Gov. Wolf Honors 13 Projects With 2021 Governor's Awards For Environmental Excellence

On October 6, the Department of Environmental Protection announced the 13 schools, businesses and community organization winners of the 2021 Governor's Awards for Environmental Excellence.

“This year’s Environmental Excellence honorees showcase the innovation and passion that our students, educators, and community and business leaders bring to environmental challenges,” said Gov. Tom Wolf. “Their dedication brings health, economic, and recreation benefits not only to their communities, but to all Pennsylvanians.”

“There’s a clear message in the powerful results these award-winning projects have had in the field, in their communities, in the classroom, and at the work site: The environment is incorporated into all aspects of our lives, and we can all be environmental stewards,” said DEP Secretary Patrick McDonnell. “It’s a privilege to spotlight each year the best of the best among those who understand the importance of this for Pennsylvania, now and in the future.”

Applications were evaluated for their degree of environmental protection, innovation, partnership, economic impact, consideration of climate change and sustainability, and outcomes achieved.

Environmental Benefits

Collectively, the award-winning projects engaged hundreds of partners and resulted in:

-- Buffers/Wetlands: Creation of 8.5 acres of wetlands and 5 acres of tree or other vegetation buffers on stream banks to remove over 675 tons of sediment, 6,000 pounds of nitrogen, and 375 pounds of phosphorous annually from waterways;

-- Tree Planting: Planting of more than 3,200 native trees and shrubs that will sequester over 400,000 pounds of carbon from the air and remove more than 2,600 pounds of other air pollutants over 25 years;

-- Hazardous Sites Cleanup: Remediation of 300,000 square feet of hazardous materials and sustainable redevelopment of nearly 200 acres of former industrial property;

-- Environmental Education: Education of more than 1,100 Pennsylvania students and nearly 24,000 residents on environmental issues;

-- Farm Conservation Plans: Over 100 new or updated Agricultural Erosion and Sediment Management Plans or Manure Management Plans;

-- Air Pollution Monitors: Installation of three air quality monitors for local communities; and

-- Renewable Energy: Generation of over 2.7 million kilowatt hours of electricity from solar energy.

Award Winners

The 2021 Governor’s Awards for Environmental Excellence were awarded to:


-- Game Commission for Wildlife on Wifi (WoW): The commission launched this online conservation learning program in April 2020, shortly after COVID-19 orders went into effect.

The goal was to ensure continuity of the commission’s educational and public awareness service during the pandemic, but WoW has been so successful it’s now a permanent program that has been nationally recognized.

WoW provides educators, students, parents, and high-risk health communities, as well as general audiences, with home-based conservation and wildlife science education that includes lessons and activities, live virtual sessions, field researcher webinars, and social media games.

"With the unprecedented challenges facing parents and educators during COVID-19, we launched Wildlife on WiFi with the vision of connecting Pennsylvanians to their state's wildlife from anywhere. We’re honored by the program's recognition and encourage everyone to explore WoW’s online resources and lessons,” said Lauren Ferreri, a Game Commission manager, who coordinated the project team.

Allegheny County

-- EvolveEA and New Sun Rising, for Breathe Easy Triboro EcoDistrict air quality project: The Triboro EcoDistrict was formed as a collaboration between Millvale and neighboring boroughs Sharpsburg and Etna.

The Breathe Easy project gives the public access to air quality data and tools to take action. Monitors were installed in several locations, and a program in Millvale also helps residents monitor and improve their indoor air quality.

An online dashboard was created to display real-time outdoor air quality data, and most recently each borough installed a uniquely designed monitoring station that doubles as a public space and social media selfie spot to help promote a regional Breathe Easy campaign.

The planning process and implementation projects have activated many residents across the Triboro EcoDistrict.

-- Regional Industrial Development Corporation, for RIDC Mill 19: Brownfield redevelopment meets sustainable commercial development in this revival and reuse of a former steel mill at the 178-acre Hazelwood Green site, the last large riverfront brownfield in Pittsburgh city limits.

RIDC stripped the mill’s metal walls and roof to reveal the underlying steel superstructure, while maximizing energy efficiency and building material reuse. RIDC abated large quantities of legacy galbestos and lead, preventing further contamination of the surrounding environment. The roof holds one of the largest rooftop solar arrays in the United States, producing over two million kilowatt hours per year, enough to power the entire existing facility.

“Mill 19’s design pays tribute to Pittsburgh’s industrial past while serving as a beacon of where our economic future is leading. Mill 19 not only boasts a record-setting rooftop solar array and numerous energy- and water-saving features, but also houses companies that are leading the way in developing transformative technologies that are redefining our region,” said Dr. Donald F. Smith, president of Regional Industrial Development Corporation.

Centre County

-- Penns Valley Conservation Association, for Muddy Creek stream restoration, Phase 3–Marquardt Farm: Five farmers own the two-mile section of Muddy Creek where Phases 1 and 2 were completed. Phase 3, the final part of the project, entailed restoration of a 1,200-foot reach of stream on the Marquardt Farm.

To reduce erosion, the association and their partners installed 16 bank stabilization and fish habitat structures. Mudsill cribs protect streambank and provide overhead cover and pool depth for adult trout.

Increased spawning substrates resulted from the placement of log vanes in the stream to increase water velocity and promote silt-free gravel deposition downstream.

To address high summer water temperatures, the project planted vegetative buffers along the stream. Native tree and shrub species provide shade, stabilizing seasonal water temperature fluctuations. They also help minimize soil erosion and provide additional wildlife habitat.

Dauphin County

-- Harrisburg University of Science and Technology, for development of an environmental parameters dashboard for the Susquehanna River Basin Commission: This project by Harrisburg University’s Center for Environment, Energy, and Economy brings data analytics tools into the commission’s daily monitoring activities, to provide insights on real-time data collected from satellite stations.

In Phase 1, the project team of faculty and grad students built an initial machine learning model to predict the river flow of the Pine Creek Watershed in the basin. An operational dashboard was developed that maps layers of precipitation, sub-basin boundaries, water trails, soils, and bedrock geology.

Phase 2 added environmental parameters, including temperature, turbidity, pH, and dissolved oxygen, to enable seven-day prediction of the specific conductance of water in the watershed for more effective management of Susquehanna River Basin water resources.

-- Commonwealth Charter Academy, for AgWorks Lab: To teach urban sustainability techniques to K-12 students, this public cyber charter school installed a 6,100 square foot aquaponics/hydroponics

AgWorks Lab that includes about 400 fish and 3,000 plants in a controlled growing environment. All produce grown organically by students is donated to local food banks around Harrisburg, where the lab is located.

The academy installed 1,080 solar panels that generate a half megawatt of electricity, providing a third of the power for the facility and 100 percent of the power to run AgWorks. The lab is open to the public.

Erie County

-- North East Intermediate Elementary School, for “Protect Our Lake”: This project enhanced the third-grade curriculum with new content on environmental issues plaguing the Great Lakes from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Bay Watershed Education & Training program.

With guidance from their teachers, 120 students developed a stewardship awareness campaign by creating stainless steel medallions that adhere to storm drains, reminding citizens that what goes down the drain ends up in Lake Erie.

The markers were made by a local metal fabrication company and installed on storm drains throughout the school district as well as in a public park.

Lancaster County

-- Lancaster Farmland Trust, for Plain Sect community and marketplace engagement for clean water: To reduce nutrient and sediment pollution flowing from farms in Salisbury Township to the Chesapeake Bay, Lancaster Farmland Trust and partners developed a network of model farms and “learning farms” to demonstrate sustainability.

Project partners visited over 200 farm operations, engaging farmers on conservation planning. Information collected went into a database to inform decisions on which best management practices to install, and where to install them, to have the greatest impact.

More than 110 Agricultural Erosion and Sediment Control and/or Manure Management Plans have been developed or updated. Project partners also hosted workshops on water quality.
            They introduced the Sustainability Programming for Ag Retailers and CCAs online training, connected with dairy cooperatives to enlist their support in incentivizing sustainable practices, and recruited supply chain members to act as REAP sponsors to bring additional funding to the project.

-- RGS Associates and LandStudies, for Lime Spring Square mixed-used development: Lime Spring Square features 25 retail, commercial, warehouse, and medical office uses surrounding 11.5 acres of restored floodplain.

In a unique approach to postconstruction stormwater management, the project used floodplain restoration (instead of conventional infiltration or detention facilities) as the primary best management practice to meet regulatory requirements.

Sediment was removed to reconnect the stream channel with the floodplain, large areas of interconnected wetland habitat were created, and the groundwater interchange was rehabilitated.

While the primary goal was restoration, the secondary benefit is that stormwater management requirements for a development project can be met within a previously unused portion of a site.

In addition to regional environmental and economic benefits, Lime Spring Square presents a model that can be reproduced throughout the state.

Montgomery County

-- Wissahickon Trails, PECO, Upper Gwynedd Township, William Penn Foundation, and National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, for Wissahickon Creek headwaters stream and riparian restoration: This project restored and stabilized the stream channel and reconnected the floodplain along 1,775 linear feet of the Wissahickon Creek in the PECO right-of-way power line corridor.

The floodplain reconnection approach, designed by BioHabitats, Inc., decreases the erosive forces of stormwater by reconnecting the creek to its floodplain during storm events.

The restoration is projected to omit 275 tons of suspended solids, 355 pounds of nitrogen, and 121 pounds of phosphorous from the creek. This will reduce algae blooms, increase dissolved oxygen concentrations, and improve the habitat for aquatic organisms.

The project will also improve habitat in the wetland, floodplain, and riparian buffer and improve the Wissahickon Watershed as a whole, by increasing stormwater infiltration during storm events.

Montour County

-- Geisinger Medical Center for Sechler Run stream restoration: Sechler Run is an agriculturally impaired stream running along the Geisinger Outpatient Surgery Woodbine facility near Danville Borough.

Geisinger was approached by community members proposing a project to improve the stream’s health. The steep, eroding streambanks were adding sediment to the water and coating the streambed, and the inability of the stream to spread out and slow down during heavy rain events was adding to the problem.

Working as a team, these partners and Geisinger stabilized 1,100 feet of the stream using numerous log and rock structures. Floodplain benches were improved, and the banks were graded to let the stream access the floodplain.

A two-acre riparian buffer of shrubs and trees and a 1,000-foot wildflower buffer for pollinators were planted. A quarter-mile walking path, along with educational signage, was installed.

Philadelphia County

-- Riverfront North Partnership, for reforestation at Pennypack On The Delaware Park: Since 2017, Riverfront North Partnership has restored riverfront trail access, removed invasive species, and planted over 1,000 native trees and shrubs on a decommissioned garbage dump near the confluence of Pennypack Creek and the Delaware River in the Holmesburg neighborhood of Philadelphia.

The community was among those with the fewest trees in the city. In 2020, the project provided workforce development and safe, socially distant outdoor volunteer opportunities for the community.

The project expanded to include nearby Fluehr Park, and RNP offered trees and planting training to partner groups. They also distributed native fruit trees to the Philadelphia Prison System, adjacent to Pennypack Park, which operates an orchard for job skill training.

“Our goal of environmental restoration and development of community stewards has been one of the most rewarding initiatives we’ve undertaken,” said Stephanie Phillips, executive director of Riverfront North Partnership. “With the help of community volunteers, we’re increasing biodiversity, habitat, air quality, water quality, and recreation opportunities and bringing awareness to urban green spaces.”

York County

-- York County Solid Waste and Refuse Authority, for Resource Recovery Center improvements and a new ash processing and recycling facility: The ash facility uses new technology to separate metals, aggregates, and sand from combustion ash, reducing ash that must be managed in a landfill by 60–80 percent.

Resident-focused improvements at the Resource Recovery Center include small-load and white goods drop-off areas, yard waste collection, and free electronics recycling.

The center’s boiler water treatment system was replaced with newer technology, and new air compressors installed. A new vault captures surface water runoff that is reused to quench hot combustion ash.

A surge tank was installed to collect stormwater runoff from three acres of roof space; the water supplements cooling tower water.

Improvements were also made to the now-closed sanitary landfill, which has been recycled into a 208-acre wildlife habitat with mowed walking trails. A playground, a pavilion, and sports fields were installed.

An 806-panel solar array was installed that provides 300,000 kilowatt hours of electricity annually.

2022 Excellence Awards

Applications are being accepted now for 2022 Excellence awards. Individuals, businesses, schools, government agencies, and community organizations in Pennsylvania are welcome to apply.

The deadline for nominations is December 1.

Visit the Governor’s Award for Environmental Excellence webpage for more information.

Related Article:

-- Tookany/Tacony-Frankford Watershed Partnership: Announces Watershed Milestones Award Winners; Awards Ceremony Oct. 20

[Posted: October 6, 2021]


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