By Erica Marra
The Meridian Times Staff Reporter
Though Meridian Township resides less than two miles away from Michigan State University, a look at the recent increase in nominations for the township’s annual Environmental Stewardship Awards is evidence that some community members view the phrase “go green” a bit differently than their neighbors down the road.
“For the 2016 awards, we have had a larger pool of nominees than in years past, which is exciting,” said Meridian Township Associate Planner and staff liaison to the township’s Environmental Commission, Harmony Gmazel. “In years past, we usually just have two or three nominations per year. This is the most we’ve had in quite a while.”
Meridian Charter Township’s Environmental Stewardship awards are held to honor residents who advocate for the environment through “local habitat stewardship, recycling, or anything in between”. Township citizens are free to submit names of community members who they feel make a positive impact on the environment to the Environmental Commission, which then deliberates as a group and chooses the award winners.
Meridian Township Environmental Commissioner William McConnell said that he and his colleagues are pleased that they will be able to recognize nearly double the number of residents than usual.
“I get the feeling that the [nomination] process is becoming better known and I think the large number of nominations this year is evidence that people are seeing it and seeing more value in it, so we’re getting a stronger response,” McConnell said. “A smaller amount of nominations in the past indicates less that people weren’t doing valuable things, but perhaps people weren’t as aware of the awards and their procedures.”
McConnell said that the increase is partially related to the networking efforts of commission members.
“The Environmental Commission is blessed with great staff support from the township. They get the word out through their networks and each of the commissioners reaches out through our own networks to solicit nominations,” McConnell said. “Also, a new push on social media has a lot to do with it, as well.”
For the township, double the nominations meant double the winners. Seven winners were announced from five categories by the Environmental Commission at a meeting on April 6: the East Lansing Food Co-op from the non-profit category, the Haslett Beautification Association from the service club category, Ody and Rachel Norkin of Skybird Okemos Travel and the Michigan Flyer from the business category, both Michael Thomas and Dave Reicosky from the private individuals category and Meridian Township Assistant Police Chief Ken Plaga from the public sector category.
Plaga was chosen for his efforts combatting chronic wasting disease in local deer in correlation with the Department of Natural Resources. He said he was very surprised upon learning he was chosen as a winner of an Environmental Stewardship Award.
“I’ve been with the township for almost 21 years as a police officer, so my route doesn’t necessarily take me into the environmental realm,” Plaga said. “The efforts definitely give off a positive feeling when you’re know you’re trying to stop the spread of a disease that isn’t really an enjoyable way for these animals to die.”
McConnell said that the awards are not just a way to recognize deserving residents, but will also hopefully increase active participation within the township itself.
“In some cases, you’ll see the awardees are people who have already been very involved in the township for a long time, and it’s a way of honoring them and making them see that their efforts are appreciated,” McConnell said. “In other cases, there are people who maybe were doing something and haven’t been too involved in township activities and suddenly they hear that they’ve been noticed. Hopefully in some of those cases those people will get more involved in township boards, commissions, and committees and find other ways to bring their experience and knowledge into the township to help.”
Paul Thompson, professor within Michigan State University’s Department of Community Sustainability, said that community involvement is an important aspect of solving the environmental issues our planet is facing.
“I think in most cases, community involvement is really critical. A lot of environmental issues really require collective action,” Thompson said. “People have to cooperate, and they have to be aware and they have to have at least a minimal agreement of the fact that there’s a problem and what kinds of action need to be taken. In order for those kinds of things to happen, there has to be some kind of activity that involves a broad section of the community.”
Meridian Mall-goer Kathy Oglesbee said that while she does make an effort to do her part, the idea of the Environmental Stewardship awards puts into perspective the idea that there is always more that can be done.
“We go green, we recycle, we plant trees and we built a pond on our property for the animals,” Oglesbee said. “But [the awards] are kind of a nice gesture, I think they will inspire people to go out and do a little bit more.”
The Meridian Township Environmental Stewardship Awards ceremony will take place at the Environmental Commission meeting on May 4 at 7:00PM. For more information, contact the Meridian Township Community Development & Planning Department at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 517-853-4568.