North Country sustainability plan unveiled in Tupper Lake

TUPPER LAKE – The North Country may be on track to greening up its act in the coming years.

The Adirondack North Country Association unveiled a plan Wednesday afternoon at The Wild Center natural history museum to create a sustainable future for the Adirondacks and the area around it.

The plan was part of an initiative announced in Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s 2011 State of the State address, called the Cleaner Greener Communities grant program. The state was broken down into regions, similar to the Regional Economic Development Council model that Cuomo started to guide economic development, and each area was directed to come up with a plan to move toward, as the grant name would suggest, cleaner, greener communities.

ANCA Executive Director Kate Fish said the North Country plan actually started in 2008 at the Adirondack Climate Change Conference; then several years later, the state caught up. Cuomo promised to dedicate $90 million statewide to the effort over three to five years, Fish said.

Fish said it’s not just about the funding, though. The idea was to create a workable plan to create a long-term sustainability road map for the North Country.

Essex County was the lead agency on the application, and ANCA worked with Ecology and Environment Inc., a company based in the Buffalo area, along with a working group and a consortium of municipal officials and department staff to create the plan, which is currently a little more than 200 pages. More than 200 people were involved in its creation, said Rebecca Flora, E&E’s sustainability project manager.

Flora and E&E’s Nicole Parganos, a senior environmental engineer, presented an overview of the plan to a crowd that mostly filled The Wild Center’s Flammer Theater.

Flora noted that sustainability is hard to define.

“To me, sustainability is about balance,” she said.

Flora said it’s about finding the right balance between economic, social and environmental concerns.

The plan focuses on several areas: energy, transportation, livable communities and land use, economic development, materials management, water management and working landscapes.

Flora said common themes showed up throughout each area, like education, greenhouse gas emissions, economic development, and infrastructure and otherwise preparing communities to deal with extreme weather events, which are anticipated to become more frequent as the climate continues to change due to global warming.

Parganos explained the findings of a greenhouse gas inventory her group did on the North Country and how goals were developed from those findings. For example, the inventory found that 94 percent of the energy generated in the North Country is renewable, but 67 percent of that energy is exported, mainly in the form of hydropower and wind. So one of the goals of the energy category is to use more renewable energy here.

Transportation shows up as one of the North Country’s biggest problem areas, because it makes up 42 percent of the region’s per-capita energy consumption. Parganos said the plan seeks to encourage people to travel in ways other than a single person driving a car, like carpooling or using mass transit, and to revitalize downtown and main street areas, which would mean people would be less likely to drive long distances.

The plan includes a number of proposed green projects by groups around the area. That doesn’t necessarily mean they will receive funding, Fish said, but if they apply for grants through the state’s new consolidated grant application program, they might be likelier to win awards.

Fish said the North Country’s Regional Economic Development Council co-chairs have already agreed to assign a working group to concentrate specifically on the sustainability plan.

A draft of the plan can be viewed online, and Flora said they want to hear more comments on it.

“This is your plan,” Flora said. “We need that input, because it really has to come from here.”

(Editor’s note: The 13th paragraph is this article has been corrected to reflect that when Parganos said 67 percent of the electricity generated within the region is exported, she said it was mainly in the form of hydropower and wind, not wood.)