City of Steamboat Springs will create new environmental sustainability committee | SteamboatToday.com

City of Steamboat Springs will create new environmental sustainability committee

Bicycles ridden by city employees are parked next to city of Steamboat Springs vehicles outside of the parks and recreation building. The city's Green Team promoted biking and using public transportation to get to and from work and for running errands. The city is working to form a new advisory committee on sustainability.

— Four years after its popular and productive Green Team faded away, the city of Steamboat Springs is getting ready to form a new advisory group to help make the city more environmentally friendly.

The city’s Green Team used to be one of the hottest sustainability groups in town before it disbanded in 2010.

The team of city employees and community volunteers had an annual budget of $20,000 and realized a number of accomplishments that ranged from obtaining bikes that employees could share to purchasing renewable energy credits at Centennial Hall and Howelsen Hill.

Under a program conceived by the Green Team, city employees also received incentives in the form of prizes if they commuted to and from work without driving a vehicle.

Then came the recession.

In 2009, city employees’ hours and pay were cut, and the Green Team started to wilt.

“Our Green Team is defunded and dissolved,” council member Sonja Macys said succinctly earlier this month when other council members inquired about the downfall of the team.

Council members were less interested in discussing how the group disappeared in recent years than they were about talking about a new, more expansive sort of Green Team that is in the works at the city.

City staff is moving ahead with a plan to form a new group of city employees and community members who will advise the city and the council on sustainability-related efforts.

In the coming months, city staff is gathering all the data it can on the city’s air quality, waste stream, water quality and energy use to establish baselines that will help guide future sustainability policies and operating decisions.

Staff will turn to the council for guidance and to set targets on those items.

“You could tell us that you just want to simply reduce energy expenses, or you could tell us you want us to reduce our carbon footprint no matter what it costs,” City Manager Deb Hinsvark told the council. “Or you could go somewhere in between all of that. What we would like to know is where you want to hit.”

The council is expected to start having that conversation in the fall.

The committee would be formed around the same time.

Hinsvark said the new committee the city will form will be different from the Green Team in that it won’t focus just on facilities and operations at the city.

“We were a Green Team trying to figure out how to green up our own activities, without looking outward to the community,” she said. “I think this new committee will go beyond just the city’s operations, because they will have the ability to suggest both policy to the City Council and procedures to the city manager.”

The idea to put a new focus on sustainability and lead by example was one of the goals the City Council agreed to this year.

The council was supportive of city staff’s plan to form a new advisory committee.

Some council members recently have lamented that they do not have any sort of plan for how to weigh whether to invest in sustainability opportunities like a new solar garden that was previously planned to be built near Craig.

City staff asked the council in March to come up with a new energy purchase and usage policy that could help to prioritize and guide future spending decisions.

City Planner Bob Keenan, who coordinated the Green Team for five years, welcomed the council’s recent resolve to focus on sustainability.

“I think it’s pretty exciting, and I think it’s great for the city as a government organization but also for the community,” Kennan said. “I think it’s important for us to demonstrate good leadership for sustainability efforts. It’s also important for our visitors to understand we embrace that because it’s part of our livelihood.”

Keenan said that although the Green Team disbanded after employee furloughs were enacted and budgets were cut, sustainability efforts at the city have not stopped.

He said city staff continued to complete a number of items that were recommended in a 2006 Sustainability Management Plan, including performance contracting that aimed to reduce utility bills at city facilities.

“We’ve also provided a sustainable purchasing policy for the city that focuses on our business practices and making sure the products we use and the products we buy are sustainable,” he said.

The Green Team and the public participation it attracted also spurred the creation of the Yampa Valley Sustainability Council, which was able to turn its focus to sustainability efforts throughout the entire community.

To reach Scott Franz, call 970-871-4210, email scottfranz@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @ScottFranz10