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Idle Free Jamboree promotes clean, fresh air (video)

By chirst
April 13, 2013 at 10:05 p.m.
Updated April 12, 2013 at 11:13 p.m.

Howell Middle School's KeShawn Perry, 13, nears the finish line while Cade Middle School's Shayne Hughes, 12, experiences some car trouble during the Idle Free Jamboree in Riverside Park, hosted by the City of Victoria's Environmental Services Department. KeShawn took home a first-place trophy.

Idle Free Zones in victoria

• All Victoria ISD campuses

• Businesses: The Texas Zoo and Halliburton

• Day cares: Tiddly Winks, A Plus Kidz Care and Fresh Start Christian Learning Center

Soap Box Race Winners

• F.W. Gross Montessori Elementary School

•  Howell Middle School

• Victoria West High School

• City Manager Charmelle Garrett

• Police Chief J.J. Craig

Victoria's air quality is close to exceeding regulations, and it is hard for the city to get people to care.

"Air is just one of those subjects - it is hard. You can't see it. With recycling, you can see it, you can hold it in your hand, and you know where it needs to go. ... But air - people don't think about that. It is not the easiest subject to educate people on," said Breanna Plunkett, Victoria's Environmental Services education specialist.

Victoria has been holding at 70 particles per billion on ozone levels since about 2010, coming down from 71 in 2009, according to Victoria air quality reports.

The Environmental Protection Agency's regulations state cities must stay under 75 particles per billion, but Kate Garcia, environmental programs coordinator, said it could take years before Victoria hits that limit.

"We are on the higher end of the scale; however, most of Texas is. There is nothing in particular about our certain region," Garcia said, adding that being so close to large cities means the town's poor air quality is largely "inherited."

To educate residents about how to help keep the air clean, the city hosted Idle Free Jamboree, an event with soap box races between 13 Victoria ISD schools, City Manager Charmelle Garrett versus VISD Superintendent Robert Jaklich and Police Chief J.J. Craig versus Fire Chief Taner Drake.

The event was meant to promote "Idle Free Zones" in Victoria, including all VISD campuses, some day cares and a couple of businesses in town where drivers are supposed to turn off their cars when they are waiting, Plunkett said.

Turning off vehicle motors while idling for more than a minute keeps dangerous particles from entering the ozone, she said.

However, Luis Medina, a spectator at the event, said he was at the soap box races to support the kids, not learn about clean air.

"We care about the environment, so we pick up trash when we are at the park or when we go fishing," Medina said about his family. "We bring a bag so we can pick it up; my kids don't like it, but it shows them responsibility and that is what we are supposed to do."

Medina said he does turn his car off when he picks his children up from school but not to keep the air clean.

"Gas is expensive but not idling for fumes? That doesn't cross my mind. I never think about that," he said.

Mark Padierna, father of Mardi Padierna, an elementary student who won the race, said he already turns his car off at the schools so the kids don't inhale exhaust but thinks the event helped teach the kids.

Noah Fraustio, F.W. Gross Montessori Elementary School fifth-grader, won the elementary division with Mardi. Noah said he knew the races were meant to support the environment, but he doesn't know how he can help keep the air clean after the event.

Noah did, however, think racing a car without a motor was a fun idea, so he made his own soap box racer at home.

"We all painted it black and yellow for our school, and we just pushed and pushed each other on it and started racing on the road," Noah said.

And that was another reason to have the jamboree, Plunkett said, to get kids and families outside to enjoy the park and the fresh air.

"It reminds them that they can enjoy the outdoors without a motor on a car or on a bike, especially with a beautiful day. ... Take advantage of it instead of staying inside and using up the AC," Plunkett said.

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