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Treadway: Richmond firm honored for being green

Submitted by News Desk on Sun, 08/17/2008 - 10:00pm

A homegrown Richmond electrical supply firm has found that green is good both in an environmental sense and a business sense. And the accompanying recognition isn't bad either.

Omega Pacific Electrical Supply was honored Friday with the first Minority Green Firm of the Year award for the western region by the Minority Business Development Agency of the United States Department of Commerce. The award, presented as part of Minority Enterprise Development Week, was accepted by Omega Pacific Vice President Todd Lewis in a ceremony at the Westin St. Francis Hotel in San Francisco.

The family-owned firm, started by Ivy Reid Lewis of Richmond in 1990, is riding the recent wave of specialized recycling that has resulted from a California law mandating Universal Waste Recycling of items popularly known as e-waste. Just more than a year ago, Omega Pacific landed a three-year contract from the state Department of General Services to provide state and municipal agencies with prepaid kits for recycling fluorescent light tubes, ballasts and batteries.

"We sell a lot of light bulbs and now we're taking them back," Todd Lewis said. "It's a whole new industry and I've got to tell you we've got customers as far away as Kodiak, Alaska."

E-waste recycling is typically geared for smaller quantities generated by residential users, rather than the substantial lighting and battery-related waste an entity like state government or a large business would go through.

Omega Pacific sells prepaid boxes that can be filled with used lighting tubes, ballasts and batteries for delivery to the nearest recycling facility.

"They take the tube and melt the aluminum in the tips, recycle the glass and separate the phosphorous in the tubes from the mercury so it's all recycled," Lewis said, in the process diverting toxic materials from going to the landfill and entering the environment.

As agencies and businesses move to comply with the law, "our customer base is growing each week," he said.

"Up to now it's effectively been municipal and state agencies. But we just got two new customers, the United States Coast Guard and the U.S. Army." The military contracts cover West Coast operations.

One major client of late has been the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, which generated large quantities of batteries used to communicate while fighting the hundreds of wildfires around the state.

Omega Pacific just signed a contract and expects to break ground this year on a new facility next to its offices on South Eighth Street in Richmond to handle its expanded operations. "Not bad for a little company out of Richmond," Lewis said, and the family behind the firm indeed has deep roots in the community.

Along with selling and recycling lighting, Lewis and his mother, firm founder Ivy Reid-Lewis, carry the torch for one of Richmond's longest-standing and best-loved traditions — the free annual Christmas party for North Richmond children.

The tradition, started 61 years ago by the late Charles Reid, gives gifts and good cheer to the children of North Richmond and surrounding neighborhoods.

Reid-Lewis established the Charles Reid Foundation to continue the tradition started by her father, who died in 1979. Planning for each year's party begins almost immediately after Christmas and this year is no exception.

The family also hopes to expand foundation efforts to include scholarships and other outreach to disadvantaged youths.

WEST COUNTY NOTES: San Pablo invites everyone for free food and entertainment from 2 to 4 p.m. Saturday to celebrate the refurbishing and reopening of Kennedy Plaza at the corner of 23rd Street and Brookside Drive. Renovations include a gazebo, picnic areas, new lawn recreational areas and an improved plaza intended to make the half-acre park bordering San Pablo Creek more family friendly.

The celebration will include cumbia and reggaeton by Dyane, performances by Los Cenzontles Mexican Arts Center, family games and activities, a free barbecue and more. For details, call Madelaine Sambajon at 510-215-3034.

# Sunday was Doria Robinson's last official day as community programs coordinator at the Watershed Project in Richmond.

She steps down after four years to take a position as creeks and communities manager for the Berkeley-based Urban Creeks Council. The 26-year-old council is dedicated to creek preservation and restoration.

Robinson, who was born and raised in the Iron Triangle and now lives in South Richmond, says she "will continue volunteering with projects along the Richmond Greenway, South Richmond shoreline and Baxter Creek at Booker T. Anderson Park," adding, "I hope my new position will allow me to continue community stewardship project along West Contra Costa County creeks."

Reach Chris Treadway at 510-262-2784.