LA GRANGE – On one hand, the financial crunch has made it more difficult for local villages to be environmentally responsible. With less money in the country's collective pot, less funding is available through grants and other programs that encourage green projects.
But, in some cases, the need to slash budgets has made municipalities more efficient, with the environment winning as well, according to attendees who spoke at a "Cool Village" forum last Thursday, hosted by the League of Women Voters of the La Grange Area at La Grange Public Library.
“If I get something that doesn’t have ink on two sides of it, I raise my hand," La Grange Village President Tom Livingston said during the panel.
In addition to saving paper, Livingston discussed recent energy upgrades at La Grange Village Hall.
“There’s not a light bulb or a fixture or an HVAC [heating, ventilation and air conditioning] component of Village Hall that is the same as it was a year ago," he said.
In 2008, the league first held a Cool Village forum to encourage local village officials to find ways to combat climate change and share ideas. On Thursday, the village came together again five year after the first meeting to discuss any results at a event titled, "How Cool is your Village?"
"We have seen the communities taking positive steps," said La Grange Park resident and league member Krista Grimm . "[Municipalities] definitely have been limited by funding. They are only doing things when they are getting grants, but we understand that."
Also on the panel were representatives from Western Springs, La Grange Park, Westchester, Brookfield, Lyons Township and Hinsdale.
Westchester Mayor Sam Pulia noted the 175,000 pounds of electronics the village recycled this year as part of a monthly collection event.
In Brookfield, residents must detach downspouts from their gutters by 2015, which will reduce the stress on sewers during heavy rains. La Grange Park, which just announced a grant that will assist residents in detaching downspouts that connect to the sewer system, will institute a similar requirement next year.
Village Manager Julia Cedillo said a key part of the project will involve educating residents on its collective benefits, namely reducing the risk for flooding and keeping Salt Creek clean.
“One of the identifying characteristics of a sustainable community is an active, organized and informed citizenship," said event emcee Andrianna Peterson, La Grange's assistant village manager.
Hinsdale Village Engineer Dan Deeter said the village is working to separate its sewers to clean and filter rainwater. Western Springs Director of Administrative Services Ingrid Velkme highlighted the village's new $8 million water plant, which will eliminate a sludge byproduct that it used to have to send to the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District for processing.
Velkme also discussed the village's recent addition of low-wattage light fixtures in public buildings, which wasn't cheap, she added.
“That alone for the village of [Western Springs] was $145,000. For bigger villages, I can imagine it costs a lot more," she said. " … To be green, it also costs money.”
Despite the villages' desire to become more energy-efficient, Pulia said all of them are competing for the same grants, some of which have dried up during the recession.
"It always depends on the money you have," he said. " … A lot of our budgets are [already] spread pretty thin."
But Livingston noted the financial benefit that can result from, for example, training salt truck operators to be more efficient when dispensing salt during snowstorms.
“The more conscious we are to the environment, the better it is for business in La Grange," he said. “I think we need to continue to move to a point where we’re tagging within the budget sustainable markers [to reach].”
Future projects include a permeable library parking lot in Westchester and potential charging stations for electric cars in Western Springs, an idea Grimm wants to expand.
"I think [villages] should be electrifying their fleets [of vehicles]," she said. " … For the most part they're driving within the confines of their small villages."