Going Green in Tulsa/Green Country: The Mayors Speak Out

By Gail Condrick

Article published in the Natural Awakenings Tulsa/Green Country premiere edition April, 2009

For our first edition of the Natural Awakenings Tulsa/Green Country Region we wanted to learn more about green initiatives in our area. We invited seven mayors to tell us about the plans, successes, and programs in their cities. Many responded to us and their answers are below. Here is a city by city overview of Going Green in Tulsa/Green Country from the perspective of the mayors.

Tulsa-Taking “Green” to the Streets

“Tulsa sits in the heart of Green Country, and as citizens and local government, we all share in the responsibility to lessen our impact on the environment,” says Tulsa Mayor Kathy Taylor.

This philosophy drives many of the programs in Tulsa, including re-establishing tree canopies, using fuel efficient vehicles, an active recycling program, saving energy, and improving air and water quality.

But philosophy alone is not enough, community support is critical as Tulsa has an ambitious project to ReGreen Tulsa. The city plans to plant 20,000 trees by 2010 to restore the tree canopies damaged in the December 2007 ice storm. ReGreen Tulsa involves the participation of non-profit groups and citizen advisory committees working together to purchase and plant the trees.

Next time you are driving Tulsa streets, look for green bumper stickers on city cars, buses, and trucks. Tulsa is quite literally taking “green” to the streets, replacing retired vehicles with hybrids and compressed natural gas (CNG) vehicles, including a refuse truck. CNG is a clean gas substitute to replace fossil fuels that is less polluting than regular gas and more friendly to the air quality. About one-third of the planned new 89 vehicles that are scheduled for substitution are already on the road. It’s called the Green Fleet, and is recognizable by bumper stickers.

“Our investment in these “green” vehicles is all about saving the taxpayer’s money over time as well as improving the air quality in the Tulsa region,” Mayor Taylor says. “The addition of a CNG refuse truck on our streets is one visible sign of Tulsa’s dedication to our citizen’s health.”

Recycling in Tulsa includes curbside pickup in the community and city employee recycling of paper, plastic, and aluminum in government locations. There is also a free drop off at any of the 12 sites operated by the Metropolitan Environmental trust, which also serves other localities on Green Country.

Mayor Taylor equates energy efficiency with good environmental and managerial stewardship. She says, “I have a fiscal responsibility to save tax dollars by making sure local government is as energy efficient as possible.” This goal has translated into moving City Hall to a building that requires 30% less energy than the former space, a move to both save money and improve environmental quality.

As Mayor Taylor says, “Sustainability is about more than recycling or saving energy, it is about creating a vibrant economy that improves our quality of life. It is about safe water, clean air and a city that we can hand to the next generation that is better off than when we found it.”

Tulsa also has a green awareness and outreach program to ensure that everyone has access to environmental initiatives and progress. Residents can track new programs on BeGreen Tulsa, a central point for information and links to organizations involved in green issues in Tulsa. You can even link to the Mayor’s office.

Through programs, education, and action Tulsa is paying attention to the environment, not only for today but tomorrow.

Broken Arrow-The “Living Green” Plan

Mayor Wade McCaleb is proud of his city. Broken Arrow is one of the fastest growing communities in Oklahoma, increasing in population by 35% since 1990, and now the fourth largest city in Oklahoma. In addition, Broken Arrow has been recognized as one of the top ten cities to raise a family, and named a Tree City USA community by the Arbor Day Foundation for the ninth year in a row.

The mayor knows that there is more to be done. “The City of Broken Arrow is currently developing a citywide green plan called 'Living Green' to address the need for a more environmentally friendly community,” he says. “City staff formed a series of committees to examine ways we can improve our approach to environmental management. Some of the targeted areas include fleet maintenance, physical facilities, real estate, new facilities, utilities and private development.”

Protecting the environment and serving the needs of the community while growing is an issue for Mayor McCaleb. The city has formed a low impact development committee whose mission is to minimize the effects of development on natural resources.

“This committee is helping to create more eco-friendly guidelines for both residential and non-residential development. This includes tree preservation, planting and landscaping, water quality improvements and encouraging the use of bio-retention filters, rain gardens and sediment basins,” according to McCaleb.

Broken Arrow has one MET recycling center and is in discussion to add a second to serve the community. The city does not currently offer curbside recycling but is awaiting the results of a study to consider offering this service in the future.

According to Mayor McCaleb, “The city will continue work on the Green Plan and our citizens will be hearing much more about it over the coming months.”

To track city initiatives and for more information, visit www.brokenarrowok.gov

Owasso-A History of Going Green

The City of Owasso calls itself the City without Limits, and not surprisingly, Mayor Stephen Cataudella is proud of the environmental progress of the city.

As he states, “Owasso’s leadership in recycling and earth-friendly initiatives continues to be well received by residents, as well as regularly recognized on a state level. This leadership and recognition has resulted in Owasso being tagged as a progressive, forward thinking community that weighs decisions that are made today on the basis of how they will impact future generations to come. I could not be more pleased.”

Twenty years ago, Owasso was the first suburban community in the metropolitan Tulsa area to provide a free facility for recycling. Items accepted at the center include aluminum, antifreeze, cardboard, cooking oil, glass, lead-acid batteries, newspaper, paper, plastics, and used motor oil. In addition, Owasso also requires the separation of yardwaste from trash stream April through October. This results in thousands of cubic yards of grass clippings being diverted from area landfills, extending the life of the landfill and encouraging residents to compost.

The City of Owasso is also using green technology in building new facilities. Last year a new fire station opened that uses geothermal technology for heating and cooling.

The mayor is continuing to see green even in a challenging financial environment. Mayor Cataudella states, “I believe the success of Owasso’s green initiatives can be measured by the overwhelming growth Owasso has experienced over the last 20 years. During that time period, Owasso was Oklahoma’s fastest growing community in terms of residential development and continues to expand its retail offerings during a time when the economic environment nationally is not conducive to do so. The green initiatives implemented at a time when “going green” was not even on the radar screens of many communities has resulted in an environment that is attractive both residentially and commercially.”

Staff leadership teams are continuing to work on bringing more green technology to the city. Groups are working on reviewing utility structures, fleet and property maintenance, construction specifications, and public information for the new budget year that begins in July.

For more information about green initiatives in the City of Owasso, check www.cityofowasso.com.

Sand Springs- Environmentalism and Economic Development

Bob Walker is a mayor who quotes Kermit. “It’s not easy being green. Initiating green programs often takes an initial infusion of dollars to seek a beneficial return over time. In today’s challenging economic climate, it is difficult to convince constituents of the value of being green while many of them are seeing red.”

Like most cities in Oklahoma, Sand Springs has its challenges being green. According to Walker, “Many of our citizens have yet to fully embrace the values of environmentalism. But we are not standing still when it comes to improving upon our natural amenities. We are a city in transformation – respecting our industrial heritage while moving forward with the exciting new realities of environmental achievement. We are accomplishing this through a spirit of collaboration, cooperation and communication with our community partners.”

Sand Springs has had success in forming partnerships between the city and private developers, transforming a contaminated smelter site into the Cimarron Center, which won an award from the regional Environmental Protection Agency. The Keystone Corrider revitalization project is another example of cooperative efforts, as the city works to remove blight and developers provide more goods and services to residents, even replacing a school with air quality issues with a new one.

Mayor Walker states, “Projects like this demonstrate that environmentalism and economic development can walk hand-in-hand.”

Recycling in Sand Springs is available at the City’s MET recycling depot, and twice a year “Cleaning and Recycling (CARE) Day.” In the 19th year, CARE Day is a community effort for general cleanup and disposal of bulky items, with neighbors helping neighbors clean up Sand Springs. And, each month there is a “Chipper Day,” an opportunity to bring tree limbs to the Street Division facility which turns them into mulch for composting. For more information visit www.sand-springs.ok.us.

Walker sums it up, “Even in the face of economic uncertainty, we cannot stand still and let this necessary component of living set idle. Good environmental stewardship equals good government.”

For all of our communities in Tulsa/Green Country area, we could not have said it any better. Thank you to all our cities and mayors for continuing to make our communities healthy for our families and the future.

Copyright © Gail Condrick, 2009

Gail Condrick is a writer and lover of all things earth and ocean living in Sarasota, Florida. Write to Gail