New London, Groton eye recognition in sustainability program

New London — Maybe your town wants to knock down its energy bills to save taxpayers money. Maybe it needs to revamp recycling programs or assess vulnerabilities in a changing climate. Maybe it hopes to improve sidewalks and bike paths, or boost arts and culture.

Maybe your local leaders haven't considered these or other sustainability measures yet, but they might if they had more time, funding, administrative support or tips from other towns.

Organizers of Sustainable CT, a voluntary statewide certification program, hope to help municipalities navigate these efforts, which they describe as marketable to families and young people, while providing bottom-line benefits to towns and school districts.

"There's something for every town, no matter who you are," said Jess LeClair of the Institute for Sustainable Energy at Eastern Connecticut State University, which is helping manage the program. "The goal is to help towns become more efficient, safer, resilient and thriving."

Launched statewide at the Connecticut Council of Municipalities' annual conference in November, Sustainable CT provides towns, cities and school districts with a roadmap on a range of sustainability actions.

Towns seeking certification through the program's online action checklist can market their accomplishments, share insight with other areas and take advantage of the program's logistical support to target and apply for state, federal and nonprofit grants.

"We're a small state with small towns," LeClair told a few dozen residents and municipal leaders at a local launch and information session Wednesday night at Connecticut College. "It makes sense to work together."

The more than 50 actions towns can implement to earn Sustainable CT certification run the gamut of environmental and economic initiatives. Goals include improved transportation; infrastructure; planning; community development; housing; historical preservation; waste management; energy consumption; watershed management; tourism and more.

About a dozen towns have registered over the last two months after their leaders passed resolutions committing to complete the program at their own pace, LeClair said. There is no cost for towns to register.

Towns can receive credit toward certification for actions taken within the last several years; some towns and school districts, for instance, already have installed solar panels on municipal buildings.

'A lot of initiatives we're already doing'

No town in southeastern Connecticut has registered, but that might change in the next few weeks.

New London Mayor Michael Passero said a resolution to participate in the program should be on the agenda for the Feb. 5 City Council meeting.

"We're hoping they receive it favorably," Passero said after Wednesday's session, adding that New London is well-positioned for certification based on previous sustainability efforts. "It's a lot of the initiatives we're already doing."

The city's been heavily involved in the Connecticut Green Bank and promoting residential solar, Passero said. The city also is examining improved stormwater utilities and smart waste programs.

"What we love about the program is it pulls it all together for us and gives us a framework," Passero said, noting the city likely would establish a sustainability committee, part of the program's first steps. "A lot of it's fiscal incentives, but it also feels good to do things right."

The Town of Groton also has expressed interest in seeking certification, LeClair said.

"In Groton, we are planning for the future," Deborah Jones, Groton's assistant director of planning and development, said. "In the wake of recent coastal flooding events and intense storms, we realize that there is a need to be prepared."

More than 200 municipal, business and nonprofit leaders partnered with Eastern Connecticut State University, the Connecticut Economic Resource Center and CCM over the last year to create Sustainable CT.

Three Connecticut nonprofits — the Emily Hall Tremaine Foundation, Common Sense Fund and Hampshire Foundation — fund the effort.

LeClair could not speak to the total funding provided, but noted the Hampshire Foundation planned to make a pool of approximately $250,000 available for small grants to help towns and cities kickstart climate- and energy-related projects.

LeClair said towns considering participation must register by Sept. 7.

At CCM's annual conference on Oct. 31, the program will name the towns that have earned certification.


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