Sturgeon Bay Giving Green Tier Another Look

Sturgeon Bay may change its mind about becoming a Green Tier Legacy Community (GTLC). 

A couple of years ago, the city decided there wasn’t enough benefit to joining the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources’ (DNR) program for developing and implementing environmental sustainability measures.

“At the time that it was presented to us a couple of years ago, the city, collectively, and the council, as well as our committee, couldn’t come up with enough positive reasons to have a positive impact, with the unknown of what else was going to be required by being in the program,” said Dan Williams, chair of the Community Protection and Services Committee. 

Other than being able to say that Sturgeon Bay is a Green Tier community, Williams said city officials at that time couldn’t find any “super benefit for doing that.”

But city officials are now taking another look because membership may enable the city to save money on a loan to upgrade Sturgeon Bay’s wastewater-treatment plant. 

Last week, the committee heard from Sturgeon Bay Utilities’ (SBU) general manager, Jim Stawicki, before recommending that the Common Council pass a resolution approving participation in the program. Stawicki said informal committees first met in 2019, prior to the Common Council discussing a Green Tier Legacy charter in 2020.

“As Mr. Williams alluded to, there just wasn’t enough value to it that we saw at the time, or that the council saw at the time,” he said. “Then COVID came about, and pretty much everything related to these sustainability groups kind of went to the wayside for a while.”

The County of Door is now a Green Tier program member, as are five municipalities in northern Door County: the villages of Sister Bay, Ephraim and Egg Harbor; and the towns of Liberty Grove and Gibraltar.

Stawicki said a GTLC charter entered into by a local government with the DNR is a “soft push” to move toward environmental sustainability and resiliency.

“Basically, the effort is to make communities better places to live,” he said. “Frankly, that’s the mission of WPPI Energy, our joint action agency, of which Sturgeon Bay is a member-owner.”

Stawicki said the biggest change SBU has seen with the Green Tier program is that participating communities are entitled to a principal forgiveness of 10% in borrowing money through the Clean Water Fund and Safe Drinking Water loan programs.

“Our wastewater-treatment plant is about 43 years old now and in need of some upgrades in order to meet the requirements of the DNR and our WPDES [Wisconsin Pollutant Discharge Elimination System] permit,” he said. “Thus far, the [utility] commission has given its approval to move forward with between $4 million and $5 million worth of improvements that will occur starting this year and through the end of 2024.”

Stawicki said there is probably another $10 million to $20 million worth of improvements to be made between the city’s wastewater-treatment plant, the collection system and the water-distribution system.

“With that in mind, 10% of those kinds of monies, we’re not talking chump change anymore,” he said. “These are real dollars that will benefit our ratepayers by not having to pay them over a 20-year period of a loan.”

Stawicki said the 10% principal forgiveness on a loan is a “strong impetus” to become a GTLC, an initiative on which SBU is willing to take the lead.

“We’re going to benefit directly in terms of dollars and cents and principal forgiveness,” he said.

As a participating GTLC member, the city would submit an annual report on its environmental sustainability efforts, Stawicki said, as well as participate in GTLC member meetings with other communities.

Because the deadline to apply for the first Clean Water Fund loan the city is seeking for $1.3 million is Sept. 30, Stawicki said the council needs to pass the resolution by then.

Stawicki said he contacted county administrator Ken Pabich and Door County facilities and parks director Wayne Spritka about future requirements upon becoming a GTLC.

“Both Ken and Wayne were positive [about] the program,” he said. “They said, ‘There’s a little bit of work, but it’s far from onerous.’”

City administrator Josh Van Lieshout said there would be value for the city to become a GTLC member with the 10% principal forgiveness on a loan.

“With regard to the resolution, you seem to understand that you’re kind of signing up to do a sustainability plan and a watershed plan,” he said.

Van Lieshout said the city should be able to “check off a lot of the boxes” to be a GTLC member based on what it is doing now, such as having fuel-efficient engines. 

He said he would be getting together with Stawicki and WPPI Energy service representative Markie Bscherer to put together a memo and advise the council on the Green Tier program.

The committee’s recommendation calls for the council to consider a GTLC resolution during its Sept. 5 meeting, or sooner if the matter is ready for action on Aug. 16.

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