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Sound environmental advice

Sound environmental advice

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    Environmental advisory boards often meet on a monthly basis to discuss short- and long-term issues. The Oak Ridge, Tenn., EQAB, shown here during a meeting, works through many public works issues. Photo: Paul Parson

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    Something as seemingly simple as a nature trails may be tackled by an environmental advisory committee. This trail in Oak Ridge, Tenn., leads to a reconfigured beaver dam and pond. A highlight of the nature trail is a view of the outfall from the city's wastewater treatment plant. Photo: K.D. Lawson/Black Star

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    The Clemson Beaver Pond Leveler was constructed using polyvinyl chloride pipe, wire, and welded fence fabric. Alan Neal and Allan Morrow with the U.S. Department of Agriculture worked with city crews to assemble the materials needed for the leveler and assisted with the installation of the finished product. Photo: Larry Bailey

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    The Oak Ridge, Tenn., public works department's work on a local beaver dam was funded using routine park maintenance funds. Challenges included saving the beaver habitat in an environmentally friendly manner while reducing the damage to nearby properties, dealing with traffic safety concerns, and alleviating mosquito problems caused by the impoundment of water behind the dam. Photo: Larry Bailey

EQABs may expect to have relatively little influence in a locality with one or only a few dominant employers, but the community is still likely to be better off than it would be in the absence of an environmental agenda and an agency to pursue it.

There are other Tennessee local government examples. Newport adopted a resolution to establish a local environmental agenda. The Knoxville Metropolitan Planning Commission sponsored the adoption of an expanded local environmental agenda. Germantown adopted a citizen environmental/public works advisory board and made it part of the city program. Memphis established an Earth Complex, and its mayor selected a citizen advisory committee to work with the city regarding policy directions and facility use.

Communities that employ these committees for curative/reactive purposes must interpret them as a mechanism for proactive and preventative environmental impact planning. The contributions of these bodies can be substantial, depending upon the degree of teamwork and trust among committee members, local government staff, elected officials, and residents concerned with ensuring a high quality environment for present and future generations.

John Bartlit's questions in a 1990 Environmental News Digest article are still valid today: “How safe is ‘safe enough'? How clean is ‘clean enough'?” The answer is as safe and as clean as society will support. Environmental advisory boards can help communities achieve this goal.

Harless is program manager of the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation.

A version of this article originally appeared in the National Civic Review, published by the National Civic League. It has been adapted with permission.