Carbondale trustees weigh environmental charter |

Carbondale trustees weigh environmental charter

Ryan Summerlin

Carbondale trustees are looking at following other progressive communities by crafting a new document that would outline the town’s environmental values.

This document is alternatively called an environmental charter and sometimes an “ecological bill of rights” in the municipalities that already have them.

Trustee Frosty Merriott is leading the push for an environmental charter and brought the proposal to the board last week. For a timely example, Merriott held up a single-use plastic water bottle that he said he found next to his car when he was on his way to the meeting.

Merriott has been long been a crusader against single-use plastic bottles, advocating for water refill stations at new town developments such as the proposed City Market and in the town’s parks.

A large part of the discussion revolved around how such a charter or bill of rights would fit into the town’s guiding and governing documents. It wouldn’t be an ordinance, and so it wouldn’t have any enforcement power. So the environmental charter would be something of a values statement, a guiding document to serve as a reminder, but one that trustees wouldn’t have to strictly abide by.

Its value would largely lie in its placement, either on the boardroom wall or distributed throughout town. Merriott said that, though he might get some pushback for trying to copy Aspen, he’s lifted some language from its environmental charter for examples of what Carbondale might incorporate.

Merriott also focused upon the trustees’ mission statement, which he said has some pretty antiquated language for environmental goals. And the mission statement is missing some key items he thinks are important to the community: getting people out of their automobiles, dealing with noxious weeds, night sky and lighting issues and excessive noise. But he wants the board to craft a new document, not just add to the mission statement.

Merriott envisions the environmental charter as a document to be hung on the boardroom wall and memorialized, hopefully as an ever-present reminder when trustees are making big decisions, something that “becomes integral in our process.”

Trustee Heather Henry agreed about placing the environmental charter in a prominent location, and she suggested some of this language could be added to the town’s comprehensive plan, as well. So when applicants are going through the town’s review process and they have to present how their project lives up to the comprehensive plan, it would be exciting to also see how the project meets the spirit of this new document, she said.

She suggested the charter could also be posted in other areas of town or in businesses, where visitors can see it.

“I see it as providing the ‘why’ for why we’re doing what we’re doing, recognizing that our health depends on our ecosystem,” Julia Farwell, chair of the town environmental board, told trustees. She described the environmental charter as a sort of filter to run through when making big decisions.

Trustee Ben Bohmfalk said supporters should dig into the town’s existing documents and clarify how they would interact with a new environmental charter, adding that he was reluctant to dedicate time to a document covering ground already covered by existing town policies and documents.

Mayor Dan Richardson also noted that the town already has some environmental direction outlined by the climate action plan, the Unified Development Code, the land use code, the comprehensive plan and the trustees’ mission statement, but that this charter could be valuable as a much broader outline of the town’s ecological values.

Tom Dunlop, who helped revise Aspen’s environmental charter when he was director of the Aspen/Pitkin County Environmental Health Department, has reached out to Carbondale to help with drafting the document, and he spoke in support at the trustees meeting.

Merriott said he’s always thought of environmental issues in terms of his children and grandchildren. But in conversation with Dunlop, Merriott learned about the perspective of the Mohawks and other Native Americans that decisions should be considered with an eye toward impacts seven generations down the road. “I’ve never thought in those terms, but we should, in light of climate change and the degradation of our environment today,” said Merriott.

“Our environment is such a big part of what’s driving our economy, we cannot neglect it,” he added. “It’s an overriding concern.”

Several trustees wanted to schedule a work session for the issue. “If the public doesn’t own it, it will lose some of its effectiveness,” said Merriott.

In the meantime trustees Merriott and Henry will meet with Farwell and Dunlop to develop a proposal to be brought back to the board later this year.

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