checklist for various governmental departments to take steps toward being more sustainable, Lane said. The city achieved silver status without having to do much more than it was already doing, Lane said. The biggest thing was to document its efforts, she said.

To get to gold status, the city is considering things such as establishing a community garden, building more Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design certified green buildings, and, establishing an excellent sidewalk and trail network throughout the city, going to a citywide recycling program Lane said.

“Climate change and global warming is something we’re all aware of and it’s something each of us can help fix and make sure our community is going to be sustainable,” Lane said. “So looking at things like what do our sidewalk and bike trail network look like? If someone wanted to go from the north part of the city to the south part of the city on a bike, could they do it safely?”

Lane said if such a network is in place and more people ride bikes, they will be healthier, there will be less pollution, there will be less traffic clogging the roads, and they will save money on gas. This touches on all three components that sustainability looks at – the environment, the economy and people.

A few years ago, the city built one of the first green municipal buildings in the state – the Dunedin Community Center – said Mayor Bob Hackworth. The city has already seen financial savings from the community center, which was the city’s first LEED certified green building, said Robert DiSpirito, Dunedin city manager.

“As we move forward, we certainly will pursue LEED certification, even if that means in some cases some additional up-front costs,” DiSpirito said. “We know that the benefits in the lifetime of the building will certainly pay out in energy conservation, and we’re making wise use of resources like recycled materials that can serve as a demonstration project.”

Hackworth said that by the government building green, the city sets an example for other developers, showing that it is environmentally as well as financially responsible to build green. The city also will give financial incentives toward developers who build green, Lane said.

“I think there’s no question that at some point, people will realize that we’re being fiscally responsible by doing this,” Hackworth said. “Because the cost of energy will continue to go up and we’re a consumer of energy, like any big enterprise, so anything you can save is going to pay off, especially in the long-term.”

Saving energy and being efficient also fits into the government’s goals and responsibility, DiSpirito said.

“It’s our responsibility to provide the best services we can at the lowest cost, especially in the long-term,” DiSpirito said. “That serves part of our mission. I think just trying to be enlightened to the latest thinking in preserving our environment in which we all must live is good policy, and by doing the things that we do, we’re choosing to be more proactive about it. Also, it’s a little less tangible, but if you’re known as a community that does these things, you might attract like-minded businesses and people.”

The city does not want to tax its residents any more than necessary, DiSpirito said, and being green and efficient helps make that possible. Other efficiency and sustainability goals are to find alternative fuels for city buildings or vehicles, eventually mandate that all city buildings will be built to a green standard, and to encourage community gardens or light farming in the city.

Dunedin also wants to go to a citywide recycling program, Lane said. Now the program is voluntary and not everyone knows about it, she said. One of Lane’s jobs is to educate the public about recycling and its options. Lane is available to talk with groups such as homeowner’s associations, apartment and condo managers, and businesses about how they can join the recycling efforts. Dunedin has a “Who is Recycling” list to showcase the businesses, churches, schools, condos, apartments and townhomes that are recycling and what they are recycling, which can be found on Dunedin’s Web site at www.d­unedi­ngov.­com. For those who do not have recycling services available at their home, there are a few drop-off recycling centers throughout the city.

Lane also gives seminars on sustainability topics for the public. She plans on setting up future seminars on issues such as backyard gardening and container gardening, rain barrels, and transportation.

Dunedin also supports its green space, as was recently showcased by acquiring the Weaver property and steps taken toward acquiring the Bleakley property – one of the last green areas on the waterfront in Dunedin, said Vince Gizzi, director of parks and recreation for Dunedin.

“One of the reasons I came here to work was because of the support that this city has had for parks and open spaces and recreation,” Gizzi said. “And in a city of 37,000 people and having a (green) community center of 42,000 feet ... and about 350 acres of park land, that is great.”

Dunedin has about 30 parks, which is especially good for people in the current economy, Gizzi said.

“First of all, trees are good for the environment in general, but people do need a place to recreate, and especially now in these economic times, people are probably staying closer to home, so having these parks and facilities, they really don’t have to travel. It’s a big benefit.”

Green space also helps save money, DiSpirito said. For instance, when the city expanded the Hammocks, it not only preserved the forest, nature helps balance some problems, he said.

“We can use that to assist us with our stormwater issues,” DiSpirito said. “It’s a natural area and we can rehydrate the hammocks which serves a dual purpose. One, it preserves the natural ecosystem, and secondarily, we are assisting with our stormwater management challenge because now everything has to get flushed out a pipe into the sound, picking up a lot of sediment and runoff, whether it’s animal waste or fertilizer runoff from stormwater and rain, we now have the opportunity to have a lot of this settle out in the ground in different ways – have natural biology take its course. It’s a cleansing effect.”

The public also can do its part to be sustainable. For general questions, call Lane at 298-3215, ext. 24. To volunteer for monthly litter clean-ups, call Volunteer Services at 812-4545. People also may participate in upcoming environmental events including Dunedin’s Turn it Off for Earth Hour Saturday, March 28. The city encourages residents and businesses to turn off all lights for one hour that day at 8:30 p.m.

There also will be an Arbor Day tree giveaway Saturday, April 25, 9 a.m. to noon, at Hammock Park, 1900 San Mateo Drive.
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