The Town of Gardiner may be the next Ulster County community to get on board the New York State Climate Smart Communities (CSC) Program, which opens up grant opportunities for municipalities to take measures intended to “reduce greenhouse gas emissions and adapt to a changing climate while saving money, building a green economy and promoting a clean environment.” A PowerPoint presentation explaining the elements of the program and what is required for a community to become certified to participate was delivered to the town board at its December 12 meeting by Gardiner resident Jason Mayer, with assistance from Europa McGovern, who is a coordinator for the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) Clean Energy Communities Program. While the board did not immediately act to pass a resolution adopting the ten-point CSC “pledge,” town supervisor Marybeth Majestic expressed the intent to “keep it on the agenda for January.”
Since the state program began nearly a decade ago, 211 counties, cities, towns and villages have opted to become “climate partners” with New York State by adopting the pledge, which is the first of the ten steps qualifying a community for basic certification. Merely adopting the pledge itself makes the community eligible to apply for grants, while attaining “certified” status guarantees some funding. The remaining nine steps are:
- Set goals, inventory emissions, plan for climate action.
- Decrease community energy use.
- Increase community use of renewable energy.
- Realize benefits of recycling and other climate-smart solid waste management practices.
- Reduce greenhouse gas emissions through use of climate-smart land-use tools.
- Enhance community resilience and prepare for the effects of climate change.
- Support development of a green innovation economy.
- Inform and inspire the public.
- Commit to an evolving process of climate action.
NYSERDA provides a detailed list of suggested actions that a community can take toward achieving each of these goals; accomplishing at least four “high-impact” actions is required for the community to attain CSC certification, which lasts for five years. Additional levels designated as Bronze, Silver and Gold can be attained by taking additional actions, weighted according to a point system. Both the City of Kingston and Ulster County itself have already qualified for the Bronze level, and the Town of Rosendale recently qualified for certification.
The funding for CSC grants comes from the state’s Environmental Protection Fund, a dedicated “locked box” that is continually replenished via revenues from fees, licenses and fines. Mayer listed some of the grants awarded to Climate Smart Communities in Ulster County in 2016, which included $850,000 to the City of Kingston for sidewalks, bike lanes and other “connectivity” improvements in Midtown; $489,700 to the Town of Highland for the relocation of a Highway Department facility that had been severely damaged by flooding; $261,000 to the county itself to expand its composting facility; and $38,000 to the town and village of New Paltz to help them achieve joint certification under CSC. Rosendale is currently seeking funding to replace the bulbs in all its streetlights with LED bulbs.
Mayer noted that Gardiner had already taken some legislative actions that would earn the town points toward certification, most recently by passage of the town’s new Solar Law. Supervisor Majestic asked whether the town could also get credit for earlier actions, such installing a geothermal heating and cooling system in town hall or expanding sidewalks in the Gardiner hamlet. “It depends on the action,” Mayer said, and McGovern added that such improvements could not predate the CSC program’s creation in 2008.
Councilman David Dukler said that he had already checked out the CSC guidelines on the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation website, noting, “There’s some low-hanging fruit.” But he questioned the town’s ability to “ask people to take on more” when volunteer board and committee members already have a lot on their plates. McGovern pointed out that a community “can start and stop at any time” in the process of achieving the actions required for certification, adding that Ulster County “provides a lot of support.” Both she and Mayer recommended that Gardiner look into the possibility of establishing an electric vehicle charging station in the town as an affordable next step after adopting the CSC pledge.