unlikely environmentalists

It must be tough being a Whitehorse city councillor. The hours are long, the pay is not commensurate with the level of boredom the position…

It must be tough being a Whitehorse city councillor.

The hours are long, the pay is not commensurate with the level of boredom the position inflicts, and they get blamed for every problem in the city.

If garbage pickup misses a house, one of the councilors will no doubt hear about it from an irate citizen.

When the roads appear as if they are not getting plowed enough, no doubt the telephone lines hum as taxpayers dial and complain to the elected municipal politicians.

Despite all this verbal angst, being on council does allow them to make their mark on Whitehorse.

And now something unusual has been happening over at city hall.

They would appear to have all turned into a group of greenies.

Greenies is a somewhat derogatory term for an environmentalist.

Some the councillors will deny to their last breath that they care for fauna and flora.

They would probably insist, if given a chance, that their idea of a good time is amending the Official Community Plan to permit a wetland to be paved.

Some of their actions, though, declare otherwise.

Let us take a look at some of their recent decisions.

City council recently approved a contract for more than $800,000 to purchase outdoor wheelie carts for the citywide garbage and compost collection program.

This will be an expansion of the Porter Creek test program, where households get a grey cart for garbage and a green one from compostables.

No bags are required and the bins take very large quantities of waste or compost when compared with the current bags.

The funds for this particular purchase are gas tax dollars from Ottawa, it is not part of the normal city budget.

It is worth commending the mayor and council for their commitment they are putting towards waste diversion.

Households with wheelie carts tend to divert more into the compost stream than the system with the bags.

This means a lot less organic material being buried. This in turn means it greatly reduced the amount of methane being emitted by the city landfill.

Methane is a very potent greenhouse gas, which is the culprit behind human-induced climate change.

The council has also approved transit bus and Handy Bus replacements to the tune of more than $1 million.

This is part of the 2009-2012 Capital budget.

Yes, the current bus routes and frequency are inadequate, and no doubt it would need a lot more dollars to make it truly effective.

Still, the financial commitment of more than $1 million is an indication that council believes in some form of transit system.

If utilized correctly, buses can remove the equivalent of 40 cars from the road.

Not only does this lead to less oil being consumed and thus less pollution coming out of exhausts, it means less-crowded streets and even more parking for the those still in cars.

Finally, city council waved the 2008 deadline for applications to its Environmental fund.

This permitted the Raven Recycling Society to become the beneficiary of more than $21,000 to be used towards the purchase of an electric forklift.

Now this forklift will greatly simplify the operations of Raven.

It currently has three clunkers that can loosely be termed forklifts, although the amount of money they are sucking up in operation and maintenance makes them more of a burden than an actual asset.

Raven will be able to dispose of the three old forklifts and replace them with an efficient new one.

And this is partly thanks to the environmental leanings of the current city council.

Now before everyone things that the council is a chapter of Greenpeace they are still making some contrary environmental decisions.

There is the whole McLean Lake fiasco.

There has been a petition from citizens to turn the area into a park, yet the city has turned to the lawyers and the courts in an attempt to stonewall it.

Enough with the legal shenanigans — make the green space a legal green space.

The city also has to get serious on halting urban sprawl.

The concept, or conceit, of large houses for small households on large acreages has to end.

The ecological footprint of this type of residence is unsustainable.

Yet there are still sprawling subdivisions full of these abodes being approved and built all over the place.

Despite these last two examples, city council can and does have a huge positive environmental impact.

Politicians at other levels, such as territorial and federal, certainly play their part.

But for on the ground nuts and bolts environmental action, Whitehorse mayor and council can sometimes work green wonders.

Lewis Rifkind is a Whitehorse based part-time environmentalist.