New Fayette-centered environmental group sets sights on Georgia, beyond

Tue, 04/15/2008 - 3:46pm
By: Ben Nelms

“Education about the environment, in the environment and for the environment.”

That, in a nutshell, describes the intent of the state’s newest environmental group, Environmental Institute of Georgia (EIOG), a brand new non-profit that makes no excuse for its mission to provide education, advocacy, advice and action on a full range of environmental issues for communities across the state. Though in the formative stage for several months, EIOG made its debut April 12 in Fayetteville at Fayette Earth Day 2008.

All but one of the founding members and EIOG board of directors are residents of Fayette County. Yet the commitment of this tenacious group has a reach that extends far beyond Fayette’s geographic boundaries.

Dennis Chase, Connie Biemiller, Bill Holland, Bonnie Tenny and Dr. Yomi Noibi contend that county boundaries mean little in the real world of nature. The pollution carried in rivers and streams and along currents of air cares nothing about county borders or legislative districts. It travels unstoppable by any means humans can devise. And in that sense, EIOG maintains, the only common sense approach is to meet the challenge head-on.

EIOG’s five-fold mission is to provide environmental education and legislative support to communities throughout Georgia by protecting the state’s diverse and sustainable natural environment; establishing a state-of-the-art greenspace to serve the community; providing conduits for environmental science and interdisciplinary studies and research; impacting the legislative and political process through statewide training; and communicating to inform and educate through a statewide environmental magazine, newsletter and website.

Those aims might seem lofty for an organization just getting its feet off the ground. But for the non-profit’s founding members and board of directors, it is little more than a collaborative extension of the work they have been doing for years.

“EIOG grew from activists concerned about the root of environmental problems and who want to find a better way of solving those problems by thinking and acting in the interest of people and the environment,” Noibi said. “This is very important for the state of Georgia because right now, compared to other states, we are really behind in taking progressive action to improve the environment. We have laws but they have not been effectively enforced. This group is about influencing the politicians and decision-makers and being a catalyst for action. It’s education about the environment, in the environment and for the environment.”

Dr. Yomi Noibi is executive director and director of training of Atlanta-based Environmental Community Action, Inc. (Eco-Action). Noibi is an environmental scientist and community organizer who served on the faculty of educational institutions such as University of Wisconsin and University of Lagos, Nigeria. Eco-Action works with other physical health and environmental organizations across the Southeast addressing environmental health threats.

Also speaking April 12, Chase was quick to comment that each EIOG board member comes from a background of effort and concern for environmental stewardship, including involvement with a variety of organizations. Their combined efforts with the new organization are already paying off, Chase said.

“While some groups have some positive aspects, I think we found that we don’t function toward the total environmental education program that could and should be done. We think EIOG can take the lead in doing that and I think we bring in the talent of people who are interested in getting things done,” said Chase.

Well known across Fayette County, retired U.S. Fish & Wildlife biologist and environmental activist Chase has worked extensively with the Adopt A Stream program, school groups and many other efforts in Fayette and surrounding counties on a wide range of environmental issues.

Chase served for more than 26 years with U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.

He was responsible for handling National Environmental Policy Act activities for 10 Southeastern states.

“I don’t think there is a centralized group in Georgia that’s involved in the wide-ranging issues affecting the environment. So one of the things we want to do is be a part of the legislative process and help form environmental boards across the state,” said Biemiller. “We want to train groups to set up those boards so they can use that legislative process for environmental issues. So the scope is statewide and beyond. All of us on the board come from activist backgrounds. We know that headway is being made around Georgia, but how does that come together and coalesce for the betterment of Georgia? We want this group to be the central location and a driving force for those activities.”

Biemiller is founder and chairman of the South Fulton and Fayette Community Task Force, cofounder of the South Fulton Civic Association and a Democratic candidate for the District 66 seat in the Georgia House of Representatives. A Fayette County resident for the past 12 years, Biemiller has served as a clinical social worker for the past 18 years.

“For me it’s more in the realm of sustainable design and sustaining the Earth,” said Holland. “Our approach is not a make-wrong conversation, it’s to look for opportunities to enhance or improve. We hope to one day have a site where we can have facilities that groups will come to. My responsibility is to think about the buildings, how those buildings might function from a sustainability perspective.”

Bill Holland previously served as city architect for the city of Los Angles. Now living in Peachtree City, Holland has more than 36 years in government and private sector service. Holland has been the recipient of numerous architectural awards and is former director of American Institute of Architects.

“Our biggest goal is to bring awareness and make Georgia, not just catch up, but put Georgia in front,” Tenny added. “I come from a strong environmental background in New York. We’ve learned the right way and the wrong way. So hopefully we can bring the positive and get everybody involved.”

Bonnie Tenny is a resident of Tyrone, having moved to Fayette County two years ago from New York. Tenny has three decades of extensive experience working on environmental initiatives and has served on numerous city and county planning boards and land preservation boards. The founder of EarthScape Design landscaping in New York, Tenny served for 10 years on the Monroe County (New York) Environmental Management County and was editor of Cornell University Co-Operative Extension Publications.

One of the upcoming events sponsored by EIOG, in conjunction with the city of Fayetteville, is a high school summer biology camp that will focus on issues such as forest ecosystem identification and mapping, stream ecosystem and macroinvertebrate identification and GPS orientation and training.

“The cities of Fayette County have expressed an interest in working with us,” Chase said. “We’re working with a new environmental education program with Fayette County Board of Education and hope to get that laid out on properties adjoining schools and on other properties in Fayette and surrounding counties. There is a common statement being made that areas are being set aside for environmental education but nobody knows what that means. We’re going to try to put some meaning to that statement. We’re not trying to tell anyone how to do stuff, we’re just trying to help get stuff get done. This is what’s different about us and the statewide groups. They spend a lot of time dictating. We spend time working with local governments helping them to help themselves.”

Contact information and a website for the new organization is currently under construction.

login to post comments