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March 3, 2014

Ideas burst forth at Sustainability Summit

By Denise Richardson Staff Writer
The Daily Star

---- — Like swarming bees, about 120 area residents created a buzz about how to promote the environmental and economic welfare of the community, preserve resources and more during the Oneonta Sustainability Summit on Saturday.

“I was blown away by the amount of enthusiasm,” said Mark Conchie, an Oneonta resident who is a development associate at the Glimmerglass Festival. He signed up to work on agriculture and forestry sustainability issues.

The summit grew from the work of the Oneonta Sustainability Task Force and its Oneonta 2030 project, an effort endorsed by the city Common Council. In June, the task force issued a report that included recommending sustainability planning with the town of Oneonta.

The morning meeting at the Morris Conference Center at the State University College at Oneonta featured speakers and included two breakout sessions to brainstorm. Afterward, participants proposed specific projects.

“The whole idea is to start the conversation,” said Michael Long, Oneonta city manager and a member of the summit organizing committee.

Ideas included developing bicycle and walking paths; promoting energy audits of buildings and follow-up conservation measures; and establishing networks and marketing supports for diversified farm and niche agricultural products. Also, identifying alternative fuels and electricity sources, purchasing hybrid vehicles and applying for state grant money for projects were among the scores of possibilities raised during the five-hour meeting.

“Today was great,” Hannah Masterjohn, summit organizer, said as participants were leaving. The turnout was impressive, she said, but the question now is how to translate the meeting and its results into action.

Next steps are to review ideas, sign up volunteer committee members and identify projects and means of implementation, organizers said. The first post-summit meeting is set for 4 p.m. Wednesday at City Hall at 258 Main St.

On Saturday, participants reflected a range of public and private sectors, including banking, public schools, higher education, farming, business, forestry, landscaping, housing, social services, government employees and elected officials.

Attendees divided into seven working groups to discuss topics addressed by the Sustainability Task Force, which made recommendations for action and projects in a report last year. The subject areas were economic development, transportation, land use and livable communities, water management, materials management, energy and agriculture and forestry.

For background, organizers provided participants with information about goals previously outlined in the Mohawk Valley Regional Sustainability Plan and recommendations from the Oneonta 2030 Task Force.

During group discussions, participants spoke about the challenges of transporting goods, produce and people. The differences between public and private modes of transportation were mentioned. The rail yard was referenced as a possible site for development of transportation options, or community projects such as composting.

Participants also suggested more collaboration is needed among educators, schools, businesses and municipalities to find ways to save energy, support economic development and encourage entrepreneurship.

In the agriculture and forestry group, participant Rebecca Morgan, director of the Center for Agricultural Development and Entrepreneurship, said questions about sustainability applied also to livelihood, such as the ability to pay bills.

In the past decade, Morgan said, as traditional dairy farming has declined, there has been an increase in smaller-scale diversified farming, which is “a good sign.” To sustain such developments, however, commercial kitchens and marketing support are needed, she said.

Leon Beach of Oneonta signed up to work on energy-related topics. The summit was a good event and might help raise awareness and concerns about sustainability, Beach said. Ignorance and apathy about resources, energy consumption, rain forest devastation and other issues are problems, he said.

“I think the whole world is in trouble,” said Beach, a representative with Viridian Energy, a green energy supply company.

In a keynote address, Neil Murphy of the SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry warned about the impact of global warming and rates of energy consumption. Options exist to capture solar energy, among other alternatives, he said, and younger generations are innovative thinkers who can provide ideas to help.

“We live in a difficult world,” he said. “For every downside, there is a tremendous upside potential.”

Sustainability means learning to “live green” and consider the needs of populations living seven generations from now, among other considerations, Murphy said. A sustainability plan addresses not only energy and water conservation but also considers other factors that shape a community.

“It’s about improving the quality of life,” Murphy said.

The summit was open to the public. Registration for the summit was $15 at the door or $10 in advance. Organizers said sponsors included SUNY Oneonta, Hartwick College, Casella Waste Systems Inc., Drogen Electric Supply, Sodexo and the Future for Oneonta Foundation.

Oneonta Mayor Dick Miller said he and co-host town Supervisor Robert Wood were pleased at the turnout. The work-group reports presented new options and some ideas in existing programs, which may as a result be further emphasized, Miller said.

“This has been an extremely gratifying morning,” Miller said.

Wood said he looks forward to the implementation of some of the ideas proposed. “There was a real lot of positive energy,” he said.

Melissa Allen, a participant in the water resources group and director of financial aid at Hartwick College, said the attendance showed a commitment to determining steps that will make the community more sustainable.

“I was heartened to see the large turnout today from all sectors of the community,’’ Allen said.

Joseph Yelich, superintendent of the Oneonta City School District, participated on the economic development working group. The summit generated a lot of “really good conversation”” that can lead toward action, he said.

“Working together going forward is the way we’re going to get this done,” Yelich said.

Inside Mohawk Valley group seeks partners for regional cleanup project. P3