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.”