Port Washington, population ~12,000, is the seat of Ozaukee County and sits 30 miles up the coast from Milwaukee. Our city has its own swimming beach, harbor, and an adjacent, vibrant downtown. Port, as we call it, has long been a walkable and bikeable community, with the Ozaukee Interurban Trail, a pedestrian/cycling trail that runs the length of the county, running right through it. Part of the trail follows a steep, picturesque ravine, and we established the Hales Trail Community Garden in an underutilized, ½-acre park along the Interurban in 2012.

Charting the Course
Mayor Tom Mlada established the Environmental Planning Committee in 2013. The Committee’s mission is to advance policies that will foster environmental, economic, and social sustainability by identifying and promoting the most efficient and responsible stewardship of our resources. The Committee aims to nurture a culture of sustainability in which a balanced approach to best management practices along with smart growth and education engages and leads our city towards an environmentally enhanced future. The EPC meets monthly and has 15 members, representing businesses, residents, conservation land management, city departments, and alderpersons.

Noting Our Good Work
Some of the EPC’s first actions have been to underscore what our city has already done in the realm of conservation and sustainability. We have become designated as a Bird City, simply by completing and submitting our application, since Port had already taken many important steps to protect bird habitat. The City’s newest park, a former coal stockpile area for a power plant that has since converted to natural gas, includes a migratory bird sanctuary. The EPC then developed a new Green Business Certification Program as a way to allow our businesses to wear their sustainability achievements with pride.

Changing Ourselves for the Better
Amidst these successes, we know that sustainability is not just a matter of checking off a few boxes, and we are exploring ways to live better. This is our inspiration for becoming the 12th Green Tier Legacy Community; we see the other Legacy Communities as having something to teach us. We have been exploring potential sister cities, both on our Great Lakes and across the Atlantic, as a way to expand our network with other cities that are learning to tread more lightly on our one Earth. In 2014, we employed a summer intern to explore potential projects, and we have planned to do the same in 2015.

Where We’re Going
Our activity plan includes establishing a walk-to-school program, which could save hundreds of miles a day of vehicle-miles and make our streets and schools safer. We have also discussed assessing and mapping our natural areas and conducting public outreach on invasive species and wildlife habitat. Our major focus for the foreseeable future is the creation of a composting program to serve restaurants by delivering their kitchen scraps to one or more area farmers, who will turn those so-called waste products into the best fertilizer around and bring it back to us in the form of fresh, farm-grown produce.

We have an exciting future, and we’re happy to share the journey with other communities that are making the world a better place, one idea at a time.

To learn more about Port Washington, visit their website.