Chairman Mills named recipient of state award in recognition of environmental efforts

Erie County Legislature Chairman John Mills has been honored by the Board of Directors of the New York Water Environment Association with the Frank E. Van Lare Award for his outstanding contributions, commitment and exceptional support of environmental projects and programs. He is the first local official to receive this state honor in more than 30 years.


Chairman Mills’ award was recognized during the NYWEA’s 86th Annual Meeting and Awards Luncheon held Feb. 6 in New York City. Due to his Legislative obligations, Chairman Mills was unable to attend. NYWEA Vice President Joseph Fiegl presented the award to Chairman Mills during the Greater Buffalo Water Environmental Conference held March 25 at the Adam’s Mark.


“It is an incredible honor to be recognized and I am most grateful. This award is shared with many of my colleagues who were responsible for the successes we have seen in Erie County. I have been fortunate to work with many skilled and passionate individuals who strive for better. Throughout my years in public office I have seen the greatness that can come from working together to ensure we are protecting our environment. The projects that I have had the great fortune to be a part of will benefit the residents of today and tomorrow,” said Chairman Mills. “I am thrilled to accept this award and to know that Erie County has been looked at as an outstanding example of innovation and achievement.”


Chairman Mills joins a distinguished list of honorees who have been recognized for their contributions to advancing effective water quality environment programs. The Frank E. Van Lare Award is one of the association’s most prestigious awards. It was established to honor Monroe County resident and local elected official, Frank E. VanLare, former Rochester City Councilman and New York State Senator, in recognition of his contribution to the development of the State Pure Waters Program.


“I congratulate Legislator Mills on receiving the Frank E. Van Lare Award and thank him for his longtime efforts to protect and preserve our water resources. John’s commitment to supporting water quality projects is well-known and is one of the reasons that I have appointed him to the Erie County Sewer District No. 3 Board of Managers on two occasions.  Legislator Mills is a strong advocate and ally in preserving our environmental heritage, and I commend the NYWEA for presenting him with this honor,” said County Executive Mark Poloncarz.


As chairman of the Erie County Southtowns Sewage Treatment Agency and Erie County Sewer District No. 3, and Chair of the Erie County Soil and Water Conservation District, Chairman Mills saw several initiatives completed under his direction. In addition to focusing on critical maintenance and improvement projects, he continually supports a variety of county-wide programs. Through his leadership, several mergers have been approved between the county and towns and villages which resulted in cost of service reductions for rate payers.


His nomination form read, in part: “The model programs established in Erie County Sewer District No. 3 with John’s help and support have in many cases been expanded across the County making the Erie County Sewer Districts among the most progressive and efficient in the State all the while controlling and in many cases reducing cost of service and improving the water quality and the quality of life in general in Erie County.”


In addition to his service on the Erie County Legislature and the Sewer District No. 3 Board, Chairman Mills currently serves as the Chair of the ECSWCD, which is an organization that focuses on the conservation of soil, water, air, plant and animal resources by delivery of sound, science-based, locally-directed, technical and educational assistance. He is currently the longest serving board member, and was instrumental in rebuilding the financial viability of the district after a budget crisis in 2005/2006. Recently, the ECSDCD has secured over $4 million grants to promote agricultural best management practices to protect water quality. He continuously partners with local municipalities to address drainage and stream bank erosion matters to the benefit of the land and the downstream waters.


Recently, Chairman Mills developed the concept of the Lake Erie Watershed Protection Alliance (LEWPA). This effort began as a grassroots group of municipal officials who wanted to work together towards the benefit of the area’s waterways. Due to his leadership, this small group grew into a multi-county organization – including stakeholders from Cattaraugus, Chautauqua, and Erie counties – now focused on addressing water quality issues affecting the New York portion of the Lake Erie watershed and its 84 miles of shoreline. Although still somewhat in its infancy, LEWPA has already implemented important initiatives to coordinate area-wide planning so that the New York State portion of Lake Erie is better positioned to receive Federal and State funding. The Alliance also provides a valuable forum to breakdown municipal barriers and address local watershed issues more effectively and efficiently.


Chairman Mills has been described as a tireless advocate for infrastructure investment who has supported projects and initiatives, as well developed legislation that positively impacts the environment in Erie County.