Florida Keys News
Monday, January 14, 2013
City pushes to sustain eco-friendly practices

Key West doesn't have an electric car charging station as of yet, but a volunteer board that advises the City Commission is on top of it anyway.

The Sustainability Advisory Board, created by the city in 2009, has the ear of City Hall when it comes to eco-friendly, sign-of-the-time ideas such as providing a public place that, for a fee, allows electric car drivers to plug in for power.

A charging station remains only an idea, one that was fleshed out at the board's most recent meeting on Thursday, but it is evidence of the type of future planning that the island doesn't shy away from.

After all, this is a small city that started tracking the rising sea levels before tracking the rising sea levels was cool.

"The rising sea level -- it's one of the places in the country where it is really well-monitored," said Michael Larson, the committee's chairman. "Key West is really out there on the cutting edge as far as studies are concerned. We know what's going on."

Key West is also a participant in the Southeast Florida Regional Climate Change Compact, an agreement among Broward, Miami-Dade, Palm Beach and Monroe counties struck in 2010 to educate the public on climate change and develop policy.

Larson, a real estate broker who has been on the board almost three years, said the panel is well served by the city's Sustainability Coordinator, Alison Higgins, hired last year to tackle environmental issues, namely the island's barely-there recycling rate -- reported at below 10 percent.

So while the electric car charging station isn't yet on its way to Key West, plans to promote recycling are coming this year.

"It's not mandatory right now," said Larson. "We're working on a town hall meeting and getting everyone together. There are ways to do that without it being mandatory. There are a lot of businesses that want to recycle. We're trying to find ways to make it easier."

Key West's "sustainability" push has been realized in small but popular projects recently.

In November, the city approved a plan to compost the manure from the police department's horses. The Sunrise Rotary group volunteered to round up the donations and volunteer labor to build the composting shed, designed to collect the 200 pounds of manure produced daily and turn it into nutrient-rich compost for Key West gardens and nonprofits such as the Key West Tropical Forest and Botanical Garden.

Key West had been hauling the manure 200 miles up to a Pompano incinerator at yearly cost of at least $4,500.

Higgins last month persuaded another volunteer advisory board to reserve $20,000 in property tax dollars for a community garden in Bahama Village. The City Commission, sitting as the Community Redevelopment Agency, will have the final say on Jan. 23.

The Sustainability Advisory Board is a way for city staff and elected officials to stay on top of environmentally responsible practices, said Larson.

"What we try to do is look around and see what's out there," said Larson, who himself drives a Toyota Prius hybrid. "The city's gradually doing more and more things to make everything sustainable. New buildings have to be certified as really energy efficient."

As for those electric car charging stations, the city's best bet, according to the report compiled by board member Emil Oesterling, is a stand-alone model that has both 120 and 240 voltage available at the same time so that it can service golf cart-type electric vehicles as well as full-sized cars.

Two charging stations are mentioned as viable for Key West, one that sells for $8,000 and another that runs about $3,000.

The free-standing charging stations resemble the ticket-spitting parking meter machines downtown and take payment via credit or debit cards and cash.

For now, the closest charging station is about 150 miles north inside a Miami parking garage off Brickell Avenue where a Car Charging machine will charge you 49 cents per kilowatt hour.

"It's one of those things that is coming," said Larson. "I don't think it's a definite plan yet."

Larson, appointed by City Commissioner Billy Wardlow, is on the committee along with David Lybrand, Rebecca Balcer, John Matthew Massoud, Emil Oesterling, Monica Haskell and Dr. Ross Williams.

The next committee meeting is set for 5:30 p.m. Feb. 14 at Old City Hall, 510 Greene St.


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