Town eyes new energy position

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BRATTLEBORO — There is general agreement that hiring a sustainability coordinator might be the best way to address a wide range of issues in the community.

Last month at annual Representative Town Meeting, reps approved $100,000 for energy or sustainability projects. In the past, the town has funded a nonprofit, which would pay for a part-time energy coordinator, but the position has been vacant for more than a year.

On Tuesday, Energy Committee Chairman Oscar Heller said his group recommended that the Select Board "focus fully on the sustainability position" and not spend the $100,000 on anything else until someone is hired or the town finds the job cannot be filled.

Michael Bosworth, former committee chairman, said the positions of energy coordinator and sustainability coordinator are "fundamentally different." The latter would have a broader mission, looking at things like environment and energy but also the economy, jobs, education, arts, equity, health, safety and more.

Select Board member David Schoales said the community will need to decide "what does sustainability really mean." He recommended engaging the public in that discussion. He pointed out that other communities have created similar positions.

Board member Elizabeth McLoughlin suggested the position could be in the town's planning department, as the work can overlap and improve existing efforts. She is a professional planner.

Town Manager Peter Elwell said town staff will continue drafting a job description with community members. Originally, the plan had been to provide information about the potential position to the board this summer before budget talks begin. Now, he expects the board to be able to decide whether to start looking for candidates by the middle of the summer.

Select Board Vice Chairman Tim Wessel noted the town has made many energy efficiency improvements on municipal buildings since the publication of a 2016 study. He cautioned against moving too fast.

"This idea of sustainability coordinator seems to be this vacuum where a lot of people's ideas fall into," he said. "Then it becomes ... squishy. It becomes amorphous, to me."

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When it comes to environmental issues, Spoon Agave, of Brattleboro, urged against procrastination.

"Every day you read the newspapers and your heart sinks," he said. "What is needed now from the Select Board is leadership. That is being able to recognize the energy, the interest, the eagerness of a pretty fair number of people around this town to get involved on a very serious level, and to open doors to ease the way for things, to speed things up, to guide them through. That's what leadership is about."

Tony Duncan of Brattleboro said the effects of climate chance could be devastating even though evidence may not be seen on a daily basis. He volunteered to help the committee or town make the hire as soon as possible.

"In most of this country, I would be considered a flaming radical and a crazy, left-wing liberal snowflake," said Franz Reichsman, chairman of the Representative Town Meeting Finance Committee. "But in Brattleboro, I find myself being the voice of the old guy conservative who gets up and says, 'Don't waste this money.' There may be no risk in spending this money in the world at large, but I think there is a risk of prematurely beginning a program that then does not succeed."

Board member Daniel Quipp, a climate activist, noted town staff have acknowledged the impact of climate change. He said he wants to see "a really good proposal."

"I'm not going to vote on something that is ill defined or a waste of taxpayer money," he added.

In other business

— The board approved a liquor license for McNeill's Brewery on the condition that an inspection with the fire department goes well on May 1. Electric and sprinkler system repairs were needed.

— After a second reading of an ordinance amendment, the town will not be raising sewer and water rates.

Reach staff writer Chris Mays at cmays@reformer.com, at @CMaysBR on Twitter and 802-254-2311, ext. 273.


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