County: The climate is changing, so let's deal with it

Planning department outlines action plan to become a 'Climate Smart Community'

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  • Orange County, represented by planning Commissioner David Church (far right), joins other "Climate Smart Communities" in the Hudson River Valley (Photo: Mid-Hudson Climate Smart Communities:

An 11-step plan

1. Join the ICLEI (International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives) Local Governments for Sustainability, an international association of local governments as well as national and regional local government organizations who have made a commitment to sustainable development. Work with ICLEI area government groups to take baseline emission measurements.
2. Reduce government electricity usage by 15 percent beginning immediately.
3. Develop an action plan, with input from the public and businesses, and submit it to The Climate Registry, a non-profit organization that helps organizations measure the carbon in their operations in order to manage and reduce it.
4. Make an inventory of all current official county electric usage using Department of Energy block grants. List alternative Energy Star equipment for lighting, heating, cooling, thermostats, and water and wastewater equipment.
5. Decrease fuel usage in the county's fleet by restricting idling; encouraging car pooling, bicycling, bus and train use; and converting to electric vehicles when possible.
6. Increase use of renewable energy: solar, wind, and hydroelectricity.
7. Reduce waste stream by reusing containers and recycling. Organize community yard sales and drop-off spots for reusable goods. Sponsor recycling education programs.
8. Adopt green purchasing procedures.
9. Continue beneficial land-use planning practices.
10. Plan ahead for the side effects when climate change hits the county directly.
11. Show willingness and readiness to adapt to climate changes and enlist the public’s help in doing so.

By Edie Johnson

— During a holiday season remarkable for its record-breaking warmth, the Orange County Planning Department is frankly acknowledging the reality of climate change by calling for a plan to cope with its consequences.

The county has set a goal to cut carbon emissions 80 percent by 2050, when the high school students of today are in their 50s.

To do this, the usual environmental reviews and comprehensive plans will be joined by "Tool Kits toward Sustainability" to guide every town and village. The 11-point action plan, recently presented by county planning Commissioner David Church to the legislature's Physical Services Committee, calls for energy conservation, reduced waste, and greater use of sustainable resources (see sidebar). And in addition to reducing the emissions that contribute to climate change, the plan seeks to protect the county from the other effects of continued growth, which stress water and sewer resources, energy supplies, and traffic flow.

Now that Orange has its guidelines, it will join neighboring counties to measure emissions and set benchmarks. In a separate letter to legislators, Church described a seven-county effort toward regional sustainability.

The county has also joined the statewide effort, Solarize New York, to make solar energy available to residential users and, more recently, commercial users. Its goal is a future less dependent on the fossil fuels that produce the greenhouse gases warming our atmosphere with catastrophic results.

A history of conservation
Church said that before the widespread public attention on environmental causes, citizens in the region were working to protect the Hudson River.

In the early years, logging operations stripped much of its shores, making cleanup an imperative. Then there was the struggle to get General Electric to clean up the toxic PCB's it had for years dumped in the river. Concerns have now shifted to protecting the river from oil and fracking fluid spills, and protecting fish killed by heat emanating from the Indian Point Nuclear Facility.

The county already has protected open lands through Open Space Institute and Orange County Land Trust purchases, the Farmland Protection Plan, and the Moodna Creek and Wallkill River Watershed protection programs. The county plans to improve natural buffers in areas prone to flooding, and to develop its own wetlands law. Additional places for the public to drop off recyclables will help improve the waste stream.

Renewable energy
Solar energy is taking off in the county. In recent years, rooftop systems popped up one by one. Now, applications for solar systems are piling up on building inspectors' desks. The county has already started installing ground mounts for solar panels at the emergency services center in Goshen, with the energy to supply both the center and the jail. Private solar farms have been proposed for Goshen, Wallkill, and Chester with Solarize New York group discounts. Some planning boards, including in the Town of Goshen, have declared a moratorium on large solar farms until zoning codes can be drafted to regulate them.

Along with these efforts, Church hopes to see more heat-reflective roofs in the county, better insulation, and more facilities generating renewable energy. He advocates burying utility lines to protect scenic views, disrupt less land, and eliminate outages caused by downed lines.

The plan calls for increased use of graywater systems in county buildings where filtered water is unnecessary. Rainwater gardens and other water-saving methods are already encouraged by local planners. A rain garden is a natural depression near a downspout or other runoff source that diverts this excess water to a garden.

State efforts
New York State has established several financing groups to help property owners make their homes more energy-efficient. The Energy Improvement Corporation of New York has established a Commercial Property Assessment Clean Energy Program for financing that's not limited to solar.

Energize New York financing for commercial entities ( will help member municipalities obtain financing to support energy sustainability for residential properties too.

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