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Sustainability Comes to Chambersburg Borough       

By Carla Johns, Shippensburg University and Jeffrey Stonehill, Borough of Chambersburg

Sustainability, at its most basic definition, is the “ability or the capacity of something to maintain or sustain itself.” It is a complex system involving ideas, people, development, environmental issues and more, to allow for management and growth in the present that will not put future generations in jeopardy. Practicing sustainability is living within the means of our natural resources and land availability without causing harm to others, requiring careful thought about the future and how a community plans to develop. It is a concept and multi-modal practice that intertwines social/cultural issues, environmental issues, economic development, and governmental policies.

Sustainable communities, according to the Geographical Association, are “places where people want to live and work, now and in the future. They meet the diverse needs of existing and future residents, are sensitive to their environment, and contribute to a high quality of life. They are safe and inclusive, well-planned, built and run, and offer equality of opportunity and good services for all.” Maintaining a community’s environmental and economic health, engaging and fostering its’ citizen participation, and social inclusion are the key aspects to creating a successful sustainable community, yet 8 main components are required to be in accordance with sustainable development practices and are as follows:

1. They are active, inclusive and safe
2. Well-run
3. Environmentally sensitive
4. Well designed and built
5. Well connected
6. Thriving
7. Well served
8. Fair to everyone

Balancing the economic, environmental, and social needs of the community, meeting those needs, and respecting the needs of other local communities are the values that embody sustainable development. Sustainable communities require cooperation from multiple government agencies, community residents, developers, business owners, non-profit organizations, and surrounding municipalities to help achieve these components for a community’s road to sustainability.

In 2014, the Pennsylvania Municipal League, with whom the Borough of Chambersburg is a member, began the Sustainable Pennsylvania Community Certification program that acknowledges the steps taken by municipalities to achieve sustainability. Achieving a level of certification recognizes municipalities that are distinguished in applying sustainable policies in order to advance community prosperity. Certification is broken down into five levels – platinum, gold, silver, bronze and associate – and is based on 130 criteria in the following nine categories:

1. Governance and Community Engagement
2. Healthy Communities
3. Diversity, Equity and Inclusion
4. Education
5. Energy Use, Conservation and Green Building
6. Environmental Stewardship
7. Housing
8. Land Use and Transportation
9. Local Economy

The Borough of Chambersburg is located in Franklin County, Pennsylvania with a population of about 20,508 residents (2013). It is the County Seat and is a full-service municipality, offering all services and utilities to the town, and is the only municipality in Pennsylvania to do so.

Chambersburg is a unique community. Pennsylvania’s only municipal natural gas utility, owned and operated by the citizens of the Borough; Chambersburg is also Pennsylvania’s largest municipal electric utility, and the only one that owns and operates generation stations. Chambersburg provides natural gas, electricity, water, sewer, parking and trash for the residents and businesses throughout most of the Borough. Under local control, rates, policies, etc., that are decided locally by the Chambersburg Town Council.

Operating under the Pennsylvania Borough Code, Chambersburg employs over 300 full-time, part-time, and seasonal workers to serve the citizens and businesses of the town. This allows the Borough to not only be able to provide all utilities, but also to operate their own police force, storm sewer system, a combination paid and volunteer fire department, emergency services, a recreation department, municipal parking program, a residential rental inspection program, and an active public works program, which includes a downtown revitalization effort, and other neighborhood redevelopment programs and a neighborhood preservation program.

In the Borough’s 2014 Annual Report, Chambersburg announced the focus on being a safe, clean, green, and healthy community, outlining various new projects and improvement plans. Some of these plans include an update to the downtown vision and downtown master plan, a separate downtown re-development plan, a camera and security project to assist the police department, record numbers of street resurfacing projects, and a pedestrian and bicycle improvement plan.

The 2016 budget adopted by the Chambersburg Town Council includes a goal to secure Sustainable Pennsylvania Community Certification.

In order to accomplish this goal the Borough formed a partnership with the Shippensburg University Center for Land Use and Sustainability. The Center’s vision is to become a nationally recognized interdisciplinary center that that leverages the expertise of faculty, staff, and students to promote sustainable land use, economic development, and communities at local, regional, and global scales.

The mission of the Center for Land Use and Sustainability (CLUS) is to support science-based solutions to interdisciplinary sustainability challenges. Their vision is to become a nationally recognized interdisciplinary center that that leverages the expertise of Shippensburg University faculty, staff, and students to promote sustainable land use, economic development, and communities at local, regional, and global scales.

The goals of the CLUS are:
  • To promote applied interdisciplinary research on issues related to land use and sustainability
  • To support affordable, sustainable solutions in our local, regional, and global communities.
  • To create professional development opportunities for faculty and staff, and high-impact learning experiences for students.
The CLUS is housed in the Geography-Earth Science Department at Shippensburg University, and is managed by a Director, Dr. Claire Jantz, and Associate Director, Dr. George Pomeroy.

Dr. Claire Jantz is the Director of the CLUS. She has extensive expertise in land use and land cover change analysis and modeling, and interdisciplinary research. Dr. Jantz has particular expertise within the Chesapeake Bay Watershed, the Delaware River Basin, and the Delmarva Peninsula. She has participated in several collaborative research efforts funded by NASA, Maryland SeaGrant, NPS, and the William Penn Foundation.

The highest level of achievement under the Sustainable PA Community Certification is the Platinum Level, which requires the highest range of points a municipality can earn and needs 90% of web-accessed links to provide documentation to the public. Only two townships in the state have achieved this level of certification; Cranberry Township in Butler County and Warwick Township in Lancaster County.

Student Carla Johns of Shippensburg University’s Department of Geography-Earth Science who is a senior earning a BS in Geography with a concentration in Human-Environmental Studies and a Letter of Completion in Geographic Information Systems, will be appointed as an unpaid intern of the Borough of Chambersburg. The internship will be an independent research project for Carla to gain academic and professional experience for a career in the field of sustainability. She will in turn undertake a research project is to assist the Borough of Chambersburg with their goal of reaching either the Silver or Gold achievement level for the Sustainable Pennsylvania Community Certification.

Chambersburg Borough also established a new Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System (MS4) department in 2015, a utility to manage storm water and protect the streams and environment, including improving water quality and groundwater recharge, development, maintenance, and best management practices. The Borough strives for cost effective and efficient practices to address healthy lifestyles, the natural environment, and economic development.

In addition, the Borough of Chambersburg’s Electric Department is in the fifth year of power purchases from the public-private venture with Energy Power Partners (EPP) and the Blue Ridge Landfill operated by Progressive Waste Solutions. Chambersburg purchases all of the power output from a landfill methane gas harvesting and generation facility located near Scotland, Pennsylvania. This EPA award winning project (2013) receives Chambersburg trash, in time it decomposes to methane gas which is extracted from the landfill through a well system and then is burned in the four Caterpillar engines/generators totaling about 6.1 MW power output around the clock almost all year long. The plant generated 51.4 million kWh of the total 319 million kWh consumed by the customers of Chambersburg Borough Electric Department in 2014 or about 16 percent of the annual total. The renewable sustainable landfill gas plant power project and a corresponding “extension cord” electric line built to connect it to the Borough continue to help Chambersburg have sustainable energy and stabilized rates. Beginning in January 2016, the Borough of Chambersburg began a new single stream curbside recycling program. Single-stream (also known as “fully commingled” or "single-sort") recycling refers to a system in which all paper fibers, plastics, metals, and other containers are mixed in one collection truck, instead of being sorted by the customers into separate containers (newspaper, paperboard, corrugated fiberboard, plastic, glass, etc.) and handled separately throughout the collection process. Until 2016, Chambersburg did not have a single stream curbside program. Curbside collection is now accomplished by a private vendor, utilizing their own equipment and personnel, to collect the single-stream recycling flow on the same days as the Borough currently collects trash, once per week.

The single stream is a comingled mix of:
  • Aluminum beverage cans
  • Steel food & beverage cans, aerosol cans, paint cans (all paint cans must be dry with no wet paint or liquid inside)
  • Clear, brown, blue, and green glass food & beverage containers (all containers must be rinsed thoroughly to remove all food & contaminants)
  • #1 through #7 Plastic Containers (all containers must be rinsed thoroughly to remove all food & contaminants)(It is OK to leave on labels and neck rings)
  • Office/Newsprint Paper, Paperboard & Cardboard: Recycle Any Size. Any Quantity (No packaging (Styrofoam, peanuts, plastic bubble wrap, plastic liners, etc.)):
  • All sizes of cardboard boxes
  • Office paper (any color)
  • Newspapers and inserts
  • Magazines, catalogs, and brochures
Also, beginning in 2014, the Borough of Chambersburg opened a 6.7 acre green yard waste collection and transfer station for the yard waste. Eligible green yard waste includes acorns, bark, branches, brush, bushes, flowers, foliage, kindling, knots, leaves (not fall tree leaves), limbs, plants, roots/rootballs, sawdust, shrubs, twigs, and wood chips. The site includes a set of truck scales for weighing landscapers and contractors recycling loads. All the collected material is processed by a third party vendor into mulch. The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection awarded a grant of $225,000 towards the $906,000 cost of land acquisition and construction for this facility.

All of these new projects and plans for the Borough fall under the necessary components for a community undergoing sustainable development practices, addressing multi-faceted areas of the community including public health, economic development, environmental stewardship, and being efficiently run. This puts the Borough in a favorable position to reach towards a Sustainable PA Community Certification achievement.

Borough of Chambersburg Recognized as Certified Sustainable Municipality (August 23, 2017)

Sustainable Pennsylvania Community Certification for the Borough of Chambersburg: An Assessment of Policies and Practices for a Sustainable Community in South Central PA by Carla Johns

Sustainable Pennsylvania Community Certification for the Borough of Chambersburg: Executive Summary by Anastasia Fritchey

Sustainable Pennsylvania Community Certification for the Borough of Chambersburg: Certification Criteria Assessment by Anastasia Fritchey

Shippensburg University Center for Land Use and Sustainability