Steamboat city council members vote to join climate change compact | SteamboatToday.com

Steamboat city council members vote to join climate change compact

Steamboat Springs City Council unanimously agreed Feb. 27 to join the Compact of Colorado Communities to continue to work to offset the impacts of a changing climate.

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Cherry trees were blooming in Washington D.C., and daily temperatures were peaking above the freezing mark near the North Pole as Steamboat Springs City Council, without hesitation, voted unanimously Tuesday night to join the Compact of Colorado Communities to address climate change.

Councilwomen Sonja Macys and Kathi Meyer told fellow council members they were inspired during a recent Colorado Communities Symposium, which outlined climate work being conducted across the state.

"What we don't do enough is pat ourselves on the back," Meyer said. "We are in the top 25 percent of Colorado (communities) that have adopted the 2015 energy code. Additionally, we are one of three cities in Colorado to be STAR rated. My report to council is this: We should sign the compact. We are already doing more than the minimum amount – I know we can do more."

Macys also told her colleagues on City Council that she came away from the symposium with a sense of pride in her community.

"The conference reminded me of how much mountain communities are innovating in these areas, and I was uplifted to see how people were proud of us for being one of three cities in Colorado to be STAR rated," she said.

The STAR community rating system is a national framework created by communities to provide a framework for evaluating local sustainability, economic, environmental and social measures.

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Just four cities in America have been awarded five stars by STAR, including Seattle, Washington. The city of Steamboat Springs is among just 28 cities, virtually all of them larger than Steamboat, that have been give four stars. Other four-star cities include Washington, D.C.; Tucson, Arizona; Portland, Oregon; and Las Vegas, Nevada.

The Compact of Communities is a significant point of emphasis  for the Yampa Valley Sustainability Council in 2018, and a sizable crowd of residents turned out for Tuesday night's discussion. Many of those who attended the council meeting held up small placards urging City Council to join the Compact.

YVSC Executive Director Sarah Jones was clearly pleased with how readily City Council agreed to jump onboard with the Compact, and she presented council members with a list of more than 100 local businesses and nonprofits that had signed a YVSC letter urging the council to join the Compact as a means of setting expectations for local businesses.

Jones said her nonprofit organization has received more than 650 pledges from local residents who have agreed, in one of several ways, to reduce the carbon footprint of their households.

"Signing the Compact is just the first step for our community in the fight against climate change, but I'm confident the city can lead on this effort to improve our resilience and reduce our carbon emissions locally," Jones said.

She asked City Council and the audience in Citizens Hall to think about how climate change could increasingly impact life and commerce in the Yampa Valley. Residents in Northwest Colorado  could potentially see the length of the ski season shortened, she pointed out, and water storage could be reduced as winter snowpack levels drop over time. The community could also see the risk of wildfires in the forests surrounding the city increase to alarming levels, Jones warned.

She added that the grassroots Community Climate Action Working Group will ask City Council to set measurable goals and invest in tangible steps to address the community's greenhouse gas emissions.

Assistant to the City Manager Winnie DelliQuadri reminded the audience and City Council of the many steps the city has already taken to address climate change.

The city has adopted a new building code emphasizing sustainable building practices, she said. The city is also in the midst of changing street lights to LED bulbs and monitoring its own utility bills to detect spikes and address their cause. Last year, the city added an additional hybrid fuels bus to its transit fleet.

The city has also taken a leadership role in the creation of a Yampa River Management Plan, which is intended to determine how much water the Yampa needs to remain healthy, and the city will inventory the wetland within its limits in 2018, looking for opportunities to create or improve existing wetlands.

Ultimately, she said, the city's revenue stream and staffing levels limit how much further the city can take its sustainability profile.

"There's so much more that we could do," DelliQuadri said. “But we lack the budget and staff to do more than we're currently doing. We operate within fiscal constraints and do everything possible with what we have."

One of the highlights of the City Council meeting was provided by children who stood at the microphone to urge council members to do more to mitigate climate change.

Wyatt Dillon, 11, suggested that residents and visitors to Steamboat should use their cars less.

"Just one day of no cars moving would make a big difference," Wyatt said. "People who are shoppers could take the bus. People from out of town could park their cars at the entrance to town. Hybrid buses should go to specific places, like shopping and the hospital."

To reach Tom Ross, call 970-871-4205, email tross@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @ThomasSRoss1.