Jun 172014

Dear Editor:

It seems that most days we all spend most of our time focused on immediate concerns — putting food on the table, making sure the kids get their homework done, maintaining the house and yard, keeping the car fueled and working, visiting the doctor, paying bills, dealing with new issues as they arise, etc. Still, we know that we also need to pay attention to longer-term concerns to ensure that our families thrive over time.

While the specifics change, the same short-term focus and need for a longer view is pretty much the same for businesses — and for our town government. It’s easy to see how the town takes care of day-to-day activities, but how does it meet the need for long-range insight and planning?

Part of this need is met by the Planning Board’s Master Plan process, which provides a vision and guidelines for managing construction and land use. Its planning horizon has extended as much as 30 years into the future.

In 2008, the Town established a Sustainability Commission. The commission complements the planning board by taking an even longer view and considering a broader range of issues that might impact the town and its residents. For example, one of the concerns being looked at by the commission is climate change — what are its likely and potential local impacts, and what, if anything, should the town do about it?

During our first two years of operation, the commission focused on understanding what “sustainability” meant to us and how we could measure it. We also studied the economic downturn and the high and volatile cost of energy.
We spent most of 2010 and 2011, and a good part of 2012, working with the planning board on the new Master Plan, helping to integrate a sustainability aspect throughout the new Master Plan.

Starting in 2013 and continuing currently, the commission is engaged in four projects: Climate Action, Pollinator Gardens, River Erosion and the West Groton Dam, and Community Well-being.

The Climate Action project is conducting a formal inquiry into Groton’s vulnerabilities to changing weather patterns and other climate-related changes. Working with other town departments, commissions, boards, etc., we are preparing a report that advises the town about what it should do to address these vulnerabilities. We are starting with the general recommendations contained in the Climate Change Action Report published by the Massachusetts Executive Office of Energy and the Environment in 2011, tailoring them to our local situation. We are also studying the reports and action plans being developed by other Massachusetts communities, including the report prepared by Boston in October 2013.

The Pollinator Protection project was established as a result of warnings from Commissioners Carl Flowers, Lisa Wiesner and Allison Dolbert of the rapid decline in pollinator populations. This includes bees, butterflies and other forms of natural pollination. We are constructing Monarch butterfly way stations, pollinator friendly gardens, preparing and distributing pollinator protection information and materials.

The River Erosion and the West Groton Dam project is being coordinated by Commissioner Carl Canner in consultation with the Nashua River Watershed Association. The more extreme weather patterns we are experiencing has already had negative effects by undercutting shoreline and adding pressure to the built infrastructure of our waterways.

The Community Well-being project, in the last several years the field and language of sustainability has undergone a paradigm shift from a language of regulation and requirement to a language of invitation, attraction, people friendly, community and a form that emphasizes resilient and sustainable well-being, happiness, quality of life or satisfaction with life (as Jefferson meant by “pursuit of happiness”). Once this shift was recognized, the Chair of the Sustainability Commission, Michael Roberts, became a certified trainer of the Happiness Initiative and is preparing to introduce these ideas to Groton over the coming months. The first step is for as many citizens as possible to find out how happy they currently are by contributing to the survey at happycounts.org. (They have had over 36,000 responders). Once a reasonable number have taken the survey, the folks at the Happiness Alliance will aggregate them and send us a summary of results so we can see where our citizens believe that their lives could be improved. This will be combined with the objective data we have assembled in the early years of the Commission and can be used to recommend policy, grass roots action or other actions that will improve all of our citizen’s lives and help develop sustainable resilient community well-being for all our citizens. Stay tuned.

In the six years since our founding, we have nurtured our original gift of $3000 to a balance of $27 this month. The funds are principally allocated to covering the costs of compliance with the open meeting act, specifically meeting minutes, action item list maintenance, and some minor expenses. Should we have need for more funds to support a specific project we apply for grant funding where possible.

To help us keep our promise of not coming to Town Meeting for funds we are seeking donations from those who think our work is important and want to see the Commission “Keep up the good work,” Should you be so moved please send contributions to Sustainability Commission Groton Town Hall 173 Main St. Groton MA 01450. Thank you for your support.

Of course if you have comments or concerns or complaints please send those to Mike Roberts Chair Sustainability Commission address as above.

If you are interested in joining the Commission (we have some slots available) complete a Committee Interest Form at Town Hall.

Groton Sustainability Commission