(For publication on January 2nd or later)
Opinion/Editorial (715 words)
DES Marks 25 Years of Environmental Protection
Thomas Burack, DES Commissioner
On January 2, 1987, a notable event occurred in the state of New Hampshire’s efforts to protect its environment. Culminating years of legislative deliberations, a new environmental agency was created: the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services. So this year, 2012, marks the 25th Anniversary of the creation of DES and its service to the people of our state. DES has played a vital role in protecting and restoring our precious natural resources and public health, which are so critical to ensuring the wonderful quality of life that we all enjoy here in the Granite State.
While efforts to address pollution problems seen in New Hampshire and across the country predated the creation of DES, by 1987 there was broad recognition in New Hampshire that our state’s ecological health and economic well-being were integrally connected and mutually dependent. As a practical business matter, the four separate agencies responsible for environmental permitting and regulation were merged to create DES (The Water Supply and Pollution Control Commission, the Water Resources Board, the Air Resources Agency, and the Office of Waste Management). An important overarching goal of this action was to create a single agency that would operate in a more coordinated and consistent manner for the benefit of all of the new department’s many stakeholders.
Early in its history, DES responded to environmental challenges unthinkable to many of us today. Many of New Hampshire’s wastewater plants were rudimentary in nature, sometimes resulting in raw sewage spilling into our rivers. Municipalities across the state disposed of their trash in “open burning dumps” with little regard to the toxic smoke. DES was responding to hazardous waste sites like the Gilson Road site in Nashua, a seven-acre sand and gravel pit where over 900,000 gallons of fluids containing a variety of toxic compounds were disposed of, contaminating the soils and groundwater. And we can’t forget the infamous Hunt Tire pile in Danville, NH. It was estimated that the site contained more than 5 million used tires, of which more than a million burned in a 1989 fire at this unpermitted facility.
Thankfully, over the last 25 years, our state has made tremendous strides in cleaning up our environment. Through responsible legislative and regulatory changes, we no longer witness things such as the Merrimack River changing colors based on which dye was used in the textile mills along the river. The fact that our environment is cleaner and healthier than the one our parents would remember is our lasting legacy to the current generation and those that will follow. This legacy, however, requires vigilance and maintenance, even as science and technology continue to provide ever-better ways to monitor, protect and restore our air, water bodies and groundwater.
Today, we strive to prevent contamination before it occurs, rather than simply responding to known contaminated sites. And, with public safety as a high priority, we train diligently to hone our emergency response capabilities. These preparedness efforts have proven invaluable as DES has assisted communities across New Hampshire in recovering from floods, tornadoes, hurricanes and other disasters in recent years.
Importantly, many of the original goals set out by the enacting legislation are still at the heart of DES’s work today. We strive to provide excellence in customer service to all, whether a multi-national business looking to relocate to the state or a grandmother from Coos County who needs a copy of her approved septic system plan. We also work to provide real-time information to the public on the things that impact their daily lives, like the quality of the air we breathe, the water we drink, the water testing results at a favorite public beach, or the status of a permit application.
While we are busy at DES working to address the environmental challenges of today and tomorrow, throughout 2012 we will be taking time to recognize and celebrate the wide-ranging successes of the past 25 years of environmental and public health protection and the dedicated, professional staff and our many partners in our communities, businesses and non-profits who have helped bring these successes about. We welcome and invite your participation as we celebrate our past successes and look ahead to the challenge of ensuring that New Hampshire will be an even better place to live, work and play 25 years from now.
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