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February 27, 2014

Summit to discuss Oneonta's sustainability

By Denise Richardson Staff Writer
The Daily Star

---- — Oneonta’s environmental and economic vitality will be the focus of a meeting Saturday that will combine teaching and brainstorming components to plan for the community’s future.

The Oneonta Sustainability Summit at the Morris Conference Center at the State University College at Oneonta will be from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. The public event welcomes anyone interested in developing and maintaining a thriving community, organizers said.

By Tuesday afternoon, more than 60 people had registered for the summit, organizers said. The fee, which includes lunch, is $10 for registering in advance at eventbrite.com and $15 at the door.

Energy use, economic development, transportation, land use and livable communities, among other topics, will be addressed, and in addition to comments by speakers, attendees will meet in discussion groups.

The summit grew from discussions after an Oneonta city task force completed a report in June on “Oneonta 2030: Growing into a Sustainable Community.” The city and town of Oneonta are hosts of the summit.

In recent years, summits have been held in Oneonta on the arts and economic development.

This summit will provide opportunities to gather ideas about the use and stewardship of community resources and possible paths of sustainability, according to Mark Davies, chairman of the Oneonta 2030 Sustainability Task Force.

“This is a way to jump start a whole lot of ideas,” Davies said Wednesday. “It is certainly a beginning — and an exciting beginning.”

The Oneonta 2030 Sustainability Task Force discussed many issues facing the city of Oneonta and surrounding communities, according to the 16-page report available at www.oneonta.ny.us through a link to the city clerk’s webpage.

Oneonta 2030 is a plan to preserve the community’s environmental health and vitality by examining, preserving and enhancing natural resources, the report said, and it calls for measures to reduce energy use and pollution and to build a “healthy food infrastructure and network” during by 2030.

Though questions and topics considered by the task force were broad, the group’s report focused on four key areas — food, community environment and stewardship, energy, and transportation. Some comments and proposals in the report included:

• Food: The community’s agricultural history is a rich legacy and has a defining role. “We celebrate who we are by the agriculture in our region and we can take justifiable pride in the produce, meat and other goods that are produced here,” the task force said. “Sustainable communities promote deeper and richer relationships with local growers.”

Recommendations included creating a relationship with Chobani to open an outlet store in the city to attract other businesses; coordinate and develop community gardening; improve the online presence of local food-related businesses; and promote a citywide composting program.

• Community environment and stewardship: Every city funnels in goods and services and generates new products and waste, and a sustainable city strives for stewardship of “vital inputs” and to minimize waste and pollution.

“If we embrace the goal of preserving Oneonta’s environment and fostering stewardship of these ecological services, we will need to establish a monitoring protocol for the baseline quality of our air, water and habitat over the next 20 years,” the report said. Recommendations included creating educational and stewardship programs; implementing a climate action plan; and exploring rail yard development for sustainable economic development with links to local food production or as a site for recycling programs.

• Energy: The community needs to advocate for renewable energy programs. Recommendations included joining the International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives; reviewing energy practices and developing policies to reduce energy use and emissions; investigating small-scale wind energy projects; creating a task force to generate proposals for grants from the state’s Cleaner, Greener Communities Program; and generating incentives to attract “green business.”

• Transportation: The car has been the focus of transportation policy at national, state and local levels since World War II. Though convenient for many, others who cannot drive are left out, and alternatives to automobile transportation are needed. Recommendations included encouraging reduced fares for buses to boost ridership; creating policies and local laws prohibiting “idling” of vehicles, thus reducing emissions; and switching to fleets of hybrid or alternative-energy vehicles.

The summit Saturday is an an opportunity to consider concerns identified in the report and plan not only for 2030 but also for the years beyond, Davies said.

“We need to continue envisioning what our community looks like,” Davies said. “We always need to be looking forward.”

Task force members realized that as a volunteer group that they were challenged to engage a variety of community voices and bring ideas to fruition, said Davies, an associate professor of education at Hartwick College. The task force will follow up on summit results, he said.

Neil Murphy of the SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry will be the keynote speaker at the summit, which is is sponsored by SUNY Oneonta, Hartwick College and Drogen’s Electric Supply. Hannah Masterjohn, chairwoman of the organizing committee, was out of town and unavailable for comment Wednesday.

Organizers said the goal is that each summit discussion group identify one idea that can be implemented.

“I’d like to see some concrete steps,” Oneonta Mayor Dick Miller said. In the summit, addressing sustainability issues not as a city or town but as a community is the proper approach, he said.

Supervisor Robert Wood said the town, which last year developed a comprehensive plan, looks forward to identifying ways to improve the sustainability in the community, for instance in energy efficiency and preserving and protecting water resources.

Daily life requires the use of energy, water and other resources, Hannah Morgan, sustainability coordinator at SUNY Oneonta and a task force member, said Wednesday. Sustainability is an approach to life that encourages being mindful of the impact of using resources and of their availability for future generations, she said.

The summit also will help identify needs that could be the basis for into projects eligible for grant funding, Morgan said, and such projects could benefit the town, city and Otsego County.

“It’s basically exciting to get the dialogue going,” Morgan said. “It’s very exciting.”