Monday, June 29, 2009

Commercial Recycling Efforts in Berlin

As part of its Clean, Safe and Green component, the Berlin Main Street Program recently donated $2,000 to Grow Berlin Green to research commercial recycling methods.
The measure is timely as several Berlin restaurants have recently expressed an interest in making recycling a simpler task. Currently, Berlin businesses that choose to recycle must use the small drop off location on William Street, or travel to the Recycling Center on Flower Street. The first option is at the center of town, but the containers there are not made to hold commercial volume, and the second option requires a considerable amount of effort to transport the items. Neither option is easy, which does little to encourage the practice.
Contrast that to the nearby town of Ocean City, which provides collection services to businesses that recycle office paper, cardboard, glass and aluminum. A town ordinance there makes it mandatory for businesses with on-site liquor consumption licenses to recycle glass and aluminum.
Berlin restaurateurs looking for help with recycling program should be commended, but it will take time until a plan is in place. In the meantime they can take small steps to limit what goes in the landfill. Disposable napkins, utensils or placemats should be changed to reusable items whenever possible, and products should be bought in bulk to reduce package waste.
Still, restaurants often generate significant quantities of glass, aluminum, steel, plastics and corrugated cardboard, which should all be recycled. Consider just these few statistics:
• Every glass bottle recycled saves enough energy to burn a 100 watt light bulb for four hours.
• It takes 95 percent less energy to make aluminum by recycling it than by producing it from its natural ore.
• Recycling and reusing the material in tin cans alone reduces energy use by 74 percent, air pollution by 85 percent, and solid waste by 95 percent and water pollution by 76 percent.
Finally, business owners (and all of us) should buy recycled products whenever possible. The recycling loop is complete only when materials that have been separated for recycling are processed and remanufactured into new products, which are then sold to consumers. Often referred to as “closing the loop”, buying recycled products is what makes recycling a success.
Even a first grader knows that recycling conserves both raw materials and energy as well as reduces the amount of waste we produce. Recycling has been proven to reduce air and water pollution, lower energy consumption and decrease greenhouse gases emissions linked to global warming.
What proprietors should also keep in mind is that recycling can also be good for the bottom line. Becoming stewards of the environment can attract the growing market of conservation-minded patrons who prefer to spend their money at like-minded establishments. Restaurants that recycle, for example, should promote this on their menus to appeal to customers who recognize and appreciate such an environmentally responsible effort. After all, in today’s challenging economic climate businesses should use every tool available to attract customers which translates to more money in the cash register.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Better zoning can lead to healthier children

Throughout the month of May as proposed zoning regulations were being reviewed and a public hearing on the plan was looming this column focused on several issues related to growth and planning. A few of those issues were the importance of requiring a higher percentage of passive open space in all residential subdivisions, limiting sprawl and encouraging mixed land use and higher residential density.

Now these same concepts have been taken up by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). Citing statistics that show roughly 32 percent of American children are overweight, the AAP released a policy statement June 6 urging federal and local governments to take proactive action for the health of our nation’s children.

In its policy statement, the Built Environment: Designing Communities to Promote Physical Activity in Children – the APA states that government policies must support the effort to encourage physical activity through land use design. In its statement the AAP makes the following recommendations for federal and local governments:
• Pass and promote laws and regulations to create new, or expand existing efforts to promote active living.
• Federal programs can incentivize states to incorporate these principles into planning and zoning standards.
• State and local governments should examine planning and zoning efforts to ensure that children's ability to walk, play, and get to school safely are a top priority.
• Create and maintain playgrounds, parks, and green spaces within communities as well as the means to access them safely.

The AAP states emphatically that the physical environment of a community can support opportunities for play and physical activity. Of course the addition of neighborhood parks does not guarantee children will become more active, but there is research to support that providing the opportunity makes a big difference. In fact, the AAP references an experimental study that shows that as the percentage of park area within a child's neighborhood increases, so does the physical activity among children 4 to 7 years of age and non overweight children 8 to 12 years of age.

In addition, higher land-use mix and proximity of neighborhood shops to residences promotes walking and bicycling and providing areas for activity. As cities have expanded into rural areas, expansive land areas are often transformed into low-density developments and the result is urban sprawl, making walking to destinations difficult.

There are a host of issues that influence the level of activity for children as well as adults, but the AAP policy statement is clear that the physical design of the community is a factor that cannot be ignored. Statistics reveal that the percentage of overweight children in our country is growing at an alarming rate, with one out of three kids considered overweight or obese. While we can’t stop this national trend, through our local zoning regulations we can provide the children of Worcester County with more chances to run, walk, bike and play, leading to improved overall physical activity.

The mission AAP is to attain optimal physical, mental, and social health and well-being for all infants, children, adolescents, and young adults. To read the APA statement online go to

Friday, June 19, 2009

Growing Berlin Green Begins

by Kate Patton

Currently, the Town of Berlin is nearing the final stages of developing an updated Comprehensive Plan, and the document will be sent to Worcester County and the State Department of Planning before returning with recommendations. Grow Berlin Green (GBG), a collaborative project of the Assateague Coastal Trust, the Maryland Coastal Bays Program and the Lower Shore Land Trust, has been following the process which allows for public input and has worked to understand the changes and share that information with the public.

The town conducted a survey in 2008, and the majority of residents who responded indicated that limiting growth was important. Additionally, many indicated that they would like to see more walking and biking paths, parks and connectivity to these areas around town. A greenbelt can help provide these functions, while also supporting the other functions.

A greenbelt, incorporated with greenways through the town, could provide recreational opportunities, stormwater management, preserve agricultural lands and natural habitat, protect water quality in our creeks, bays and groundwater, and offer sound buffers to traffic along Routes 50 and 113. By incorporating a greenbelt into our plans now, we can help create a natural definition for where we want Berlin to grow, and provide important environmental and economic benefits for all, improving the overall quality of life in our small town.

Berlin's elected officials, planning commission, staff and residents recognize the need to accommodate additional growth for the County over the next 20 years. While we may not realize state predictions dating from several years ago, there will, without a doubt, continue to be pressure from additional residential and commercial growth to our county. We must, however, work together to make decisions as to how we want to look and what services are necessary to enhance the rural village setting, without compromising the qualities that draw visitors and residents to our town in the first place.

Aside from helping to visually define the boundaries of the town, another important function that the green belt could help provide, would be a scenic buffer along the entrances. The best opportunity at the present time would be to recognize Route 346 as a gateway to town, and see that any future development proceeds with scenic buffers. Additionally, there are sensitive lands along the east side of Berlin, serving as the headwaters of Trappe Creek. These areas should be recognized for their important resource protection opportunities.

There are still details to be worked out as to how to what methods would be best to implement the plan, and we encourage the town to fully explore the use of Transfer of Development Rights (TDRs), possibly as new parcels are annexed into the town. Additionally, while there are some great components in Berlin's Draft Comprehensive Plan, we will all want to review the final draft before the Town adopts a guiding vision for the next couple of decades.

A great deal of work has gone into planning for the future of the town. Staff, Mayor and Council Members, planning commission members, and the consultant have worked to develop a plan that will serve the town over the next 20 years. It will be critical to the end result that the public remain involved in the process. By working together, we can realize our vision for our growth and still preserve the qualities that make Berlin a great place to live and a jewel of Worcester County for tourism, arts and culture, and a model for a more sustainable community.

Kate Patton serves as the Executive Director of the Lower Shore Land Trust, and assists with the coordination of the Grow Berlin Green project.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Coastal Bays Report Card Grades Released

Maryland's coastal bays received a grade of C+ in the first Coastal Bays Report Card, with Newport Bay and the St. Martin River receiving the lowest individual marks.

"This is a real treasure here in the state of Maryland," said Dave Wilson, executive director of the Maryland Coastal Bays Program,"It's not a total disaster, but there's also a lot of room for improvement."

Each of the six sub-watersheds were graded, with marks ranging from a B for the Sinepuxent Bay to a D+ for the St. Martin River and the Newport Bay.

The report measured four water quality indicators — total nitrogen, total phosphorus, chlorophyll and dissolved oxygen — as well as the amount of sea grasses and hard clams found in each area. The grades were determined based on the current water quality and its relation to the quality needed for aquatic life to grow and thrive.

The Sinepuxent Bay received the best grade, with high indicators in all areas except for clams. But since the bay only represents 5 percent of the total bay area, it had a small effect on the overall grade.

The largest bay, Chincoteague Bay, received the second highest grade of B-. Water quality scores were high but sparse sea grasses and clams brought the grade down.

The Assawoman Bay received a grade of C because of moderate water quality but very few sea grasses and clams, while the Isle of Wight Bay received a C-plus because of poor levels of sea grasses and clams and slightly lower water quality.