Environmental issues, particularly energy efficiency, dominated a meeting of the Belfast City Council Sept. 21 in which Councilor Marina Delune had a major hand.

The Council gave final approval to an ordinance establishing a Property Assessed Clean Energy loan program. The federal program, administered by Efficiency Maine, formerly a division of the Maine Public Utilities Commission, offers no-down-payment loans to homeowners for energy efficiency improvements.

The loans, ranging up to $15,000, can be used to insulate, replace heating systems or install solar panels, among other things, provided the energy savings add up to more than the amount of the loan. The loans are administered through local banks, and unlike a normal home equity loan, go with the house, not the homeowner.

Four councilors supported the ordinance, while Councilor Lewis Baker voted against it, saying that the program should have guidelines that favor lower-income residents.

Under the new ordinance, Belfast becomes one of eight communities in Maine that will benefit from a marketing campaign by the Maine Green Energy Alliance, promoting several energy efficiency programs including PACE. The organization is hosting a public event at the Belfast Free Library Wednesday, Oct. 6.

“Weatherization is something that people don’t tend to do,” said Councilor Roger Lee. “They [Efficiency Maine] are afraid that without someone to promote the program, that money won’t get spent.”

Delune said the Energy and Climate Committee had set an informal goal of making energy efficiency improvements to 200 homes over the next two years.

On Tuesday, she detailed the committee’s efforts to make municipal buildings more energy-efficient. The group received two grants, totaling $48,000, to audit and retrofit city buildings to conserve energy. Delune said three buildings had received audits: City Hall, the police station and the boathouse.

She estimated that sealing and insulating the first two would consume most of that money. The group has also considered installing a solar thermal hot water heater on the roof of the police station, which would cost $10,000 and return similar savings in three to five years, she said.

The Ward 1 councilor also requested that communications between city staff and members of the City Council be sent by e-mail rather than being printed. If paper was required, the city should print on both sides of the page, she said.

The idea of more e-mail met with resistance from several councilors, though all seemed to be on the same page about using both sides of the paper.

Scott Hawthorne, president of Belfast-based window manufacturer Mathews Brothers, told the Council that the company has designed a new, energy efficient window. Gov. John Baldacci is expected to attend an unveiling event Friday, Oct. 1, at the company’s Perkins Road factory, Hawthorne said.

On one item, the Council ignored its urge to conserve, approving a request from Fire Chief Jim Richards for a new — and maybe gas-guzzling — ambulance. Given the choice of a gas or diesel model, Richards favored the gas version, saying he had experienced some trouble with a diesel model.

After some discussion of how a diesel engine might be more fuel-efficient, the Council approved Richards’ request — a 2010 GMC from Yankee Fire and Rescue of Gardiner, costing just under $120,000. The chief had probably done his homework, they reasoned.

Locals rule

At the request of Delune, the Council took up the question of favoring Belfast-based companies in bids for city contracts. The subject drew lengthy conversation at the last Council meeting after a representative of a local sand and gravel company appeared in support of his bid for the city’s winter sand contract. The bid was substantially higher than the low bid, and while several Councilors expressed an interest in favoring the Belfast business, the low bid ultimately won out.

Belfast code contains a provision that allows the Council to choose a local company whose bid is within 5 percent or $250 of the lowest bid.

On Tuesday, Delune recommended doing away with the second part so that local bidders within 5 percent could receive special consideration, no matter what the total cost of the contract. Several councilors seemed to think that 5-percent was too much.

Lee invoked the city’s asphalt contract, a case, he said, in which 5 percent would add up to “real money,” or around $10,000. Lee also expressed skepticism about favoring a Belfast business over one from a nearby town that, he said, might employ as many Belfast residents and contribute as much to the local economy as one based within city lines.

Baker recommended favoring local companies within 5 percent, but requiring them to meet the low bid to win the contract. Councilor Mike Hurley expressed some support for favoring local companies, but cautioned that the bid system was instituted to counter cronyism.

The Council put off any action on the topic, over the objections of Delune, who voted against the delay.

In other business, the Council:

• Heard from Tammy Scully, who announced that a rededication ceremony is planned for the Belfast footbridge Friday, Oct. 8, to install a bronze plaque honoring World War I soldiers. The plaque replaces one that went missing in the 1960s. The footbridge, which once served as the Route 1 crossing, was originally named Veteran’s Memorial Bridge, a name later given to the newer Route 1 overpass. The footbridge is to be rededicated as “Armistice Bridge.”

• Heard from Belfast Police Chief Jeffrey Trafton about his department’s efforts to head off motorcyclists with excessively loud exhaust systems. Trafton described the issue as ongoing and said he often tries to encourage local offenders to tame their tailpipes, knowing he can take action later if they don’t. With out-of-town vehicles that option isn’t there, Trafton said. In either case, he said, an officer must witness a loud vehicle in order to take action.

• Approved paying CivicPlus $16,483 to redesign the city Web site. The Manhattan, Kan.-based company claims to have designed more than 600 government Web sites. Of the total fee, $10,400 comes from a capital expense line of the 2010-11 budget. The balance, the Council voted, would come from surplus.