Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Hailey leverages sustainability goals

EPA showcase city takes on leadership role

Express Staff Writer

The city of Hailey is positioning itself as a regional leader in sustainable development, and has secured funding for many of its goals.

With $2.75 million in annexation and development-impact fees raised over the past decade, Hailey has leveraged matching funds to win a series of grants geared toward funding environmentally conscious development projects. A long list of largely federal grants more than triples the city's capital fund potential, putting the city well on its way to achieving expansive infrastructure and economic development goals.

The Blaine County seat has wide support for its efforts from a number of partners, including sub-grantees like Mountain Rides Transportation Authority and funding entities like the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

At a City Council meeting Monday, City Administrator Heather Dawson and newly appointed Sustainability Coordinator Mariel Platt gave a presentation about the city's expanding role as a leader in sustainable development. A cornerstone of the city's new direction is a $472,000 EPA Climate Showcase Grant, one of three elite grants awarded to Hailey and only a few other cities across the country that is funding the Hailey Community Climate Challenge to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 2015.

The three elite grants include a LEAP (Local Energy Assurance Program) grant awarded to 43 jurisdictions through the U.S. Department of Energy. The other two are a U.S. Department of Transportation TIGER II transportation grant awarded to 42 jurisdictions, which will be used for Woodside Boulevard redevelopment, and an EPA Climate Showcase Communities Grant that was awarded to 25 jurisdictions.

The presentation was Platt's first in her new role as sustainability coordinator, a position funded by the EPA for three years. Projects that she presented included the forthcoming rodeo grounds interpretive center, a LEED-certified building that will have construction recycling, a 30 percent water-use reduction goal, energy use reduction and improved indoor air quality. Projected benefits for taxpayers include savings on energy and water bills.

Other projects are a pilot program for recycling construction waste in conjunction with the Building Materials Thrift Store, and a bicycle share program distributing 18 bicycles in three pods around the city.

Under the terms of the showcase project, there is no limit to the number of projects Platt may pursue. The work is intended to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

The city is also gearing up for a regional energy summit on April 27-28, being hosted by the Environmental Resource Center. And, continuing its participation in a regional program funded by a federal Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant, Hailey has already distributed $35,000 to help homeowners and businesses make their structures more energy efficient. Dawson said energy audits and efficiency measures are expected to receive ongoing public support.

"It's about planning to have our community assured of energy sources in the future and in the case of emergencies," Dawson said in an interview.

She explained that the goal is to have alternatives in place if, for example, the community is hit with a Christmas storm that knocks out power. She said planning is also intended to help the city find sources of alternative energy for the long term.

She said some of the federal funding is paying for an assistant city engineer to focus for a year and a half on energy planning.

Platt said Diamond Sun Productions has been hired to make a film about Hailey that will be part of an education campaign to share the city's experience with adopting sustainability measures. The City Council agreed to be filmed at an upcoming meeting when it is slated to hear a high school presentation about plastic bags. City Councilman Fritz Haemmerle said he is looking forward to hearing from business owners who have been invited to attend the meeting because he wants to know more about the business impacts of a program like a plastic bag ban, a discussion that the ERC will be watching.

"We are excited to be involved with the outreach surrounding the Hailey Community Climate Challenge," ERC Director Lisa Huttinger said. "Our role will be to educate the public about the various components that comprise the effort, and to encourage as much participation as possible in each and every event and opportunity.

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