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Assessing City of Groton mayoral candidates from conservation viewpoint

As an urban municipality with an extensive coastline, the City of Groton’s impact on Long Island Sound is considerable and vice versa. Groton Conservation Advocates, a non-profit 501(c)(4) group committed to protecting Groton’s environment, therefore asked the two mayoral candidates in the March 8 primary election to express their views on city environmental issues so we could share them with the public.

Democratic incumbent Mayor Keith Hedrick and Democratic challenger Town Councilor Aundré Bumgardner responded. Because both candidates showed significant knowledge of Groton’s environmental issues, we opted to focus on their environmental records and aspirations for the city rather than endorse one candidate.

Our questionnaire covered plastic waste reduction, sea-level rise, energy efficiency, trees and open space, and clean, safe, drinking water.

Bumgardner’s environmental record as a state representative and town councilor is excellent. As a representative, he wrote a bill calling for a Groton train station, opposed privatizing the Mystic Education Center, voted for a resolution proposing an amendment to the state constitution to protect state-owned property, and sponsored legislation on bicycle and pedestrian safety.

As a Groton town councilor, Bumgardner voted for the plastics reduction ordinance, supported open-space land acquisition, and proposed a compromise solution to the Noank School Community Garden impasse. He recently voted against the town sale of the Col. Ledyard School property to “protect one of the last remaining forested areas west of Route 349 in the highly urbanized City of Groton.”

Bumgardner’s vision for a city response to climate change is bold, ambitious, inspired by the Green New Deal, and indicative of his strong commitment to timely action. His vision includes establishing microgrids throughout the city, converting “the entire municipal vehicle fleet to electric or hybrid (biofuel),” hiring one full-time city resilience and sustainability coordinator and a general manager position in Groton Utilities to ensure full decarbonization of the grid and “commit the city to 100% renewable energy by 2030.”

Both wind power and solar energy will be “the driving force to fulfilling my pledge,” he wrote. Given the 20-inch sea-level rise expected by 2050, he backs regulations requiring new buildings to be built two to three feet above base flood elevation. He supports a city plastics reduction ordinance, would expand the city’s tree canopy and plant street trees to cool city streets, and would invest much more in acquiring watershed land to protect Groton’s drinking water.

Hedrick’s environmental record is substantial and often the product of collaboration. Examples include: the city’s support of Avalonia’s purchase of watershed land in 2019; support of a $54 million water-treatment plant upgrade; the Eastern Connecticut Conservation District’s ongoing Baker Cove Canada Goose Project to remediate cove water impaired by high levels of goose droppings, urban stormwater and marina discharge, and other harmful shoreline run-off. To remedy this, he is considering installing “socks” at the end of storm-drain outfalls to filter out waste and pollutants, then “working our way back to the environmental hazards.”

The first step toward planning for climate-change resilience was led by The Nature Conservancy in January 2019; the development of a resilience plan began in November 2020 with the selection of a consulting firm.

Hedrick envisions the continuation of environmental projects and studies currently underway. GU is considering expanding solar, but it awaits further study to evaluate the cost-benefit of installing solar on city buildings. GU has purchased hybrid vehicles and installed charging stations, one at GU and another at Washington Park. Hedrick “is not opposed to hybrid or electric vehicles” but is concerned that a city fleet transition to hybrid vehicles would be costly.

The city “is still evaluating whether or not to require additional freeboard requirements” in flood zones in response to sea-level rise. He is open to “regulating and possibly restricting” single-use plastics after consulting with local businesses about how to reduce plastics “without harms.” He signed onto the council of government’s legislative agenda for 2021, which includes a ban on nip bottles.

Hedrick acknowledges that “trees are important” and proposes a study to evaluate city tree cover, open space, and tree planting in existing open space in the city. However, Hedrick does support Col. Ledyard School development, which would involve the loss of acres of forest in the Birch Plain Creek watershed area.

Both candidates’ questionnaires are posted on our website for more information. We hope this article will assist you in deciding which candidate will be the best steward of the City of Groton’s environment now and for future generations.

Eugenia Villagra is the co-chair of Groton Conservation Advocates and submitted this article on behalf of the group.




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