Monroe County, Pa.
Contact: John Woodling, Director
Monroe County Planning Commission
1 Quaker Plaza, Room 106
Stroudsburg, PA 18360-2169
Tel: (570 )517-3100
Monroe County in northeastern Pennsylvania has been designated by EPA Region 3 as their latest Green Community. The Green Communities program is a Region 3 approach for protecting the environment at the local level. By providing tools and information through the web site, forging partnerships with community-based service providers, and working with a few key communities to ensure the feasibility and usefulness of the program, EPA seeks to support communities who want to become sustainable green communities. A green community has a vision for a healthy future and works toward long-lasting solutions to ensure it. Through partnering and the on-line assistance kit, EPA's green communities program empowers citizens and community leaders to solve problems and make decisions that integrate the unique environmental, social and economic issues in their own communities.
Monroe County is Pennsylvania's second fastest growing county. Between 1990 and 2000, the county population grew by almost 45% - with a population now of over 138,000 people. This growth is being fueled by both Monroe County's beautiful setting in the Pocono Mountains, bounded by the Delaware and Lehigh Rivers, and its proximity to New York (75 miles) and Philadelphia (90 miles). The county's 605 square miles are largely rural with rolling hills, forests and farmland dominating the landscape. It has 16 townships and 4 incorporated boroughs. Tourism - particularly tourism for its environmental quality and natural resource value - plays a large part in the local economy, and the suburbanization of the landscape was bringing changes that were disturbing to communities within the county. These changes included not only the loss of open space, important natural areas, and scenic vistas , but also the costs of infrastructure development (such as roads and water systems) which were growing rapidly because of sprawl, without an expanding commercial tax base to pay for it. Monroe County clearly had a problem - and a community-based approach offered the best solution!
Setting the Stage
In 1996, the Monroe County Commissioners and Planning Commission initiated "Monroe 2020" - a community partnership of Monroe County citizens, civic, business, educational, environmental and political leaders concerned about the quality of life in Monroe County. Monroe 2020 was from the beginning, a process designed to conceive and execute a cohesive plan of action for Monroe County. The process included five task forces which represent the entire county, the twenty municipalities and each of the four school districts. The approach was structured to bring together people from every corner and every walk of life to prepare Monroe County for the new millennium (see: http://www.monroe2020.org/ ). Using a community collaborative process, Monroe 2020 developed a County Comprehensive Plan to address environmental conservation, economic development and quality of life. Much of the impetus for creating Monroe 2020 resulted from EPA Region 3 joining in a partnership with Harvard University, the Commissioners and Planning Commission, the Monroe County Conservation District, and the USDA Forest Service to develop an analysis of alternative futures for Monroe County. The study was conducted by graduate students from the Harvard Graduate School of Design under the direction of Dr. Carl Steinitz.
Monroe 2020 was the vehicle for: developing a shared vision for the future of the county that capitalizes on assets and corrects problems; recommending actions that municipalities, the county and citizen groups can take to make the vision a reality and; drafting and implementing a comprehensive county-wide plan to guide growth and conservation decisions. Task forces from four of the regions within the county, working under the auspices of Monroe 2020 developed reports that identified goals and short -term actions. The reports identify: goals and actions; roles and activities for public participation and; next steps.
The goals include:
- protection and enhancement of land and water resources (such as the preservation of open spaces and expansion of nature-based recreational opportunities);
- economic development and fiscal balance (such as emphasizing redevelopment of sites served by existing infrastructure);
- enhancement of community character and community life (such as establishing opportunities that bring new comers and long-term residents together and promote community cohesion);
- planned development of public facilities, infrastructure and services and more compact patterns of land use that emphasize conservation subdivision principles.
Implementation of the Comprehensive Plan is now occurring through the Municipal Partnership Program (MPP) and the Financial Assistance Program (FAP). Both of these initiatives are part of the County's commitment to implement the Plan's recommendations and currently 19 of the 20 municipalities are enrolled in the MPP.
Monroe 2020 has even developed a County Open Space Plan to address protection and enhancement or heritage resources, green space, open space and parks, recreation partnerships, greenways, and open space acquisition. The plan provides a sophisticated analysis of land use and suggests places that offer opportunities for open space enhancement. Copies of those plans are available in both printed form and on CD ROM from the Monroe County Planning Commission - they can also be downloaded from the website (http://www.monroe2020.org/). The majority of local governments within the County are responding to the development of the county plan with their own open space plans in collaboration with neighboring jurisdictions. One of the townships has also implemented a local tax that will support acquisition of open space and management of open space and recreation projects. This is in addition to the County's $25 million open space bond issue approved in 1998.
On December 4, the US EPA Region 3 announced that Monroe County had become their newest Green Community. On Wednesday, December 5, in a ceremony at the Monroe County Commissioners' meeting, EPA publically recognized the County's achievements and participation in the Green Communities program (see: http://www.epa.gov/greenkit). Through partnering and with its on-line toolkit, EPA will provide assistance for problem solving and decision making that will integrate environmental, economic and quality-of-life benefits for the community.