Mary Ellen Ramage has managed the Borough of Etna, a historic mill town just across the Allegheny River from the City of Pittsburgh, for 27 years and has worked there for 39. Leading a densely populated municipality located at the bottom of a much larger water shed presents many challenges and Mary Ellen has made a name for herself by tackling them head on. Under her leadership, the Borough was an early achiever, earning Silver, in the Sustainable Pennsylvania Community Certification, a performance recognition program of the Pennsylvania Municipal League and Sustainable Pittsburgh, and she suggests other municipalities do the same.
The Borough of Etna was one of the early adopters of the Certification. What would you say to a municipality on the fence about working towards becoming certified?
DO IT! I know and fully understand how very busy we all are, shrinking resources, smaller staffs, more responsibilities, but you will see while working through the certification process, an outline of what you have done, are doing and CAN do, to help make your community more sustainable. And given those shrinking resources and smaller staffs, what could be better a better tool than an outline of how you can save time, save money now and going forward for the future of your community. The Certification process helps you organize and prioritize activities to help your community for years to come.
Please give an example of a sustainability practice Etna has implemented that may be relevant to other organizations, municipalities or businesses related to environmental conservation, social equity, or operational efficiencies and savings?
Our best example is dealing with stormwater within our own borders. We adopted a green master plan for the Borough in 2014 and included green practices in our Comprehensive Plan adopted the same year. We realize, being at the bottom of the watershed, how important it is to plan for and deal with stormwater. We have undertaken major projects in our community to tackle this head on. These projects not only remove storm water from combined sewer system and Pine Creek, but are highly visible in our densely populated urban community. In addition, this gorgeous and function new infrastructure has helped spur economic development in our community!
What has sustainability meant for you and for your work in Etna?
When I became Manager of this lovely town I had so many goals that I wanted to see accomplished for my community. Within five years, if not less, my main goal became “I will not leave this for the next person in my position or for the next generation”. I found so many things unfinished or band-aided – mainly dealing with infrastructure; sewers, water lines, etc., but that generally applied across the board. It isn’t a criticism, as each administration and generation must deal with the economy they are given, but I saw how things were not addressed comprehensively. That includes understanding the effects on other aspects of the community, things that cost so much more down the road and can affect quality of life issues for residents. Implementing sustainable practices ensures a better quality of life now and in the future. Each time we implement a policy or practice there is the sense of protecting those who come later and will have to face their own challenges and not focus their resources or time on things that could have been previously addressed. Going through the Certification process helps you to understand what you can do and provides a roadmap to make things brighter for the future.