BUCKHANNON — Putting planet Earth first put the City of Buckhannon at the top of the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection’s list of the greenest towns in the Mountain State.
On Tuesday, Buckhannon brought home the Cabinet Secretary Award — the highest honor possible — at a special ceremony in Kanawha City held for the purpose of distributing state Environmental Awards to organizations, businesses and entities that prioritize promoting a healthy environment in West Virginia, according to a press release from the DEP. DEP Secretary Austin Caperton distributed the awards to the winners, who had to have been nominated by a DEP employee for “exemplary” environmentally friendly actions.
“We’re pretty stoked about it, and when I say ‘we,’ I mean that in an across-the-board sense — waste collection, flowers, the street department — it’s really everybody together that’s made it possible to get this,” mayor David McCauley said Thursday. “I’m thrilled for our employees. It was a total team effort.”
The Upshur County Solid Waste Authority also collected laurels Tuesday, garnering the Education and Community Involvement Award. Callie Cronin Sams, youth environmental district coordinator, nominated both the city and the UCSWA.
The award narrative highlighted a number of the city’s efforts, including the water department consistently scoring in the top 10 statewide for excellence in municipal water treatment in addition to regularly undertaking water quality monitoring and source protection projects. City horticulturist Rob Barbor was also recognized for his commitment to sustainable garden design and use of eco-friendly practices, such as weeding by hand rather than using chemical herbicides.
In addition, the city’s annual participation in April as “Make it Shine” month, which urges residents to spruce up their properties as well as engage in an Adopt-a-Highway clean-up projects; Buckhannon’s use of a geothermal heat pump to heat and cool city hall; and the recent formation of a city Sustainability Committee under the direction of McCauley were emphasized.
Sams said she was glad to nominate the UCSWA and the city.
“I am very grateful for all of the hard work by our city leadership and employees toward a sustainable, clean and healthy environment for our residents and visitors,” she said in a statement Wednesday. “I am proud to live in our town.”
McCauley said Buckhannon had been notified about a month ago that it was likely to win some sort of Environmental Award, but city officials weren’t aware that it would be the top one.
“We had scheduled some folks to attend, but we had no clue until it was announced that we won the single biggest award, essentially the award saying that we are the most sustainable, eco-friendly town in West Virginia,” McCauley said. “Austin Caperton (DEP secretary) said that this was the first time that it was a unanimous decision; we were so far ahead of everyone else.”
McCauley pointed out a few other strategic environmental initiatives the city is engaged in, such as the making of its own “miracle fertilizer concoction” by collecting yard debris and placing it in a burn box in the waste collection department until it is reduced to nitrate-rich ash, which is then mixed with dried sludge from the sewage department, he said.
“It results in amazing growth,” the mayor said. “And we’re among the very best in West Virginia with water quality. There’s also the recent planting of wildflowers to improve the quantity of bees, which is a real danger throughout the world. We have to have bees in order to pollinate things.” Wildflowers are planted at the Rivertrail, city parks and various city-owned Federal Emergency Management Agency lots, McCauley said.
McCauley said he wanted to thank Sams for nominating the city.
“If you don’t get nominated, you don’t win,” he said.
The DEP recognized the UCSWA for its work to educate the community about recycling and litter prevention, including the coordination of the annual Celebration of Recycling during “Make it Shine” month in April, its willingness to give tours of the city’s Recycling Center and sponsorship of students attending the DEP’s Junior Conservation Camp and American Legion Boys State Leadership Academy.