Best Practices


Mayor James P. Perron

One Earth, One Elkhart: A Comprehensive Approach to Environmental

Stewardship The City of Elkhart has rededicated itself to the preservation of our environment and our finite natural resources. Elkhart has had more than its share of environmental challenges, but we are facing these challenges head on with a pragmatic, cost-effective, holistic and proactive approach to environmental stewardship. This approach realizes the importance of developing proactive programs that protect our air, land, and water resources for future generations. We have learned lessons from poor past practices, and we have used this knowledge to prepare for the future and turn environmental tragedies into triumphs.

We have accomplished this goal through public-private partnerships that include businesses, government, environmental groups, higher education, and citizens. One of our principal partners is the Martin Foundation. They are a private foundation that has donated a substantial amount of money to develop the educational aspects of our comprehensive approach. Another partner is the University of Notre Dame. The University's Research Experience for Undergraduates program has supplied the City of Elkhart with the technical expertise necessary in the development of our environmental programs, i.e., Leaf Composting, Biosolids Composting, Constructed Wetlands, Use of Recycled Plastic Lumber, and the Use of Recycled Rubberized Asphalt. We have had numerous other partners that have donated generously to our efforts both in the form of support and money.

These efforts are centered at the Elkhart Environmental Center. This Center is located on a former city landfill where we turned a former liability into a community asset. The focus of the Environmental Center is to serve as a clearinghouse of information on environmentally related issues and to serve as the headquarters of our environmental education program. We teach Elkhartans to be kind to their Earth, because it is the only one they have. We teach them how to manage their resources in an environmentally sound matter.

In the realm of air quality, we became involved in a clean air program with local municipalities and businesses that allowed us to reach ozone attainment status for ambient air quality. We accomplished this through an extensive clean air advertising and education campaign. As a city, we promote clean air through our city tree planting program, local ordinances geared toward clean air, car-pooling programs, and by using cleaner burning alternative fuels in our municipal fleet. We encouraged leaf composting to replace the antiquated practice of burning.

Our land resources have been traditionally overburdened by poor land management practices. We have taken environmentally degraded areas and converted them into usable, community assets. The Environmental Center is a prime example of this, as is the Boot Lake Nature Preserve. The Nature Preserve is our former city sludge farm, where municipal organic solids were dumped for years. It has now been restored to a pristine wildlife ecosystem as it existed 100 years before. We are developing this Nature Preserve through the AmeriCorps National Service Program. It will serve as an educational tool to teach people about the benefits of wetlands, tallgrass prairie lands, and the beneficial reuse of biosolids. We will teach about the benefits of grasscycling, leaf composting, and other yard waste management issues at the Environmental Center in order to satisfy the 1994 Yard Waste Ban. We also encourage people to pre-cycle, reduce, reuse, recycle, and "buy recycled." The city started a city-wide curbside recycling program in 1991 after it privatized its solid waste management program. We saved enough money in privatizing this public service to get recycling included for the same price as our solid waste program in the previous year.

Our water resources in Elkhart have been neglected, and the Elkhart urbanized area has several sites on the Superfund national priority list including a public water supply well field. Out of this problem blossomed one of the best wellhead protection programs in the State of Indiana,, if not the nation. We learned to take proactive measures to reduce any possibility of future contamination. We have constructed wetlands and have developed educational materials on their environmental benefits, and we have made a concerted effort to eliminate combined sewer overflows to our rivers.

Our comprehensive approach to environmental stewardship is already paying huge dividends for our local environment and for the good of our Earth. These dividends are not all seen in direct cost savings and are often hard to quantify, but the importance of protecting our natural resources and environment is everyone's concern and is worth the price. We are doing our best in Elkhart to preserve our environment -- for we have but One Earth and One Elkhart.

Contact: Office of the Mayor, (219) 294-5471

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The United States Conference of Mayors

J. Thomas Cochran, Executive Director
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