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Dillingham joins the Green Star program to improve waste, water and power facilities

The metal scrap pile at Dillingham's landfill. September, 2023.
Christina McDermott
The metal scrap pile at Dillingham's landfill. September, 2023.

Dillingham has joined a long list of rural communities looking to get ‘Green Star’ certified. The certification comes as part of a program run by the nonprofit Alaska Forum and funded by the US Department of Agriculture. It helps communities identify solutions to waste management problems. 

Environmental coordinator Tanner Johnson came to Dillingham last week as part of an initial assessment of the program. Johnson says he visited the landfill, drinking water and wastewater facility, and the Nushagak Cooperative, providing training to staff where needed and identifying how facilities can be more sustainable. KDLG’s Christina McDermott sat down with Johnson to learn more. Here’s some of that conversation. 

Christina McDermott: Thank you for coming into the studio today. Nice to see you.

Tanner Johnson: Absolutely. Thank you.

McDermott: What I understand is you're here with the Green Star Program.

Johnson: Correct. Through the Alaska Forum, I'm here to give a Green Star Communities assessment and to get the ball rolling on certification for the program for the community of Dillingham.

McDermott: What is Green Star, then?

Johnson: The Green Star Communities Program is a certification process that was started back in 1990. What is involved with that is the opportunity to run through for a community to look at the wastewater, drinking water, landfill, [and] power facilities and see what is already working really well, where improvements can be made, and build a framework for advancing all of those facilities.

One of the big things that the program helps facilitate is training opportunities for employees at those facilities.

McDermott: So what's going on at the landfill? What are you working on with the city?

Johnson: So we are taking a look at the current state, walking through a visual assessment checklist to see where improvements can be made, and what those next steps might be. There [are] some really great community members like Friends of the Landfill that have provided really good back info about what's been happening there.

We're going to be looking at protocols and procedures to continue improving the facility, and I know that's been a really big, important part for community members.

McDermott: What are some identified priorities?

Johnson: One: trash dispersal around the facility. We want to make sure that everything is a little bit more contained, kept in place where it should be, and not necessarily getting tracked around by bears, or that stuff is getting put in the right area for that kind of waste.

McDermott: Okay. Any others, or is that the number one?

Johnson: I know everyone up there is really busy with getting ready ahead of the inspection by the DEC [Department of Environmental Conservation]. They've been working on making sure that white goods are set aside - that's appliances and everything - and staged, ready for backhaul. I know that's going to be a big project that everyone is going to be looking at, is the significant backhaul effort of metals and appliances and that.

McDermott: For next steps: how does this partnership work? What's next for Dillingham?

Johnson: What I do is after my initial visit, head back and get a report written up and a work plan for the community. That's looking at all the facilities, not just the landfill, but seeing what else we need to connect with. That could be those training opportunities or the technical assistance that I'm helping provide while I'm out here. Then I write up all those pieces into a work plan - a site assessment - and then deliver that back to the community so that they can implement some of those practices that incorporate everything in the short-term and long-term plan.

McDermott: What other facilities are you looking at?

Johnson: I am headed out to the Nushagak Cooperative shortly. We've toured the drinking water and wastewater facility, and [I’m] also going to be talking to the tribal councils in town. [I] want to make sure to bring them into the project as well, and make sure that their considerations within their own entities - I know there's net recycling and that - we want to highlight those good things that are happening in the community and make sure that those efforts that are already happening are recognized.

McDermott: Well thank you very much for joining me today. This has been great.

Johnson: Thank you. I really appreciate being here.

Johnson says that the Green Star Program will continue to provide technical support to the city as they develop a work plan to address issues at the landfill and other utility sites. You can learn more about the program at Johnson is also part of the Safer Choice program, which supports communities in using EPA-certified cleaning products, soaps, and detergents.

Get in touch with the author at or 907-842-2200.

Christina McDermott began reporting for KDLG, Dillingham’s NPR member station, in March 2023. Previously, she worked with KCBX News in San Luis Obispo, California, where she focused on local news and cultural stories. She’s passionate about producing evocative, sound-rich work that informs and connects the public.