Coming together to discuss green

Teams from three counties discuss how to protect the environment at conference

Albert J. Countryman, Jr./The Sun
At the Tri-County Sustainability (TCS) conference in Cherry Hill earlier this month to network with green teams from local towns were Ila Vassalo (left to right), a member of the TCS leadership and Evesham green teams; Valerie Brown of the TCS leadership team; Township Operations Manager Ari Messinger; and township Councilwoman Jennifer Apell.

For the first time since COVID shut the nation down in 2020, Tri-County Sustainability (TCS) held its annual All Green Teams Conference recently with representatives from teams in Burlington, Camden and Gloucester counties.

“… The main goal is to be a networking event for the green teams and sustainability enthusiasts throughout the 101 towns in the three counties,” said Virginia Brown, a member of the group’s leadership team and program coordinator of the Camden County Office of Sustainability.

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A resident of Voorhees, Brown hopes to reactivate the green team in her town, with the county office supporting teams throughout the county.

“We provide resources for all towns in partnership with their green teams,” she noted at the conference, held in the Cherry Hill library. Projects include helping to build new bicycle paths and preserving open space.

A tool-lending library at the Lakeland complex in Blackwood offers residents the opportunity to borrow chain and band saws and contractor equipment to improve their land, according to Brown. The county also has a hydroponic and regular greenhouse in operation there, she said.

TCS is the Sustainable Jersey regional hub; its mission is to “partner with environmentally focused organizations to achieve common goals for our municipalities and planet.”

Ila Vassalo, a member of the TCS leadership and Evesham Green teams, said her group meets monthly at local businesses and focuses on management of open space and creation of an electric-vehicle infrastructure. The annual conference is a chance for area green teams to share ideas and information. Community engagement panels create a positive dialogue on solutions to environmental issues, Vassalo said.

“This is a great opportunity for Cherry Hill to share ideas and see what other towns are doing,” noted Operations Manager Ari Messinger, also a member of the Cherry Hill team. His group focuses on preserving open space, providing recreation, creating trails and recommending energy-power policies.

Messinger said the township has been asking apartment complexes to provide Multi-Unit Dwelling (MUD) electric-vehicle charging stations for their residents.

One of the 10 vendors at the conference was New Jersey Transit, represented by John Geitner, senior director of Environment, Energy & Sustainability Capital Programs; and Erin Hill, an energy and sustainability analyst.

“We have five electric buses out of eight that have been ordered,” Geitner pointed out. “Three are in operation and two are being filled out.”

New Jersey Transit is now completing its first corporate sustainability plan, according to Hill. The goal is to have an entire fleet of buses with zero emissions.

Cherry Hill Councilwoman Jennifer Appel said the township is converting all of its auto fleet into electric vehicles, “in the next several years.” She and Councilwoman Sangetta Doshi revitalized the township green team.

“We’re working toward a Gold Energy Star,” they said.

Doshi was proud that Cherry Hill had the first solar power bus stop ever installed by New Jersey Transit on Route 70.

Presentation topics during the conference included climate action plans, community energy planning and solar information. Karen Nowicki of Sustainable Delran spoke about the group’s Halloween costume swap, Gina Cohl of Mount Laurel discussed TCS video grants, and Patrick McDevitt of Monroe Township gave a presentation about Labyrinth Walking.

Doshi was the moderator of the community engagement panel that included Deb Hammond of Sustainable Delran and Sandi Kelly of Sustainable Collingswood. They all emphasized the importance of protecting the environment for generations to come.

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