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2023 Governor's Award for Environmental Excellence logo

Governor's Award for Environmental Excellence

2023 Winners

DEP honored 21 projects done by schools, businesses, and community organizations around the state with the 2023 Governor’s Awards for Environmental Excellence.

Applications were evaluated for their degree of environmental protection, innovation, partnership, economic impact, consideration of climate change, sustainability, and environmental justice, and outcomes achieved.

Collectively, the award-winning projects engaged hundreds of partners and achieved the following results:

  • Grew and donated nearly 10,000 lbs. of organic produce to people in need
  • Preserved over 1,500 acres of land and 32,000 LF of waterways
  • Planted approximately 17,000 grasses, 15,000 trees, and thousands of shrubs
  • Utilized 14 different DEP grants to accomplish their goals
  • Diverted 3,000,000 gallons of stormwater from local waterways
  • Served 13 Environmental Justice Communities
  • Added over 43 Megawatts of solar energy
  • Reduced greenhouse gas emissions by over 47,000 metric tons of Carbon Dioxide
  • Avoided the use of thousands of gallons of gasoline
  • Prevented approximately 400,000 lbs. of sediment from entering Commonwealth waterways

The 2023 Governor’s Awards for Environmental Excellence were awarded to:

Allegheny County for the South Park Green Parking Lot

Officials attend the ribbon cutting ceremony

Following an ecological assessment of the location, the county began work to convert an existing asphalt parking lot to a green parking lot. Completed in December 2021, the county installed a 2.5-acre water-permeable green parking lot along Corrigan Drive and Brownsville Road, just about the historic fairgrounds. The lot accommodates 125 vehicles, including five ADA-accessible spaces, and is designed to capture 95% of all rain that falls on it. Annually, that accounts for about 2.5 million gallons of stormwater – or enough water to fill 35,714 bathtubs.

The lot was constructed of concrete pavers, often referred to as paving stones. Stormwater flows into open joints between each paver and into gravel beds below the parking lot that can hold 89,000 gallons of water at any given time. The stormwater is then slowly absorbed into the ground.

Bethlehem Parking Authority for their Sustainability Program

A charging station in the parking lot

The Bethlehem Parking Authority’s Park-Green Program incorporates a built-in addition of sustainable practices into the organization to be an example of continuous sustainability improvement. It aims to reduce its environmental impacts by focusing on three goals identified as pillars. The pillars were developed based on realistic and attainable opportunities that were centric on the organization’s environmental impacts. The three pillars that their sustainable operations are focused on include; transportation, efficient operations, and green garages.

Commonwealth Charter Academy for the AgWorks Decoupled Aquaponics System

Student working with mint

Between June and August 2022, the AgWorks team, including student interns and volunteers worked on updating the systems by decoupling the plant beds from the fish tanks. Decoupling offers two significant advantages. Firstly, it removes solid fish waste from the system, thus eliminating waste buildup in the grow beds. Secondly, it enables growers to decide whether to run the system either aquaponically, using liquid waste from the fish, or hydroponically through nutrient dosing. Separating the fish tanks and plant beds allows for independent manipulation of the chemistry in both areas, creating the best ecosystem for the plants and fish.

Overall, these improvements have made the AgWorks system more sustainable and provided multiple growing solutions for students and community members. The team is proud of the work and effort our learners put into this project, ensuring that the aquaponic system not only survived but thrived.

Dover Township for the Fox Run Floodplain Restoration

Aerial views of restoration near a football field - before and after

The project included restoring historical floodplain conditions to achieve functional benefits. The restoration achieved water quality improvements (including sediment load reductions of 49,680 lbs/yr) by eliminating problematic erosion and encouraging beneficial ecological processes. The project also meets stormwater peak rate and volume requirements associated with the development of Eagle View Park. The legacy sediment material was utilized onsite to create a 10-acre pad for the proposed park improvements, which will include a playground, parking lot, ball field, pavilions, and walking trails.

In addition to the community benefits, the project also provided substantial ecological uplift by restoring 3,440-LF of degraded stream channel, creating nearly 5 acres of wetlands and establishing over 10 acres of native wildflower meadow buffers. These habitat improvements will provide recreational and educational improvements for park-goers and students at the adjacent Dover Area Middle School.

Lower Allen Township for the Water Sampling & Analysis for Cedar Run and Yellow Breeches Creek

Water sampling

Lower Allen Township performed water sampling along sections of the Cedar Run and Yellow Breeches in conjunction with their NPDES Phase II MS4 Permit. Although not a requirement, the Township developed a protocol and process to collect samples, analyze the data, and publish the information to educate the public. The water samples were analyzed by a certified laboratory for total fecal coliform and PCBs. The township used the analysis of the information to assess possible point source and non-point source pollution locations. The Township developed the project concept and applied for an Environmental Grant with the Pennsylvania American Water Company to further our mission of source water protection. The Township was awarded the grant in May of 2021 and performed water sampling over the summer months.

Lower Allen Township located water sampling locations along the Yellow Breeches Creek and Cedar Run that were in the vicinity of potential point source pollutants. Township staff mapped potential sample locations after field verification of potential pollutant sources. Over 35 private property owners were contacted to gain access to the sampling points, and education and outreach about the project was part of the process to gain the access, including individual meetings on site at their properties and in the Township office. The sampling point locations were identified in the field and located with a GPS unit and plotted in ArcGIS. A sampling protocol was developed, as well as a field sampling tool using Field Maps in ESRI to record data for reporting purposes. 

Natural Lands for the Bryn Coed Farm Conservation

an ariel view of orange fields surrounded by forests of green and orange trees with a blue sky in the background Photo by Mark Williams

In 2017, Natural Lands acquired a 1,505-acre mosaic of forest and fields known as Bryn Coed Farms—which means “wooded hill” in Welsh. The last parcel of this property was put under conservation easement in March, 2022. The land once known as Bryn Coed Farms now includes Natural Lands’ 520-acre Bryn Coed Preserve, West Vincent Township’s 72-acre Opalanie Park, and approximately 900 acres purchased by conservation buyers who have agreed to strictly limit the number of homes or buildings that can be constructed on their property. As a result, the full 1,505 acres—which could have become a 700-house subdivision—remain contiguous open space. The tract encompasses 17% of the undeveloped land within the high-quality Pickering Creek Watershed. Natural Lands’ stewardship efforts include creating more than 10 miles of hiking trails, converting ponds to wetlands, restoring headwater streams, and creating a 64-acre riparian buffer along three miles of stream bank.

Penn State Extension, Franklin County Conservation District, Lesher Poultry Farm, North American Manure Expo, Annex Business Media for the North American Manure Expo

People attend the 2022 Manure Expo

The 2022 North American Manure Expo was hosted at Lesher’s Poultry farm in Franklin County, Pennsylvania. The overarching goal of Manure Expo is based on environmental quality. Utilizing manure nutrients efficiently means that risk of loss of nitrogen, phosphorus, sediment, and greenhouse gas is minimized. NAME provided a vast two-day educational platform geared toward efficient nutrient utilization. Manure Expo combines 1) Educational Sessions, 2) Technology Demonstrations, and 3) an Industry Trade Show.  

The largest attendee group consists of professional manure haulers and brokers, and producers in the diary, livestock and poultry industries. Educating this dedicated agricultural support industry can have a large impact on water and air quality. Commercial operators work on many farms, meaning that adoption of technology and increased knowledge impact large amounts of acreage. A 2018 Penn State study showed that individuals in the state’s mandatory certification program worked on an average of 38.5 farms annually.

Pennsylvania American Water for their Paperless Billing / Tree Planting Campaign

Tree planting in York County

In April 2022, Pennsylvania American Water launched a campaign to reduce paper in the environment and plant trees across the Commonwealth. Coinciding with Earth Month, the company pledged to donate $10 to the Chesapeake Bay Foundation Keystone 10 Million Trees Partnership for every customer who switched from paper to electronic bills that month. Each contribution underwrote the full cost of planting one tree, including the tree itself, a reusable stake, and shelter to secure and protect the tree.  

The campaign blitz included outreach to the company’s more than 750,000 customers through their monthly water and wastewater bills, social media, email, video and local media. Project materials promoted how trees improve air quality and prevent pollution from running into streams and rivers, helping save the Chesapeake Bay downstream and providing healthy, thriving environments in local communities. The campaign was a success and 1,947 customers were compelled to go green with the click of a button. The company’s ensuing $19,470 donation helped plant nearly 2,000 new trees across the Commonwealth in the fall of 2022. 

Pennsylvania State Conservation Commission for the Agricultural Conservation Assistance Program ‘Roll Out’ – With Special Tribute to Karl Brown, Former Executive Secretary

Karl Brown

The Agricultural Conservation Assistance Program (or ACAP) was signed into law on July 8, 2022, providing $154 million from the Clean Streams Fund for best management practices on PA farms (using ARPA funds).  It is a generational opportunity for farmers, and an extraordinary time to be working in conservation.  Practices installed through ACAP will improve local water quality, enhance soil health, increase farm profits, and make farms more resilient to extreme weather.  This investment will also get PA closer to reaching its water quality goals under the Chesapeake Bay watershed implementation plan, or WIP 3. 

Perkiomen Valley School District for the PV Woods – Lenape Arboretum & Muhlenberg Woods

Students and planted trees

PV Woods preserved 76 acres for conservation and environmental education while also raising awareness of the loss of natural habitats, decreasing biodiversity, and potential collapse of the ecosystem. Most importantly these two arboretums provide limitless hands-on, real world, outdoor learning experiences for our students.

PV Woods is part of a historic partnership between Ursinus College, Delaware Tribe of Indians, and Perkiomen Valley School District to honor the history, culture, and legacy of the Lenape people. Every labeled tree includes the name of the tree in the English, Latin, and Lenape languages. A QR code on each label provides the pronunciation of the Lenape name as well as information about the tree’s connection to Lenape history and culture.

Perkiomen Watershed Conservancy for the Jacob Reiff Park Floodplain Reconnection Project

Young women stand with sticks next to bags along a stream

The Jacob Reiff Park Floodplain Reconnection Project is located in Lower Salford Township along the West Branch of the Skippack Creek. Prior to the project, the creek’s streambanks were extremely eroded due to consistent flash flooding. The creek also lacked an adequate riparian buffer with just a thin buffer consisting of predominantly invasive plant species. A small tributary was also obstructed by sediment and flood debris, forcing the water to erode a new channel to reach Skippack Creek.  

To address these concerns, invasive plant species were removed from the eroded streambank. A section of streambank totaling 500 linear feet in length was regraded to reconnect the creek with its traditional floodplain. The regraded streambank was planted with 1,000 live stakes and 100 trees and 25 shrubs. A large, two-acre rain garden was created in the floodplain to intercept, slow and capture stormwater. The rain garden was planted with 1,000 live stakes, 150 trees and shrubs, and 10,000 perennials. The entire project site was also hydroseeded with a native riparian buffer seed mix. Finally, the tributary was realigned with its original channel and the eroded path cut by the tributary was amended.

Phoenix Contact USA for the Phoenix Contact Rooftop Solar Installation

A group stands on top of the roof by solar arrays

Phoenix Contact recently installed a 961-kilowatt rooftop photovoltaic system (with 2,185 panels) at its U.S. headquarters in Middletown, Pa. The system, which went live in early 2022, can generate up to 30% of the facility’s energy needs during peak hours (although performance will vary depending on conditions.)
The project is reducing emissions and Phoenix Contact’s carbon footprint. It complements Phoenix Contact’s Combined Cooling, Heating, and Power (CCHP) system, which generates about half of the facility’s electric requirements. Phoenix Contact estimates the solar power installation will reduce the company’s electricity costs by approximately $150,000 per year. It is a smart business choice, but more importantly, it will reduce Phoenix Contact’s carbon footprint over the long term. 

Schuylkill River Development Corporation in partnership with Philadelphia Parks and Recreation for the Schuylkill Banks: Bartram’s to 61st Street Trail Greenway

A view of the riverfront park

The Bartram’s to 61st Street Trail and Greenway project utilized public and private partnerships to extend the Schuylkill Banks portion of the five-county Schuylkill River Trail 1,800 feet south, thereby expanding the trail’s social, environmental, and economic benefits to more Southwest Philadelphia residents. What was once a post-industrial brownfield inaccessible to the surrounding diverse community members is now a welcoming riverfront park and trail that provides an area for residents to participate in healthy living activities such as walking, biking, relaxing, and reconnecting with nature and each other.  

Invasive plant species found within the project area were replaced with 125 native trees, 6,500 native grasses and flowering perennials, 4,000 bulbs, and 4,800 square yards of meadow grass that are providing healthy habitat for urban and migrating wildlife, absorbing air pollution from nearby industry and city streets, providing shade in the warmer months, and properly managing stormwater.

Shamokin Creek Restoration Alliance for the Veterans Memorial Field Improvements

Students pose for a group photo on a bridge over a stream

Prior to 2016 the recreation complex was underutilized; the walking track needed repair, the stream channel had no vegetation, and the site lacked amenities. Believing in the site’s potential, the Shamokin Creek Restoration Alliance applied for and won the first of 6 DEP Environmental Education grants directed toward the site. Since 2016, hundreds of students have participated in events highlighting the history of coal mining in the region and the effects of coal mining both on the surface landscape and in the form of acid mine discharges impacting local streams.  Students have also learned what a healthy stream looks like and how planting riparian buffers can restore impaired streams.

The design and permits, paid for by the environmental penalty, were used to apply for and win a $548,000 Growing Greener Plus grant to restore the stream channel through the recreation complex and seal the stream bottom preventing water from entering the mine pool and becoming polluted.

Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority for their Elk Hill Solar Project

Elk Hill 2 solar arrays

The two-part project, Elk Hill 1 and 2 is the result of a partnership between SEPTA and Lightsource bp. Elk Hill was designed to feed energy into the grid where the project is located in Franklin County, PA. Together, Elk Hill 1 & 2 add up to 42 MW of clean, renewable electricity generation, representing 20% of SEPTA’s annual electricity demand.  

Generation from solar farms of this size and type are expected to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 47,390 metric tons of CO2 annually. They also support Pennsylvania’s goals to generate a percentage of clean electricity by solar photovoltaics, helping to diversify the state’s energy portfolio and increase security with locally generated power.

Springfield Township for the Mermaid Park Stream and Habitat Restoration

Trail at Mermaid Park

Springfield Township (Montgomery County)’s Mermaid Park Stream and Habitat Restoration Project was a four-part initiative to restore the aquatic habitat and environmental ecosystem of Mermaid Park in Wyndmoor, PA. The project included: (1) dredging to remove 3,000 cubic yards of sediment from Mermaid Park’s pond, (2) stabilizing 190 linear feet of streambank leading into the pond to reduce erosion and prevent 8,527.20 lbs./yr. of sediment from being deposited into the pond from stormwater runoff, (3) planting a meadow verge of seventy-two (72) native trees, shrubs, and tall grasses to filter surface stormwater runoff and capture sediment before it enters the stream/pond, and (4) constructing a 2,055 ft. walking trail with environmental education signage to raise public awareness of the reasons for undertaking this project and its many environmental benefits (i.e. water quality improvements, habitat restoration, etc.).

The Pennsylvania Horticultural Society for the PHS Green Resource Center at Farm Park

The Community Gardens team out at the PHS Green Resource Center at Farm Park

The PHS Green Resource Center at Farm Park is a teaching and working farm offering the Montgomery County community a space to learn about food gardening, urban agriculture, and nutrition, and supports the growing and donating of thousands of pounds of fresh, organic produce for people with medical needs and barriers to healthy food access.

The PHS Green Resource Center at Farm Park offers several amenities and services to benefit the local community: a 2-acre teaching farm utilizing organic growing practices, a greenhouse with heating and cooling systems, a shade area for seedlings, a wash station, a pavilion for public programming, pollinator gardens, and 45 community garden beds. In total since its construction, the Resource Center has grown and donated nearly 10,000 lbs. of organic produce to people in need throughout Montgomery County.  

The Watersmith Guild for their First Waves Program

First Waves at Greenhouse Park

The First Waves program inspires conservation of waterways and mentorship for at-risk youth through transformative experiences in outdoor adventure and the art of filmmaking. The inaugural project in 2014 provided a first-of-its kind approach through the fusion of river surfing, paddleboarding, and conservation actions that fostered love and appreciation for the outdoors and improved the lives of students in areas with limited opportunities and access. The students learned to become proficient paddlers, spearheaded watershed cleanups, and created documentary films to inspire others. The powerful combination of experiences illustrated how Pennsylvania’s waterways could become a canvas for youth empowerment, particularly in underserved communities.

First Waves has continued to expand by serving environmental justice communities where access and knowledge about waterways is limited. In 2022, the projects encompassed 4 regions, 13 events, and 24 education modules that forged a connection between conservation, recreation, and the use of digital media to inspire positive change. Since the inception of First Waves, more than 1000 youth have learned to paddleboard, surf, and participated in watershed conservation efforts through the program. First Waves has orchestrated more than 60 workshops across an array of waterways in Pennsylvania and has been recognized internationally for its innovative approach to conservation, environmental education, filmmaking, and youth mentorship.

Tobyhanna Army Depot for the Water Resiliency through Wastewater Treatment Project

Tobyhanna Army Depot_aerial.jpg

Tobyhanna Army Depot (TYAD) assisted the US Army Engineer Research and Development Center and The Pennsylvania State University in the assessment of advanced wastewater treatment technologies of the future.  The project consists of a microbial fuel cell (MFC) containing air cathodes, which are required to release the stored energy, and a bio-filter (BF), which is used to degrade pollutants. Microbial fuel cells can generate electrical energy from the oxidation of the organic matter in the wastewater it treats. The MFC effluent is then diverted into a bio-filter to decrease the organic matter content. The field test was conducted for over six months to fully characterize the electrochemical and wastewater treatment performance, where wastewater quality and electrical energy production were routinely monitored. The MFC started producing useful electricity only three days after startup, showing a large impact of the availability of wastewater to generate power. The pilot scale reactor demonstrated at Tobyhanna Army Depot is the largest air-cathode MFC ever tested, generating electrical power while treating wastewater.  

At the end of the demonstration stage, measurements and analysis of post treatment sampling showed that the total organic and inorganic solids, as well as bacterial removal rate from wastewater generated was 50% more, using the MFC/BF treatment as compared to conventional treatment.  Basically, this means that there are savings associated with MFC/BF treatment through both energy cost savings and improved bacterial removal rates.

Triboro Ecodistrict for the Triboro Ecodistrict Energy Projects

People stand on a roof with solar panels

The Triboro Ecodistrict promotes coordinated sustainable community development throughout the Boroughs of Millvale, Etna and Sharpsburg. These Allegheny River Towns are building on a strong collaborative history to promote sustainable community development through the shared lenses of: Equity, Food, Water, Energy, Air Quality, and Mobility.

The Triboro Ecodistrict has set a goal of net zero carbon emissions by the year 2050, which will require aggressive energy conservation, renewable energy production, and resilience measures to achieve, the three communities have found ways to reduce their community’s carbon-based energy consumption through a number of beautiful and high performing places, programs, and initiatives. The combined efforts of the Triboro Ecodistrict partners have led to adding 183 kWh of solar energy production through commercial and residential installations. These projects improve Pennsylvania's environment by reducing 104 metric tons of CO2 production - the equivalent of 123 acres of forest carbon sequestration. Triboro Ecodistrict communities have an additional 125 kWh of solar energy projects planned.

West Penn Power Sustainable Energy Fund for Six & Kane – A Place to Gather, to Think, and to Learn

 Last stone put into place

The project focused on transforming a vacant three-story masonry building into an energy efficiency showcase. The building is approximately 15,800 square feet in size and was constructed in multiphases over the last 125+ years. The building was originally constructed in the 1897 timeframe as a stand-alone two-story building. A third floor was added in the 1920 timeframe on shared party walls.  
The overarching project goal was to demonstrate that vacant properties can be transformed into high performance buildings to drive positive economic impact and environmental betterment while enriching the lives of community residents. Specific project goals included demonstrating Passive House construction in a rural community, utilizing local building materials and labor, installing a shared three-story elevator in the project which will facilitate the renovation of the two buildings (six floors), and to work with the Kane Borough and the PA Wilds region to showcase the economic, environmental, and educational aspects of the project.