As the Town of Marion seeks to become a ‘Green Community,’ the Marion Board of Selectmen on June 5 committed to taking the next step towards acceptance into the state program. This means that by going green, Marion could be seeing another shade of green in the form of hundreds of thousands of dollars in state money for further energy efficiency projects.
Marion Energy Management Committee member Jennifer Francis introduced the Stretch Building Code, which is the fifth and near final step in the Green Community application process. Fall Special Town Meeting voters would have to approve the new building code that calls for somewhat stricter energy efficiency requirements for new house construction in Marion.
A state implemented code already exists now, said Francis, which requires an Energy Star Home rating of 65. The new Stretch Building Code would require a relatively minor decrease to a rating of 55.
“It’s really just a building code that makes buildings a little more energy efficient,” Francis said.
Francis emphasized that the Stretch Building Code would not affect older homes, existing homes, or renovations to existing homes, only new homes and certain commercial and industrial buildings. The new code targets aspects of construction such as insulation, windows, doors, and energy efficient heating and cooling systems. And although these features would add about $3,000 more to construction costs to the average new 2,500 square-foot home, the accumulated savings over the next five to eight years would exceed those extra costs to the homeowner.
“Most [new] homes in Marion do this anyway because it’s just a good thing to do,” said Francis. “The value to a homeowner really pays for itself in a really short order and it makes sense.”
Francis said the Town has already met the other criteria of becoming a Green Community, including an established municipal solar overlay project (atop the capped landfill) with a renewable bylaw to allow renewable energy developers to develop there “by right,” and plans to both reduce the Town’s energy consumption by 20 percent over five years and purchase more energy efficient vehicles.
“We’ve come quite a ways and we’ve got some steps left,” said Francis. “We already have a lot of good things underway.”
Already 230 Massachusetts municipalities have adopted the new code, Francis said, “So we’re not breaking new ice here in terms of moving forward with this.” Actually, she said, Marion is rather behind in the Green Community arena.
Some of the Green Community towns near Marion have already seen quite a bit of ‘green’ as a result. For example, Dartmouth has already received $220,000, Acushnet $500,000, and New Bedford $600,000.
Marion would receive $150,000 in funding right away upon Green Community acceptance, with eligibility for more of those grants other towns now enjoy.
In order to complete the mandated town energy audit, Francis said the board would have to express support for the new code and a commitment towards pursuing an article on the special town meeting warrant.
Building Commissioner Scott Shippey is already on board with the Stretch Building Code, Francis told selectmen.
“But how would the homeowner react?” Selectman Jonathan Waterman wondered aloud. “All of a sudden, they’re being told they need to change the construction of their house.”
Francis said the response should be positive, especially since the financial benefits include state rebates on energy efficient appliances in addition to the money saved just by having a Stretch Building Code-compliant home. And besides, as she pointed out earlier, most residents building new homes are already pursuing energy efficiency.
“Once they learn about the program, they’re going to find out that they’re going to save a lot of money over time,” Francis said.
Selectman Randy Parker said, as someone in the electrical business, he’s familiar with the new code and supports it, but he was not quite yet ready to commit to an article on the next town meeting warrant.
Francis, as well as Town Administrator Paul Dawson, addressed Parker’s concern over providing ample information to the public before committing to an article, reminding him that an actual article has not yet been written, and the usual public hearing and other informational meetings would happen before any article is approved and placed on the warrant. This blessing, so to speak, acts only as an expression of intent to move forward to become a Green Community. “A spirit of moving forward,” Dawson described it.
All three selectmen agreed, and now Dawson will send a letter to the Massachusetts Department of Energy resources expressing the board’s commitment to make Marion a Green Community.
In other matters, the Town is still in an agreement with Casella Waste Systems, Inc. to receive the town’s recyclable materials for the foreseeable future; however, with only an ‘agreement’ and not a contract, the situation still is, as acting DPW Superintendent Jon Henry put it, “really kind of nervous.”
Marion does have a short-term local solution to the national recycling crisis municipalities are forced to reckon with, Dawson said, and that would come in the form of public outreach and education that would hopefully help residents reset their recycling habits.
Since single-stream recycling was introduced, a method that made recycling easier for residents and gave them a convenience incentive to recycle more, improper recycling has become a growing issue leading to the eventual rejection of the nation’s recyclables by the biggest buyer of these materials, China. This has now led to increased disposal fees and nowhere for recyclables to go.
When the Town’s recycling service WeCare Environmental suspended its recycling contract last month until it relocates to its new facility later in the year, Marion struggled to find a company to accept its recycling. Dawson said the cost to dispose of recycling keeps fluctuating under the current agreement with Casella. Last month it was $98.50 per ton and, according to Dawson, could rise to $200 per ton in the future.
“Only time will tell,” Dawson said, “but it’s an issue were going to have to wrap our arms around pretty quickly.”
For now, residents should see no visible changes in the recycling process, but the Town is asking residents to be mindful of what they put into the bins.
“We are asking residents to please try to be more aware of what they put in there,” Dawson said. “No pizza boxes,” at least not the bottom half that’s usually contaminated by oils and grease. Dawson asked residents to please clean out their glass and plastic containers, and soon SEMASS will assist the town is getting even further information out to the public.
Although the town is not yet there, the day may come when the Town will leave a resident’s recycling there on the curb if finds repeated problematic recycling practices at an address.
“That might well be the natural progression,” Dawson said. “We could leave it behind,” he added, although having to inspect curbside bins “would certainly slow the [recycling] process down.”
In other business, the board approved aspiring Eagle Scout Jackson St. Don’s proposed Eagle Scout project of a GaGa ball pit at Silvershell Beach.
The project has been bounced around during Conservation Commission meetings as St. Don was instructed by the commission to seek permission and letters of approval from the Recreation Department, Department of Public Works, which he has received, and now the selectmen.
The selectmen had a few questions, having never heard of GaGa ball before. St. Don described what the pit would look like – a 25-foot diameter octagon with 30-inch high sides made of pressure-treated wood. The pit would be set about an inch into the ground for stability, and could be disassembled should any significant storm events approach, the crux of the Conservation Commission’s concerns.
“It’s very popular in Boy Scouts,” St. Don told the curious selectmen. Bourne High School has one, he said, “And it’s gaining in popularity.”
St. Don expects to install the pit once he gets approval from the Conservation Commission, requiring only about a day or two to install it, he said, with all the pre-planning completed at home.
Once the pit is installed, it will be Town-owned and its upkeep and care will be overseen by the Recreation Department and the DPW.
The board will meet only once in July on the 10thand then continue to meet twice a month in August on the 7thand 21st, with all three meetings held at the police station.
The next meeting of the Marion Board of Selectmen, however, is scheduled for June 19at 7:00 at the Marion Town House.
Marion Board of Selectmen
By Jean Perry