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Campus-wide efforts helping the environment

by Richard Veilleux - February 27, 2006

Some 15 months after test running a campus shuttle bus on a mixture of petroleum diesel and biodiesel fuel, an interdisciplinary group of faculty and graduate students is nearly ready to start producing up to 50 gallons of biodiesel each week.

Fifty gallons of alternate fuel can be converted to about 250 gallons of a mixture of   biodiesel and petroleum diesel that will be used to fuel campus shuttle buses. UConn’s blend of biodiesel will be formulated using waste cooking oils from campus dining halls.

“Biodiesel burns cleaner and reduces our dependence on oil,” says Richard Miller, director of environmental policy.

The next few weeks also will mark the start of a pilot program that officials hope will increase efforts on campus to recycle paper, plastic, and glass; a sneaker recycling program will begin anew in March; and several education programs to encourage environmental sensitivity, including Earth Day events in April, are being scheduled.

Many of the programs involve students, faculty, and staff, including the EcoHusky Program. Involving others to participate in UConn’s environmental efforts has been a hallmark of Miller’s more than three years as head of environmental policy.

“I think it’s vital to involve as many people on campus as possible in our sustainability efforts,” Miller says.

“Environmental stewardship isn’t just the responsibility of one person or one office. There’s too much to be done and we have to take advantage of all the opportunities for research projects, community service projects, and learning experiences.”

When Miller was hired, the University and some local residents were at odds over UConn’s failure to implement a formal closure plan for an obsolete landfill.

Working with, among others, the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), a closure plan has been devised and the DEP has approved the final step.

Work will soon begin to cap the landfill and build a 700-car parking lot on top of it.

During the remediation process, UConn will use about 7,000 cubic yards of peat-like soil to restore wetlands that have to be excavated to remove contaminated sediment.

The peat will not be trucked onto campus, but has been taken from the construction site of the Burton Family Football Complex and the Mark R. Schenkman Training Center – the only athletic facility nationwide to be LEEDS-certified as an environmentally friendly and energy-efficient facility.

As part of the landfill closure plan, UConn is required to set aside 60 adjacent acres of open space, including about 30 acres of wetlands, as a permanent preservation area. Miller and the advisory council hope this area will become a park-like area, with plantings, hiking trails, wildlife observation decks, and gathering spots, based on ideas created by landscape architecture students, led by plant science professor Kristin Schwab.

Schwab and her students also are looking at potential designs for Storrs Road leading into the planned Downtown Storrs.

“We’re always trying to engage faculty and students in projects that can further integrate environmental sustainability considerations into decisions that affect the operations of the University,” Miller says.

“There’s a lot of creativity that we hope to harness.”

One of the creative ideas for the near future – which will also tap student design ideas – is to develop at least one “green roof,” involving plantings and other environmentally friendly elements on wide expanses of cement.

Currently, a workgroup is considering either the roof and plaza between the Biology/Physics Building and the Gant Complex, or the Dodd Center plaza.

Miller says the large, unprotected areas create runoff problems when it rains, and cause heat build-up on warm days and heat loss during winter.

Creating a “green roof,” he says, provides energy savings and reduces storm water runoff. The Soil and Water Conservation Society, another student group, is also participating in the process.

Other plans include an environmental careers panel, an April 9 road race on Horsebarn Hill, a Ride Your Bike to Class Week, and a second EcoHusky Mug Day, an effort to reduce the use of laminated, non-recyclable coffee cups.

Additionally, the EcoHusky student group meets weekly, and is regularly involved in campus clean-up projects and invasive plant pulls.

Many hours have been devoted to water conservation, particularly in light of the past summer’s drought, which, together with high demand for water from UConn’s nearby well field, dried up parts of the Fenton River.

Miller says a number of initiatives are under consideration to further conserve water on campus.

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