City’s climate action plan expected to be released in spring

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Whitefish may have a climate action plan in place by this spring to guide future ways the city can prepare for impacts from climate change.

The city committee charged with creating the plan expects to have a draft plan ready for community review in January or February and then submit the final plan to City Council for approval in March. The city’s climate action plan is expected to outline the ways the community can conserve energy, reduce costs and prepare for future climate goals.

Steve Thompson, who is the coordinator for the plan, points to the Montana Climate Assessment as reason for Whitefish to create a plan. The state assessment describes Montana’s current climate and looks at how future climate trends will affect different sectors of the state’s economy.

“Hotter, drier summers like we went through last summer is the preview of what’s to come,” he said. “Not every summer will be like that, but it will be the trend.”

Changes in climate could have big implications for Whitefish because the recreation and tourism economy here is built upon clean air, clean water and great snow, he noted during a recent update on the plan.

“People say that we’re little, tiny Whitefish, and what could we do about climate change,” Thompson said. “But if everybody said that nothing would get done. There is growing belief that cities can do this.”

Montana cities that have climate action plans include Helena, Bozeman and Missoula.

The Whitefish Climate Action Plan Committee was established by Whitefish City Council last year and tasked with identifying opportunities for the city, school district and community to work on those overreaching goals for Whitefish. The primary focus of the plan is expected to be on municipal operations, while also collaborating with the Whitefish School District and ways the city can support community efforts surrounding climate change.

Thompson said the final plan is expected to include five chapters — buildings and energy, water and wastewater, transportation and land use, forests and water sheds, and consumption and waste — along with a section pertaining to the Whitefish School District.

In preparing the climate action plan, the city conducted a greenhouse gas inventory to establish a baseline for its energy use and waste and allow for monitoring of future improvements. The study found that the city’s water and wastewater treatment plants make up nearly half of the emissions for the city.

The committee has also held open houses on the plan and conducted a survey to gauge people’s concerns when it comes to climate change. Respondents of the survey rated sustainability as a priority, but they also wanted to see the city choose strategies for reducing greenhouse gas emissions based on financial feasibility and savings. Respondents also favored the city partnering with the school district, local business and other organizations in efforts related to climate change.

The plan will also look toward the future by including interviews for what they would like to see for Whitefish in 2050.

Mariah Gladstone, the city’s Energy Corps coordinator working on the plan, said high school students are interviewing longtime community members to get a pictures of what residents want for their city.

“We want it to be people and community centered as we look to what we want Whitefish to be in 2050,” she said.

Thompson also noted some “success stories” that have already developed in the city. Among those are the Haskill Basin conservation easement as a way of mitigating climate change, which he noted is being studied by a Colorado State University graduate student to evaluated the avoided loss of carbon by keeping the area from being developed into homes. For the city, retrofits at the water treatment plant has saved money and an energy audit identified many opportunities to save energy and reduce costs at the Emergency Services Center.

The key priorities and opportunities identified by the committee include, becoming a fire-adapted community, water conservation, exploring solar array to offset energy requirements for the city’s new wastewater treatment plant, proactive maintenance with city buildings, exploring an electric vehicle charging station and streetlight upgrades to LED to save money for the city.

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