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Dedham Environmental Coordinator Virginia LeClair

Virginia LeClair, environmental coordinator for the town of Dedham, is exactly who I want to be when I grow up. (Let’s all ignore the fact that she’s also exactly my age.) Since she was hired four years ago, the town has been recognized multiple times for its sustainability efforts. I spoke to Virginia in May, just before a ceremony celebrating the Dedham Municipal Solar Project.

What exactly does your job involve?

I cover a wide variety of environmental issues for the town of Dedham: climate change, energy efficiency, recycling, stormwater management, wildlife management…. We also have a conservation agent and a conservation commission, and they cover wetlands-related issues. I work with the DPW on recycling, and the town administration, as well. I’m really the education and outreach component, and I also do a lot of grantwriting.

Virginia LeClair

Did this position exist before you came there?

No, this is a new position that was created by the town administration, the town administrator, and the conservation commission. This position has sort of evolved over time as a result of my interest in climate change, my interest in recycling, and it just continues to evolve as we decide that we want to go for other sustainable initiatives and we receive more grants. So it’s very exciting. You never know what you’re going to be doing each day.

Is it difficult for you to get all these different agencies working together?

We have a good system set up. We have weekly operations meetings with the town administrator, and in those meetings are the public works director, the engineering director, the building director, the economic development director, the director of finance, and the assistant town administrator. And then on a monthly basis we have department head meetings where we can inform all the other department heads what projects we’re working on. So we have a really good communication system set up, and everyone here very much has a mindset of we’re all in this together, we’re team players trying to make Dedham better.

What sort of background do you have? It sounds like you are doing a lot of things that don’t really fall under one category.

I’ve worked for nonprofits; I’ve worked for other municipalities; I’ve worked in the private sector, in a consulting company; and I went to school for environmental studies public policy. So just over the years working in all these different sectors in Boston and D.C., I’ve just continued to expand my knowledge of the environmental field.

What sorts of outreach do you do?

On the front of recycling, we did a yearlong outreach campaign, because we switched from dual-stream recycling to single-stream recycling. We did public education discussing the change from five barrels of trash to only one 64 gallon trash barrel and one 96 gallon recycling barrel. Seventy percent of your household garbage is actually recyclable.

Then I’ve done some work with the schools. The All-American Recycling Competition is a competition each year where we go into the elementary schools to teach them about recycling. The third place prize is a compost bin for the school and recycled denim pencils; the second place prize is a recycling magic show; and the first place prize is an interview with Dedham Public TV. So it’s the youth educating adults about what is recyclable, and hopefully that resonates well with adults.

We received a $500,000 grant from Congressman Lynch’s office—this was funding through the Energy and Water Appropriations Act of fiscal year 2010—and we’re using that money to install photovoltaic panels on the town hall and the high school. We’re calling this the Dedham Municipal Solar Project.

The other exciting award that we received was the Leading by Example Award from the state in 2009. It’s given out to commonwealth agencies, public colleges, universities, and municipalities, and we were one of three in Massachusetts to be given this award for implementing comprehensive policy, programs, and strategies resulting in significant and measurable environmental benefits. We received the award in part for our single-stream recycling program and the Green Middle School. It has cisterns that gather rainwater to flush the toilets. In 2010, Dedham received the MassRecycle Small Municipality Award for our single-stream recycling program and recycling initiatives.

What sort of response did you get to the single-stream recycling?

Single-stream recycling has been a great success. As a result of this program, our trash tonnage has dropped by 4,000 tons and our recycling rate has doubled from 12 tons to 25 tons in the first 7 months of implementing it. Our hauler is Russell Disposal, and they were saying that our recycling rates should double, which it did. And we saved $400,000 since switching to Russell Disposal. It’s been a great program.

In 2010, Dedham was designated a Green Community. We’re one of 53 communities in the commonwealth to receive this designation. There are five steps that a community must go through in order to be designated a green community. It involves:

  • adopting local zoning bylaw or ordinance that allows “as-of-right-siting” of renewable energy projects
  • adopting an expedited permitting process related to the as-of-right facilities
  • establishing a municipal energy use baseline and establishing a program designed to reduce baseline use by 20 percent within five years
  • purchasing only fuel-efficient vehicles for municipal use, whenever such vehicles are commercially available and practicable
  • adopting the stretch code, an optional appendix to the Massachusetts building energy code that allows communities to choose a more energy-efficient option.

It’s the biggest carrot that the state is dangling in front of all the communities right now. As part of this award, we receive $180,000, and we’re using that to buy down the cost of our PV system at the town hall and the high school. And we were also awarded three big belly solar trash compactors.

Look for the second half of my interview with Virginia LeClair on Thursday, when we’ll talk about the Cool Dedham campaign and her initiatives to encourage business recycling.


Comment from Sharon
Time September 28, 2011 at 9:41 am

I can totally see you in this job. It’s so exciting that a position like this exists, and that there are people out there who spend all day doing this stuff.

Can you tell me what “as-of-right-siting” is?

Pingback from Pragmatic Environmentalism
Time September 29, 2011 at 8:07 pm

[…] Environmental Coordinator Virginia LeClair, Part 2 // On Tuesday I shared the first part of my conversation with Virginia LeClair, environmental coordinator for the […]

Comment from Brenda Pike
Time September 29, 2011 at 10:15 pm

Me, too!

“As-of-right-siting” just means that you don’t need a special permit.

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