Clean water priority for some Janesville residents, others say there is no problem

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Marcia Nelesen
Tuesday, February 4, 2014

JANESVILLE--People who filled out to an unscientific survey created by the Sustainable Janesville Committee were polarized in their responses about the importance of environmental issues.

Most respondents indicated strong opinions, either calling environmental issues "not important at all" or "very important" with few responses in the middle.

The November survey might accurately reflect Janesville sentiment, or it might be that some who took the survey are the most negative about environmental issues, some connected to the survey suggested.

Clean water and air surfaced as the biggest concerns among those residents who had a more positive outlook on sustainable efforts.

Members of the sustainable committee solicited community input to help it set this year's goals.

The committee of volunteers was formed by the Janesville City Council after the council voted in 2008 to become an eco-municipality.

Allison Rollette, committee chairwoman, said the committee will focus on the positive comments to help members plan future initiatives.

Rollette figured at least some of the negative comments came from members of a group that successfully defeated the committee's efforts to designate Janesville as a Green Tier community. The designation would have partnered the city with the state Department of Natural Resources in its sustainability efforts.

Those who spoke against Green Tier committee said they feared it was a United Nations plot to rob residents of freedom and property.

Rollette said the survey will be useful to committee members.

For example, Rollette said she would have put efforts into bicycle advocacy. But residents who answered the survey believe the more important intitiatives involve clean water and air, she said.

The main question asked of respondents was: “How important are sustainable initiatives to you?

Of 480 respondents, 200 said sustainable initiatives were not important at all to them. But 177 answered at the other end of the range and said sustainable efforts were very important. The remaining respondents answered somewhere in between.

Terry Nolan, city staff liaison for the committee, said most people rated clean water—both surface and drinking water—as the most important issue.

The survey cannot be considered scientific because the sampling was not random--people could choose whether to take it. The survey was posted online.

“I don't think the committee was really surprised by the comments,” Nolan said. “Disappointed, but not surprised.”

Some of the negative comments came from people who were negative on every issue, Rollette said.

“The negative comments were from people seemingly not engaged in the conversation at all,” Rollette said. “They were worrying about the cost of the free survey and the cost of our committee, which is volunteer,” she said.

Rollette said many of the comments were thoughtful and useful.

Based on the survey results, the committee will likely now focus on initiatives to improve water and air quality, she said.

“That was exactly what we wanted (the survey) to do,” Rollette said.

“We had some goals and we thought, 'Gee, I wonder what the rest of the people would rather see.'”

The committee is searching for an organization that might be interested in increasing air quality testing stations in Janesville, especially as Interstate 90/39 is expanded.

The only testing station is at the state line.

The committee will also help research ways the city can increase the use of renewable energy in its facilities.

Other questions asked were:

-- How important is it the city of Janesville consider renewable energies on city facilities?

Responses included 190 who said it is not important at all while 179 said it is very important.

-- How important is it the city of Janesville consider efforts to improve air quality?

Responses included 198 who said it is not important at all and 181 said it is very important.

-- How important is it the city provide a stormwater utility discount to residents who install a rainwater retention system?

Responses included 211 who answered not important at all and 135 answered very important.

-- How important is it the city create a comprehensive bicycle advocacy plan to encourage the use of bicycles as transportation?

Responses included 223 who said that is not important at all while 141 said it is very important.

Last updated: 7:33 am Tuesday, February 4, 2014

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