Saugerties became the first township and the second municipality in Ulster County to become a New York State Certified Climate Smart Community this month, a status achieved after the amassing of a number of points earned by taking steps laid out by the program to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and reinforce climate resilience.
Although the Saugerties Town Board of 2009 took the Climate Smart Communities pledge, the status was only realized in March 2018, primarily due to a passionate push from town Councilman Mike MacIsaac and the appointment of the Saugerties Conservation Advisory Commission. Since, the group has accrued 152 of the 130 necessary points to achieve the program’s bronze designation.
“One thing I learned is that it’s a lot about education — educating ourselves on what’s ‘climate smart’ and getting a bigger circle of locals educated, getting businesses educated. It makes an easier job for the [state Department of Environmental Conservation],” said program coordinator Mary O’Donnell at an Oct. 2 town board meeting, during which she was awarded a plaque and the town was awarded signs touting the new status by Mark Lowery, the assistant director of the DEC’s Office of Climate Change.
“We often refer to the term ‘new normal’ to refer to high temperatures,” said Lowery before presenting O’Donnell and the town with their awards. “We have not reached the ‘new normal’ because the fact is, things are going to get a lot worse, particularly if we do not reduce our greenhouse gas emissions significantly and quickly. Scientists tell us we have [about a decade] to avoid the worst effects of climate change that would be avoided by our children and grandchildren. As the current federal administration continues its attack on regulations designated to protect public health and living systems, we must do all we can to fight that attack.”
Thus far, point-earning actions taken by the town include: the installation of three electric car-charging stations; a greenhouse gas audit of all 60 town facilities conducted by task force member Patti Kelly; supporting a “Solarize Saugerties” initiative that led 66 residents to install solar panels; installing solar panels on the roof of the Frank Greco Senior Center; approving a 2 megawatt solar project over the defunct town landfill; hosting a “Go Green, Go Smart” fair organized by Susan Murphy; and establishing a “climate action plan” that sets goals for the town over time to reduce its total greenhouse gas emissions. In part due to the group’s efforts, the town was recognized as a Clean Energy Community by the state, earning Saugerties a $5,000 grant toward the implementation of future energy-reduction measures.
Other tasks on the program’s list include assessing vulnerability to climate events, training municipal officials to use the available risk and vulnerability tools, installing high-water-mark signs in appropriate areas and developing evacuation plans. There are 869 points to be earned via over 100 different actions outlined in the program.
“When we looked at the requirements for things, I think all of our eyes rolled back in our heads and we said, ‘How are we going to do this?’” joked task force member Skip Arthur at the meeting.
Other task force members are Janet Asiain, Vivian Beatrice, Carole Furman, Mike Harkavy, Elizabeth Shafer, Leslie Surprenant, Steve Wehr and Mary Anne Wrolsen.
The Village of Saugerties is currently considering joining the Climate Smart Communities program, as of a Jan. 20 village board meeting; along with the town’s strides assisting in the process, the village and town comprehensive plans account for future sustainability, making the process somewhat easier. Working on the Climate Smart planning and assessment have been Trustee Jeff Helmuth, Special Projects Coordinator Alex Wade, Zoning Enforcement Officer Eyal Saad and Village Clerk Lisa Mayone.
Town Supervisor Fred Costello Jr. said the town’s involvement in the program was “one of those rare policy decisions where there are no compromises,” citing monetary savings that came with the initiative’s sustainability benefits.
“Just to kind of share what this means for Saugerties … as we plan going forward, we have developed a climate action plan that will guide us in doing things in a way that are more energy and environmentally sensitive direction,” said Costello. “We’ve had significant cost savings with LED lights, Central Hudson will swap out all of the street lighting in Saugerties. We’ll save $30,000 per year doing that.”
It’s unclear whether the task force will continue their efforts, but there is no lack of enthusiasm among the group.
“The task force was established to work on certification, so we’ve done that,” said O’Donnell. “The question is open right now as to what the next steps will be for the task force. There’s a couple of options, that’s something that the board will determine.”
Although MacIsaac’s term on the town board is coming to a close, he looks forward to his continued involvement with the committee.
“It feels great,” he beamed. “There was an incredible energy at those Thursday meetings.”
For more information, or to become involved, visit www.climatesmartsaugerties.org.