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Earth Matters

Earth Matters: Climate Smart Communities

Earth Matters focuses on conservation, sustainability, recycling and healthy living. This weekly series is brought to you by Maria Luisa Boutique and Strawtown Studio.
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by Susan Hellauer

As the Age of Trump Anxiety dawned on November 9, 2016, national environmental organizations were up early, sending frantic pleas for donations. They sought full coffers to defend against an anticipated wave of fossil fuel-loving, climate change-denying federal officials. That wave rolled in and is still breaking—all over the environmental initiatives of the Obama Administration.

But the green crowd can feel good about another kind of wave: a coast-to-coast surge of hyperlocal efforts to build sustainable communities with decreased greenhouse gas emissions and increased climate resiliency.

Here in New York, the Climate Smart Communities (CSC) program offers checklists, “how-to’s,” helpful administrators and grant money to its participating municipalities. It aims to build a clean, green, sustainable future, one village, town, city and county at a time.

We sat down with Sustainability Coordinator Marcy Denker to talk about Nyack’s progress toward joining 16 other New York municipalities as a Climate Smart Community, and how residents can pitch in to check off the boxes and move closer that goal.

What is the Climate Smart Communities program?

climate smart communities

Marcy Denker at the Nyack Village Hall Sustainability Desk. Photo courtesy Marcy Denker

This is a program from NY State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC). But it also involves the Departments of Health, Transportation, and Public Services, along with NYSERDA, and the Office of Climate Change.

Municipalities become members of New York’s Climate Smart Communities program, and take a pledge to accomplish a set of sustainability goals.

One of the benefits is that the program provides a clear structure for communities to follow, and a lot of thought has gone into it. It’s a way of helping communities figure out how to deal with climate change. It’s also about energy efficiency and alternative energy. There’s a big emphasis on reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and making that a part of the community’s agenda, so a lot of it is also about energy efficiency and alternative energy.

Municipalities that acquire more CSC “points” for their efforts have more opportunities to receive grants for many different initiatives. They can then make more improvements and move up to higher levels of CSC certification.

hurricane sandy

Nyack Boat House after Hurricane Sandy. Photo: Alissa Peretz

When did Nyack start working toward Climate Smart Community certification? Where are you in the process?

It started when I chaired a the Green Infrastructure Roundtable in 2012, as part of Nyack’s effort to deal with stormwater. Once we wrapped that process up successfully we wanted to go ahead and work on other sustainability issues. So I recommended that the Village take the pledge to be a Climate Smart Community. I agreed to be the sustainability coordinator, with a desk in the village hall. And that’s how that happened.

We applied for a grant and got a little funding to pay me and support staff in 2015 to develop a Sustainable Nyack Action Plan for 2015-16. That plan wasn’t just about the CSC program. It was also meant to get people to the table to talk about sustainability priorities for Nyack to work on. But our report aligned our action items with the goals in the CSC program, so that we could use them to work toward certification.

As new members of the CSC program, we did a “greenhouse gas inventory” of our municipal operations. But we still need to set out specific goals  for reducing green house gas emissions and make a “climate action plan.”

We’ve already done lot of things that we can use toward our basic 120-point certification, but we haven’t done them all yet. I’d like to see Nyack get certified at least at the basic level by the end of 2018, so that we can get access to more grant money, and take more meaningful actions to improve the environment.

What has already been done? Anything that we can see?

A lot of effort has been on planning, like the Comprehensive Plan Update, which focused a lot of sustainable development and transportation. The DPW is handling landscape management now, with more emphasis on using native plants and following other sustainable practices in line with the CSC guidelines.

community forest nyack tree committee

Scene from 2016 planting. L.-r.: Elijah Reichlin-Melnick, Marcy Denker and Tomas Macio. Photo courtesy Marcy Denker

Our building code has been steadily getting greener, even though there is still more that can be done.  There were changes to the code in 2012-13 that included sustainability requirements, and a lot of the new developments around here have taken advantage of those, and some have gone above and beyond the requirements, going for LEED certification, for example

Nyack is a “Tree City USA,” and tree programs are certifiable CSC actions. We expanded ours with a street tree planting project in the spring of last year. Now we’ve added a program of planting trees in front yards. A couple of trees are going out this fall into private spaces. This is a huge step, because trees have so many benefits. The hotter it gets, the more we’ll need shade trees in the right places.

The tree committee is also promoting the very climate smart “Love ‘Em and Leave ‘Em” program in Nyack, mulching autumn leaves right onto lawns, public and private. This practice enriches soil and spares the money and energy needed to collect and ride leaves around in a big truck and dispose of them.

What’s in line for the next year or so? Are there bigger dreams down the road?

Maria Luisa Nyack Solarize

Maria Luisa Whittingham, proprietor of Nyack’s Maria Luisa, took advantage of the 2016 Solarize Nyack program. Photo courtesy Marcy Denker

We had a NYSERDA energy audit done on the Village Hall and the Nyack Water Dept. plant. The report recommended upgrades and retrofits, like replacing windows and skylights in the courtroom. We looked over the list of other recommendations and will take them to the Village to be considered for next year’s budget. Orange & Rockland Utilities offers rebates for many of these energy-saving upgrades [as they do for residents as well].

Two Electric Vehicle charging stations will be coming to one of the parking lots off Artopee Way in the near future. And a contract to install new LED street lights is getting close to completion. We hope to have that project finished some time in 2018.

The village presented the Solarize Nyack program last year. We didn’t get as many installations as we’d hoped, but we gained a lot of knowledge. And we will look at solar installations on village buildings, like the DPW offices, for instance.

There’s a very exciting program called Community Solar now available in our area that NYSERDA is promoting through  Solarize Hudson Valley. When completed, it would supply 100% locally-produced solar energy to the grid at a 10% savings to customers who sign up with them. This is a way to get the benefits of solar power to Nyack residents who don’t have their own roofs.

And at long last, our recycling program will change soon, increasing to weekly pickups.

Community solar NYSERDA

Community solar array under construction: Photo: NYSERDA

What can people do to get involved?

community forest nyack memorial park nyack high school

Memorial Park tree planting, Arbor Day 2014, with Nyack High School students and teacher Tom Perry [kneeling, right]. Photo: Marcy Denker

Nyack has a great “green team” among our village administrators, but we want to get our community task forces re-energized and running. I know from my work as the tree committee chair that people like to have specific things to do. The tree committee is very active, and is a great way into the “urban forestry” part of the process. But we also need energy and other committees to bring our residents’ expertise to the table.

People should contact me if they might be interested in serving on the Sustainability Task Force.

Especially since the election last year, there can be a lot of pleasure in finding an avenue to work out your angst productively, and there are opportunities here. We’re organized and ready to get a lot done.

The Rockland Sierra Club has formed a committee to promote the Climate Smart Communities program in our county:

Climate change is the most urgent issue of our time.  We know we will not get action on climate change at the federal level under the Trump administration, so we are focusing our efforts on the local level, where we can be most effective. The Climate Smart Communities program is a very powerful tool to reduce our carbon footprint and make our communities more resilient in the face of climate impacts such as flooding and sea level rise.  We welcome people to come and work with us on this initiative, to encourage more Rockland communities to start these programs or to move them more vigorously ahead.

                  Peggy Kurtz, Co-Leader, Rockland Sierra Club (

Hudson River Sunrise, Clermont, Main St, Nyack, Lens flare. Photo Credit: Dave Zornow

Hudson River Sunrise, Clermont, Main St, Nyack. Photo Credit: Dave Zornow

Learn more:

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Earth Matters, a weekly feature that focuses on conservation, sustainability, recycling and healthy living, is sponsored by Maria Luisa Boutique and Strawtown Studio.


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