Eagle town leaders spearhead sustainable action | VailDaily.com

Eagle town leaders spearhead sustainable action

Solar panels line the roof of an eco-friendly house in Eagle. The town of Eagle has outlined 2023 projects that will help approach net zero goals. Additionally, individuals community-wide are taking action themselves.
Dominique Taylor/Vail Daily archive

Setting an example for more citizens to follow, many community leaders throughout Eagle are taking environmentally conscious steps in their day-to-day lives as the town moves closer to its net zero goal. 

On July 27, 2021, the Eagle Town Council passed a resolution to adopt the goal of achieving net zero carbon emissions as a municipality by 2028. As for the greater Eagle community, the Town Council aspires to report net zero carbon emissions by 2030. 

Just a few months before setting the goal, in February 2021, Eagle outdoorsmen and backcountry skiers Andy Jessen, Adam Palmer and Seth Bossung were tragically killed in an avalanche near Silverton. Eagle Mayor Scott Turnipseed said that following the incident, he knew the town would work to honor their legacy through sustainability efforts.

“When that happened, Luke Carton from an organization called Mountain Towns 2030 came down to Eagle and he gave us a little presentation about what Mountain Towns 2030 is doing.”

Turnipseed said the organization is rooted in Park City, Utah, and involves dozens of mountain communities striving for more sustainable practices. Mountain Towns 2030 membership would guide the town through efforts to reduce carbon emissions. 

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“You know, pretty much after that presentation, I was talking with (Town Council member Geoffrey) Grimmer and we’re like, ‘Man, we gotta do this, you know. Let’s go ahead and make this a goal,’ which we did and the council approved it,” Turnipseed said. 

Despite the ambitious nature of these goals, Turnipseed said a compilation of community and government-wide efforts culminate to make a difference with the help of resources like Mountain Towns 2030.

Eagle also joined the Climate Action Collaborative since establishing its net zero goals, Turnipseed said. The Climate Action Collaborative partners “established a framework to strategize and deliver on greenhouse gas emission reductions within the buildings, materials management, energy supply and transportation sectors, as well as mechanisms to enhance effort for education and outreach, water conservation and carbon sequestration,” as described on the WalkingMountains.org.

Additionally, Eagle helped with the formation of the Adam Palmer Sustainability Fund, which assists in financing projects that are at the heart of Eagle’s net-zero goals. 

“We first joined these groups to increase our resources and our knowledge base,” Turnipseed said. “Then, probably the first big thing we did was we hired Larry Pardee as the new town manager.”

Hailing from Jackson, Wyoming, Pardee brought about 10 years of experience working toward net zero carbon emissions. Turnipseed said Pardee’s involvement in Eagle’s net zero carbon emission efforts continues to be instrumental. 

“Larry, our manager, is currently working on a very big spreadsheet, which shows all of our energy use in all of our town-wide facilities, vehicles, et cetera,” Turnipseed said. “What he does is he inputs all of our energy users in the town operations and then tracks them every month and with the goal of figuring out ways to reduce, conserve, go to renewables, all sorts of stuff.”

Another key player among town government staff will be the new sustainability director. Turnipseed said the Eagle 2023 budget includes funding to hire a professional who can get the ball rolling on more climate-smart initiatives. 

“This person, I think, can really drive things, bring things to the council,” Turnipseed said. “That’s the best return on investment.”

While the town still has a long way to go before reaching its net zero goals, Turnipseed said tackling the low-hanging fruit is a great way Eagle has been moving forward and closer to net zero emissions step by step. 

Since creating the net zero goals, Turnipseed said even as a whole, the town’s government works have adopted a more sustainable mindset. When making decisions, even ones that might not have previously been considered climate-related, he said the municipality is more mindful of environmental and climate repercussions.

“In public works, they had a F-150 pickup truck that they used to bring water samples from here to Avon to get tested, and when that thing was done with its life, they said ‘Oh yeah, net zero goal, let’s buy an electric car instead of a gas pickup truck.’ So, public works bought their first electric car this year and it’s great because we don’t need a big pickup truck guzzling gas, we can use this electric vehicle,” Turnipseed said. 

Though, the lens of carbon mindfulness isn’t limited to government works. Turnipseed said since establishing the net zero goal, individuals across Eagle, including community leaders, are making more climate-centric decisions in their own day-to-day lives. 

Leading by example, Turnipseed said he and his wife recently had a 14.8-kilowatt solar system installed on their home. 

“That will do our house plus hopefully a couple of electric cars in the future whenever we get to purchasing those, which we plan on doing as soon as our current cars have had enough life,” Turnipseed said. 

With an average payback period of about nine years, Turnipseed said the return on investment of installing solar also influenced the decision to do so. 

“It’s not just to get to the net zero goals, it’s also to, you know, do something financially sound, fiscally responsible,” Turnipseed said.

Also putting more sustainable options into action is Town Council member Grimmer, who installed a solar array and owns a Tesla and Town Council member Ellen Bodenheimer, who opted for electric home heating, Turnipseed said. 

“We are trying to lead a bit by example individually, but also as an organization, as a town organization and showing the community what you can do and still have it make sense financially,” Turnipseed said.

Looking forward, the town will continue to set sustainable examples in 2023. The town is working toward adding composting and single-stream recycling to its waste services. With town-wide composting, Turnipseed said there will be an estimated 5% movement toward net zero emissions. 

Also, Turnipseed said the Adam Palmer Sustainability Fund is writing an action plan for 2023 net zero projects. Additionally, Eagle’s 2023 budget has money set aside to engage a national grant writer to help secure state and national-level grants to help fund net zero campaigns. 

However, in 2023, Turnipseed said Eagle’s biggest project to tackle carbon emissions will be the projected installation of a major solar panel system.

“We are going to do a large solar array at the town’s largest electric user, which is our water treatment plants, both our wastewater and our water treatment plants,” Turnipseed said. 

Turnipseed said the solar array is a great project for Eagle to tackle toward the beginning of its net zero timeline because of the payback the panels offer over time. 

“We don’t want to take taxpayer dollars and not use it wisely,” Turnipseed said. “So, we really look to make sure we get a decent return on investment, so looking for the stuff that’s the biggest bang for the buck at this point.”

Whether it is with the water treatment solar array or another solar project, Turnipseed said Eagle might look to Gypsum’s 2022 Holy Cross community-build solar array project for inspiration. He said getting the community involved with the project is not only a great way to get people to come together for the town but is also a way for people to start thinking about how to reduce carbon emissions in their own lives. 

“I know we’d get community members that would come, you know, donate a day or two at a time,” Turnipseed said. “So, we’re going to start looking for some land that we can do that in. I don’t know if that’ll happen in 2023, but hopefully, we’ll find a piece of dirt for it and start planning to do that.”

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