For the first time, Sackville Town Council is getting advice from an outside group on how to ensure that next year’s capital projects help lessen the negative effects of climate change.
A working group of professionals and academics on the 27-member Mayor’s Roundtable on Climate Change has submitted a number of preliminary suggestions.
One recommends using next year’s proposed $25,000 public art installation to raise public awareness about how climate change threatens Sackville “and the urgency of taking action now.”
Another suggests that the $15,000 allocated to improve the Lund property in the Waterfowl Park should be used to create trails that are as narrow as possible to avoid cutting down too many trees.
Richard Elliot, a retired wildlife biologist affiliated with the federal department of environment and climate change, said after Tuesday’s council meeting that he’s pleased town staff and councillors seem to be taking the roundtable’s recommendations seriously.
“We’re viewing the town’s capital projects through a climate-change lens,” Elliot said referring to the roundtable’s wide range of objectives.
Those objectives include seeking ways of using as little energy as possible, incorporating natural landscape features into project designs, using environmentally-appropriate materials such as wood approved by the Forest Stewardship Council and, maximizing the number of healthy trees in Sackville to help store more carbon, mitigate flooding and moderate temperatures.
Climate-friendly dog park
The roundtable working group’s list of specific recommendations includes designing a dog park “that incorporates existing ground cover, including trees, woods and fields” on town property “as close as possible to the town centre to minimize the amount of driving and thus fossil fuel consumption undertaken by dog owners to get to the park.” (Current plans call for an $80,000 dog park six-and-a-half kilometres from the downtown.)
The working group also recommends that the town think carefully about the environmental impact of its proposed $575,000 emergency generator at the Civic Centre where residents could take shelter when the town loses power during winter storms.
“We recognize the importance of having a warming facility in our community,” the roundtable writes in its recommendations to council. “Given the high costs of the proposed generator, we encourage town staff to consider the costs and benefits of alternatives such as sharing such facilities with Mount Allison University.”
The roundtable goes on to recommend that before purchasing the diesel generator, the town weigh its environmental effects against the cost of alternate fuel sources with potentially lower greenhouse gas emissions.
The roundtable criticizes the town’s plan to use $367,359 in federal gas tax funding next year for fixing local roads.
“We consider that the imaginative arguments to support the use of gas tax funding to finance the resurfacing of roads — to reduce gasoline use associated with acceleration and braking on rough roads — are misguided and inappropriate,” the roundtable writes.
“We urge the Town to find alternate ways to finance road resurfacing, beginning in 2021, and to redirect the gas tax funding to community initiatives to help mitigate impacts of climate change.”
The roundtable report also encourages the town to move toward the increased use of efficient energy alternatives including solar power.
“We recommend setting aside any funds not used in 2020 in a ‘solar fund,’ to serve as a reserve fund specifically to invest in solar panels as a supplementary energy source for town buildings,” the report says.
Origins of roundtable
The town established the Mayor’s Roundtable on Climate Change in response to hundreds of student strikers who marched on town hall in March demanding action.
On April 8th, town council passed a resolution promising, among other things, to “establish a roundtable on climate change, comprised of various community stakeholders, with a mandate to provide advice and guidance on climate change initiatives as part of the town’s annual priority planning and budget process.”
At Tuesday’s council meeting, Mayor Higham called the roundtable an experiment.
“Obviously, we’re getting some really good advice that future councils might want to consider,” he said.
“The only thing we know we’re doing right away is we’re going to have a public forum,” Higham said, adding that the forum will allow members of the roundtable to hear from residents and community groups on what needs to be done to lessen the effects of climate change.
“[The forum] would give us some kind of blueprint over where we might want to go,” the mayor concluded.
Note: The report from the roundtable’s working group entitled “2020 Town of Sackville Capital Projects — Viewed Through a Climate Change Lens” is dated November 25, 2019. The copy of the report that the town sent to The New Wark Times does not include the names of the members of the working group who made the recommendations about capital projects. The Town Clerk explained in an e-mail: “We have not had an opportunity to reach out to the participants who created the report and therefore their names have been blacked out.”