The City of Red Wing is continually looking at ways to do a better job for our citizens and at ways to do that job better for the environment. One of the earliest examples of this was the Solid Waste Incinerator. Back in the early 1980s the City Council was faced with the need to find a way to handle the refuse waste that was being collected and placed in a City-owned landfill. Our landfill was close to the end of its capacity, and a decision had to be made on whether to site a new landfill, haul our waste to a different landfill site, or find an alternate way to handle this material. After many public meetings and many discussions with consultants, the City Council decided that building a waste-to-energy incinerator was the best option for the long range needs of our community. Incinerators were a very new concept in the United States but had already proven to be a good alternative to landfills throughout Europe. The foresight by that City Council would not only eliminate the need to landfill our refuse material, it also put the City of Red Wing in the forefront of emerging technology that would help the environment for future generations.
Back in 1985 the price of gasoline dropped to unexpected low levels, and the City saw substantial savings (approximately $30,000.00) in the cost to operate our fleet vehicles. The City staff saw this savings as a potential way to fund an energy savings program for our public buildings. A presentation was made to the City Council, and authorization was given to the staff to do an energy audit for several of the city’s buildings. The results of this audit showed that by investing in energy efficient upgrades to our facilities, we could save enough money on electricity and natural gas to not only attain a short payback on investment, but to save money for several years beyond the payback period. When these results were presented to the City Council, it was approved to implement the “Red Wing Community Energy Program” and begin the investment in energy savings.
Over the following twenty years the City has completed many more projects to help our environment: upgrades to the Waste Water Treatment Facility, combined sewer separation, energy efficient lighting upgrades to the City’s parking ramps, construction of two new water treatment facilities, storm water programs to control run off, converting of our street lights to a more energy efficient and less visually polluting light system, implementing a household program for collecting recyclable items that were previously sent to landfills or burned in the waste incinerator. The City has been recycling all of our fluorescent lights for years. We have implemented a program to purchase pickup trucks with diesel engines that get 3 to 6 more miles to the gallon than the comparable gasoline engines. In the spring of 2005 the City converted our cleaning supplies to a “green” system from 3M. In November of 2006 we put new recycling containers in most City buildings to encourage everyone not to just throw everything in the trash. This winter we are looking at converting all of our paper towels, toilet paper and other paper supplies to “green” products as well. All of these programs and more have been put in place by a work staff and a City Council that believe in looking for ways to help our environment. Yes, some of these items came because of State or Federal mandates, but all of these items were undertaken because Red Wing is a community that cares about the environment. This message has been repeated many times by our citizens. Time after time at public meetings, we have heard that the environment is important. We have heard that we need to do the right thing and consider what our actions might do to the environment. The City Staff believes that we need to continually look for options to lessen our negative impact on the environment. The City Council has continually made decisions based on what would be the best thing to help the environment.
This commitment to the environment will be ongoing in 2007. The Public Works Department plans to buy its first hybrid vehicle. We are strongly looking at a Ford Escape but have not made that final decision. This small SUV would be able to ride four people comfortably to meetings. It can haul equipment and supplies if needed. But the real plus is that for in town driving, which is where this vehicle drives almost exclusively, we should get 33 to 34 miles to the gallon. This compares to the normal 12-16 miles to the gallon that we get with our pickup fleet. We understand that there are cheaper vehicles to buy that would do the same job, but we really believe we need to lead the effort to get everyone in Red Wing thinking about doing the things that are best for the environment. If we can set the example, and most of our citizens agree that the environment matters, then we can show that Red Wing is a community that is truly looking to the future and what our actions today can do to affect that future.
In 2007 the City will be continuing with a plan for the development of the riverfront. The environmental impact of this development is a leading factor in the final decisions that will be made by our City Council. Some citizens may not believe this, but when you look at the last twenty years and the decisions that have been made by our elected officials, it should be obvious to everyone that this group does understand that our environment is very important to all citizens of Red Wing.
I have been an employee of the City of Red Wing for 25 years, and I can tell you that the message from our leadership has always been clear on the issue of preserving our environment. Being a river town we have the need to make sure we are not polluting the Mississippi. Being Pretty Red Wing, we have the opportunity to show everyone that we care about the environment and that we make the right decisions in all of our operations for the benefit of generations to come. We did not have to build a solid waste incinerator. We did not have to make all of our buildings as energy efficient as possible. We did not have to convert our street lights to a system that is less visually polluting. We do not have to buy a hybrid vehicle. Unless you understand what “Pretty Red Wing” means to each of us, then you know why we had to do these things. Pretty Red Wing is not just the title to an old song. It is a motto for a community that cares about our environment. It is the reason most of us choose to call this community home. It is the reason that I can take a little pride when someone finds out that I am from Red Wing, and they comment on how beautiful our town is. “Pretty Red Wing” is a statement to the continued commitment to the environment by a small river town that knows we have the opportunity to make a difference.