Putnam Pledges to Be ‘Climate Smart’

County joins state program to reduce emissions

By Holly Crocco

Although some lawmakers expressed reservations at earlier committee meetings, the Putnam County Legislature on June 4 unanimously voted to pursue certification as a Climate Smart Community, joining Dutchess County, Beacon, Nelsonville and Philipstown, along with more than 250 other municipalities and counties statewide.

County legislators have discussed the green pledge, a program administered by the state Department of Environmental Conservation, since at least 2015. It asks municipalities and counties to commit to reducing 10 initiatives to combat climate change. Projects include creating an inventory of emissions, decreasing energy use, shifting to renewable energy, using “green” materials, improving land use, and educating its residents.

In return, municipalities in the program are eligible for grants to pay for the changes.

“While scientists thought climate change would take many generations to be felt, right now we’re already experiencing its dramatic effects,” said Legislator Nancy Montgomery (D-Philipstown), noting the frequency of destructive storms, early budding trees and early summer heat waves. “This is a positive step in taking local action in reducing greenhouse gases and emissions and improving climate resiliency.”

At an April 25 meeting of the Legislature’s Economic Development committee, Montgomery expressed frustration at the continued discussion of the pledge without action. She had given a presentation on the pledge to the committee in February, soon after she took office.

“I’m ready to move this forward,” Montgomery said on April 25. “If you guys don’t want to take the pledge, I will take the pledge and implement these 10 items. And I’d be happy to ask the state if I can take the pledge myself and do this. But I’m at the point where I don’t want to see this again before another committee.”

Amy Sayegh (R-Mahopac Falls), who chairs the committee, said at the time that the Legislature was waiting on a response from County Executive MaryEllen Odell about how the pledge might affect various departments. “I believe the weight of this will fall on the Planning Department,” she said.

Although she said she supported the initiative, Sayegh asked: “Do we need a task force and man-hours and another volunteer board to fulfill the task that we’re already doing? We’re all in favor of green energy and saving the taxpayers money and limiting our footprint on the environment, but is it going to double the workload? Because now instead of doing what we’re doing, we’re also participating in a task force.”

At the June 4 full legislative meeting, Carl Albano (R-Carmel) noted the Capital Projects Committee already spends a lot of time considering how to incorporate energy conservation into projects.

“It’s something that’s high on our priority list in regard to energy and doing things in an efficient way, so it means a lot to us,” he said.

Sayegh reported during the June 4 discussion that Putnam plans to replace its diesel vehicles with those that use unleaded gasoline. In addition, the county is investigating whether it can get by with smaller vehicles, including those powered by solar, and looking at hydrothermal and solar heating at the county-owned Tilly Foster Farm.

“I like the idea of passing something that lets everybody know that the county puts this as a priority,” she said.

“It’s a good pledge, and it puts us on the map in terms of letting everyone know that we have been doing what needs to be done, and will continue to do what needs to be done to protect our environment,” said Ginny Nacerino (R-Patterson).

Malachy Cleary, who lives in Cold Spring, thanked the Legislature for adopting the resolution.

“I think I speak for everyone in Cold Spring, Putnam County — especially everyone in my age group, and younger than myself — in saying the climate crisis is an issue that is of paramount importance to us,” he said. “We appreciate that you are treating it with the seriousness it deserves.”

Philipstown and Nelsonville are the only municipalities in Putnam County that have taken the pledge; Cold Spring is the sole hold-out in the Highlands. In Dutchess, besides Beacon, 18 towns, villages and cities have registered with the state, including Hyde Park, LaGrange, Poughkeepsie, Wappinger and Wappingers Falls.