Montgomery says county ‘way behind’ in process
A Putnam legislative committee last week endorsed creation of a Complete Streets program serving pedestrians and bus riders as well as drivers but rejected a call to craft a more substantive policy like the one Dutchess County adopted five years ago.
At its July 20 meeting in Carmel, the Legislature’s three-person Physical Services Committee approved a resolution on Putnam’s “green-infrastructure” and “enhanced energy-efficient facilities” goals. Much of the resolution duplicates a recent directive by County Executive MaryEllen Odell. The full, nine-member Legislature will now consider it.
The Complete Streets initiative, a component of the state’s Climate Smart program, stems from a 2011 law requiring publicly funded road projects to take into account pedestrians, bicyclists, mass transit and public safety with sidewalks, bike lanes and paths, elevated pedestrian crossings and other fixtures.
In the discussion on July 20, Legislator Carl Albano of Carmel, who chairs the committee, and Transportation Director Vinny Tamagna tied the Climate Smart and Complete Streets efforts by the county to reducing energy costs and inefficiency. One example they cited was solar panels, that went online this month on a county building (see below).
Others include switching to fuel-efficient vehicles and overhauling “all the stuff you don’t see,” Tamagna said, as well as scouting spots for electric-car charging stations. (In a statement issued by the county, Tamagna also said, “I got rid of every single diesel bus we had because they pollute the air.”)
“We’re doing everything we need to do to save money and be more responsive environmentally and a lot greener,” Albano said.
Solar panels installed to power the county’s Kern Building in Brewster, which houses the Department of Motor Vehicles and Department of Health, went online in July, according to county officials.
“This is an exciting step on the road to energy independence,” County Executive MaryEllen Odell said in a statement. “But it is only one, highly visible step. For years now, we have been quietly working to make all county facilities more energy efficient, and we have been steadily building out a green infrastructure plan that will benefit our offices, our employees and our taxpayers well into the future.”
Odell said she started developing a plan in 2016 to reduce the county’s carbon footprint, while serving as co-chair of the New York Metropolitan Transportation Council. Soon after, the county spent $8 million to hiring Ameresco, a renewable energy company, to assess the energy use at county facilities and implement changes.
The county has since saved more than $300,000 annually in energy bills, Odell said. In addition to the solar arrays at Kern, the county office building will be outfitted with solar panels when its roof repair is complete and the buildings on the Donald B. Smith campus will follow. In all, the solar panels will provide 464,029 kilowatts of clean energy in the first year, she said.
Climate Smart communities are advised to fulfill a series of requirements, checking off each as they move ahead and expand their eligibility for state funding. But Legislator Nancy Montgomery, whose district includes Philipstown and parts of Putnam Valley, warned that if the county wants to maximize state grants it should follow Climate Smart protocols, such as having members of the public on its Climate Smart task force and keeping minutes at task force meetings.
Putnam’s Climate Smart task force, which is identical to Odell’s Executive Capital Projects Committee, consists entirely of county officials and employees, does not meet in public, and does not record minutes.
“Moneys are available to us,” regardless, Albano told Montgomery. “We don’t have to be part of that.”
He described Montgomery’s Complete Streets proposal, the Odell-inspired committee measure and similar documents as “feel-good resolutions to let us know the direction we’re going.”
In Dutchess, the county’s Complete Streets policy applies not only to county facilities but to public and private projects receiving county permits and advocates partnerships with other counties, local governments and the state.
“We’re way behind,” Montgomery said.
Albano disagreed. “We’re way ahead,” he said. “A lot is being done behind the scenes.”
“I don’t like ‘behind the scenes,’ ” Montgomery replied. “I like the public to be aware of what’s happening.”
The statements by Putnam County’s legislative committee members and its transportation director ring hollow. The county doesn’t deserve credit in this area. Complete Streets means you are creating roads that are safe for all users, regardless of age, ability or mode of transportation. That means that you are making changes to your streets that will benefit everyone, including bicyclists, car drivers, pedestrians, motorcyclists, public transit riders, those requiring wheelchairs, walkers, etc. This planning model has nothing to do with solar panels, buildings, changing vehicle types or charging stations.
Legislator Nancy Montgomery, who represents Philipstown, is right when she says the concept requires not just “backing” or “behind-the-scenes” meetings. It requires collaboration, including community input, planning, transparency and adoption. If Putnam was serious about this, it would require someone other than Vinny Tamagna, the county director of transportation, to be successful.
I say this because I experienced the same equivocation as co-chair of a trolley committee formed by the Cold Spring Chamber of Commerce. In 2019 the chamber asked Mr. Tamanga if a committee could be formed to improve the service (it was notorious for its lack of ridership and unreliable schedule). He accepted, and a group of volunteers met weekly and stud-ied other systems, surveyed 300 residents on the service, negotiated with village leaders on stops, designed signage and printed maps. All these were tasks that should have been done by the county years before the committee formed. The trolley continues to operate today as an unfortunate waste of taxpayer money and a shameful lost opportunity.
Putnam County rejected a call for a substantive Complete Streets policy like the one adopted in Dutchess County five years ago, but has proposed no actions of its own. Has anyone seen Complete Streets on any county meeting agendas?
New York offers funds to help communities adopt a Complete Streets program. If Putnam receives funds, we should demand more than the inertia and waste shown in the trolley fiasco. A few bicycle lanes, a couple of electric buses for Carmel and another crosswalk sign here and there will not make Complete Streets.