Eagle Town Council explores new financial strategies for climate action | VailDaily.com

Eagle Town Council explores new financial strategies for climate action

Tuesday evening sustainability work session continues the conversation toward a comprehensive plan

From left to right: Eagle Town Council members Geoff Grimmer, Mikel “Pappy” Kerst, David Gaboury and Janet Bartnik listen to public comment at a council meeting on May 25, 2021.
Kelli Duncan/kduncan@vaildaily.com

Eagle Town Council members progressed toward the development of a sustainability plan Tuesday, a discussion which centered around how going green can be financially feasible — and maybe even beneficial — for the town.

The council held a sustainability work session Tuesday evening that helped members form ideas on potential next steps after some voiced concerns around the financials and logistics of big-picture changes, Mayor Scott Turnipseed said.

“We want to think about what are our grandkids are going to inherit, and that’s like a basic thing that governments are thinking about is: How do we leave this better than we found it?” Council member Geoff Grimmer said.

In May, the town opted not to adopt a sustainability plan crafted for local governments by the Climate Action Collaborative, a group of local agencies and individuals led by Walking Mountains Science Center.

Despite the plan’s early adoption by a few local municipalities as well as Eagle County government, Eagle Town Council members pointed to aspects of the plan that were beyond their jurisdiction or where the path to implementation was unclear and ultimately decided to hold off.

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After Tuesday’s session, the council is considering drafting its own plan that could be more specific to the Eagle community, which Turnipseed said could end up being just as aggressive as the Climate Action Plan from the collaborative, or even more so.

It all depends on how the financials shake out, and Tuesday’s work session left Turnipseed, Grimmer and the town’s mayor pro tem Mikel “Pappy” Kerst feeling optimistic, they said.

Sustainability that makes financial sense

The council heard a presentation from Luke Cartin, environmental sustainability manager for Park City, Utah, who founded an organization called Mountain Towns 2030 to support mountain towns in developing individualized plans for significant climate action by 2030, Turnipseed said.

After being initially hesitant, Kerst said he felt very encouraged by the financial strategies for climate action presented by Cartin, but still wants to “take the little bites that become big bites.”

Grimmer and Turnipseed also said the presentation illuminated ways in which climate action can be achieved at a low cost with a high return on investment or can even pay for itself.

“The financial concern is real because we don’t have that much money,” Turnipseed said. “It’s not like we have a $20 million reserve fund that we can dip into. … If we’re going to do sustainability, it has to sort of stand on its own because we don’t have the funds to do it otherwise.”

One idea the council discussed Tuesday was the formation of a 501(c)(3) organization that could raise funds to support the furtherance of the town’s sustainability goals to avoid any burden on taxpayers, Grimmer said.

This fund, which Grimmer said is still very much just an idea, would be a partnership with the Eagle Valley Community Foundation and other stakeholders. It could use privately raised funds to offer grants and other incentives to companies or individuals that strive to incorporate green technology or renewable energy sources in their new developments, day-to-day operations or homes.

They discussed calling the organization the “Palmer Fund,” named after the late Adam Palmer who, as a town council member, laid the groundwork for the creation of a sustainability plan alongside Andy Jessen, Grimmer said.

For now, the next step will be for the council to pass a resolution outlining its broader sustainability goals to use as a guiding document in future decision-making, Turnipseed said. He said he anticipates this will be ready to come before the Town Council at its second meeting of the month July 27.

“Let’s try to establish a goal and then we’ve got some time to work towards the how,” Turnipseed said. “Maybe the next 12 to 24 months is trying to figure out the how and then we’ve got five or six years of implementation and hopefully by 2030, we look back and go, ‘Yeah, we did pretty darn good on this.’”

What exactly those goals will be, however, remains uncertain, he said. The council is set on having an initial benchmark of 2030 but need further discussion to determine whether that will be a 50% reduction in carbon emissions by then, a 100% reduction, or something in between.

A second resolution on the formation of the private fund could come before the council toward the end of summer, Turnipseed said.

What the town is not interested in is allowing the kind of partisan debate on climate policy that is typical at the federal level to play out locally.

“When you live in a town of 7,200 people, it’s like being at a large high school and you are accountable to every person in that community,” Grimmer said. “We’re not living in a place where there’s any real benefit to getting entrenched in (national) policy divides. It’s more of just a waste of everybody’s time.”

Community buy-in will be crucial to any plan the town ultimately adopts, Turnipseed said, which is why the town is taking time to look at the things it can put into place to support the public and private entities, such as local tradesmen or branches of town government, that will be impacted by such a plan.

This will include things like forming the private fund, amending town codes, and identifying priorities, opportunities and other sources of funding.

“We got to clean up our backyard before we go around preaching to other people how they should clean up theirs,” Grimmer said.

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