Town hall explores local options around sustainability and climate change

Resident Matt Hall (left) discusses local energy solutions with his group during a breakout session at the Climate Action Town Hall event on Saturday.

Cottage Grove’s first Climate Action Town Hall took place on Saturday (May 14) in the Cottage Grove Armory, bringing together community members, public officials and other local entities to participate in a forum about climate change and local resiliency plans.

The event, hosted by the groups Climate Action Cottage Grove, EcoGeneration, Forest Web and Sustainable Cottage Grove, included speakers, information booths and discussion sessions.

“I was really pleased with the events and we had a respectable showing of the community,” said Rob Dickinson, a co-organizer of the town hall event.

Along with participation from the City of Cottage Grove, a number of local organizations turned out on Saturday.

Lane Transit District (LTD), EPUD, Citizens’ Climate Lobby, 350 Eugene, Elders Climate Action, Forest Web, Sustainable Cottage Grove, and EcoGeneration all had representation and provided information at the event. The town hall was also attended by Cottage Grove city councilors Greg Ervin and Mike Fleck as well as Mayor Jeff Gowing and Public Works and Development Director Faye Stewart. 

Around 60 people came to the four-hour event, where presentations covered topics such as local climate impacts, climate change through the lens of youth and how to build climate resiliency locally.

“The community’s response to this event is heartening, and we are pleased with the city’s participation today,” said Forest Web Executive Director Cristina Hubbard. “Everyone working together on this critical issue is an important first step.”

Attendees broke into groups to discuss issues from a local standpoint, looking at resiliency plans, emergency preparedness, energy-saving, transportation options, education and food system improvements.

Notes from those breakout sessions will be compiled into actionable items and released at a later date.

The push for a town hall on the climate issue has been on the agenda for several local proponents of climate change awareness for years. In fact, the initial town hall had been planned to take place in 2020 before COVID-19 restrictions canceled the event.

Earlier, several residents appealed to the city during the council’s public comments in December 2019 to do more in addressing climate change. Advocates have pushed for the city to form its own Climate Advisory Committee, develop an action plan to become carbon neutral by the year 2030 and declare a climate emergency.

While the City of Cottage Grove has not embraced these requests, it has worked with environmental groups to opt into a program which will track sustainability actions in the community. Saturday’s town hall revealed more information on this development.

Using an online site, the city is currently setting up a page which will calculate and track in real-time Cottage Grove’s progress in sustainability efforts. 

Dubbed the Sustainability and Resiliency Challenge, participants can join by completing an onine profile and choosing actions which can reduce the impact on the environment or simply be more cost- and energy-efficient in one’s lifestyle. By joining the challenge, people can work individually and collaboratively with the community to achieve the city’s stated goal of recruiting 250 participating households and reducing 100 tons of CO2 by December 2022.

The site is organized around a point system. Each action earns points in categories such as being more energy efficient at home, choosing cleaner transportation options, minimizing food waste, being conscious of water consumption, getting involved with the community and preparing for emergencies.

Preparing for emergencies, or the “resiliency” category, was added by the city.

“So not only will [the site] help with making sure you’re living sustainably and trying to save money and do things efficiently that way, but also getting you prepared to for something that might happen, whether it’s a flood or a snowstorm,” said City Manager Richard Meyers.

The city has been working with providers like Northwest Natural, Pacific Power and EPUD, which have contributed information to help enhance the number of incentives.

There are over 80 actions on the site, ranging from easy steps like turning off lights and electronics to more challenging tasks such as insulating floors and walls. The harder the challenge, the more points earned.

Cottage Grove’s site, located at greeningthegrove.org, is nearly ready, Meyers said, and the city will make an announcement when the page is ready to accept participants.

Saturday’s town hall event also featured keynote speakers Tao Orion and Mark Nystrom, who discussed the climate issue locally from two angles. Orion, author of “Beyond the War on Invasive Species: A Permaculture Approach to Ecosystem Restoration,” focused on the science of how the Willamette Valley is impacted by climate change and what factors that are leading towards its warming. Nystrom, Lane County’s climate strategist, focused on solutions and what mitigation efforts might look like.

Though specific plans of action for Cottage Grove were not proposed, Nystrom did list solutions the county was working on.

With 66 percent of the county’s emissions coming from transportation emissions, he said the number one strategy was to get people out of internal combustion engine cars and, if not using electric vehicles, then more fuel-efficient vehicles.

Nystrom also listed decarbonizing food systems, reducing waste of goods, developing renewable diesel, decarbonizing the electric grid, edible food waste reduction, increasing energy-efficient residential appliances, enhancing mass transit, local control of refrigerant management, biking or telecommuting, anaerobic digestion of waste and methane capture, and energy conservation and efficiency through utility providers as other countywide projects.

Dickinson said tapping into the county’s insights could be a fruitful approach for Cottage Grove.

“They’ve been working on this for a few years. They’ve developed some pretty concrete and specific and well-researched plans and that just makes it that much easier for us in Cottage Grove to benefit from their hard work. So we don’t have to reinvent the wheel,” he said. “We definitely want to do what’s right for Cottage Grove and what fits our community. We don’t just think that everything done everywhere else is right for us. But there is a lot that they’ve done that just makes perfect sense for us to think about.”

Some at the town hall expressed concern over the politicization of the climate topic, too, and said that investing in energy- or cost-effective actions locally could at least be of common interest to everyone.

“If you have a house that’s not well insulated, you don’t even have to agree on climate science to know that it’s just a good idea to insulate your house,” said Dickinson. “You’re going to save a bunch of money, you’re going to reduce a lot of greenhouse gases, and you’re going to be more comfortable. And so if we can help people to know what their options are, that’s a win for everybody.”

While getting climate change awareness advocates and local officials to reach consensus on approach may be a challenge, the City of Cottage Grove already has committed to some energy- and resource-efficient strategies over the years.

For instance, Middlefield Golf Course has switched to electric golf carts, the city has installed water meters which can detect anomalous water usage, two public electric vehicle stations have been installed and plans are currently underway to replace public park sprinkler systems with recycled effluent.

Recently, the city collected 11 free bridge beams from the Oregon Department of Transportation, which will be used on an upcoming Cleveland Bridge project and is estimated to save around 1,200 metric tons of CO2.

“We’re also saving money on cleaning police uniforms because we’ve gone from dry clean uniforms to washable uniforms,” said Meyers. “So there’s a huge cost we’ve saved, plus the impact of dry cleaning on the environment is pretty substantial.”

In the future, the city also hopes to find a way to dry and process biosolids, waste material which could be used for fertilizer.

Solutions such as these are likely to come up as discussion around the topic gathers momentum.

“This is an important start to future conversations,” said EcoGeneration Executive Director David Gardiepy. “The dialogue started today is just the start of many, many more conversations.”

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