Park City could intensify efforts against climate change | ParkRecord.com

Park City could intensify efforts against climate change

Jay Hamburger THE PARK RECORD

Park City officials in coming weeks could deem the challenges of reducing carbon emissions and conserving energy as a critical priority, a designation that would put the issue on the same level of importance at City Hall as housing and transportation.

There would be widespread ramifications for the work plan at City Hall should Mayor Jack Thomas and the Park City Council make the designation. If the closely related topics of emissions and energy are made a critical priority, the municipal government would shift resources to more aggressively address the issues. It is not clear what sort of changes would be made, but there were notable shifts in resources and work plans as Park City officials focused on housing and transportation as critical priorities.

The mayor and City Council on Thursday discussed the topic and will return to the subject later. The elected officials did not decide whether to elevate emissions and energy to a critical priority, but some of them signaled their support for the move.

"This can’t and shouldn’t wait," City Councilman Andy Beerman said, noting that moving ahead is an opportunity for Park City to show leadership on the issues.

Tim Henney, another member of the City Council, said he wants the move done quickly.

Mayor Jack Thomas noted that designating emissions and energy to a critical priority will involve broad ramifications for Park City, such as reviewing City Hall’s development rules.

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There appeared to be support among City Councilors, including Liza Simpson, to elevate emissions and energy to a critical priority now rather than waiting until 2016. The timeline was one of six options presented in a City Hall report drafted in anticipation of the meeting on Thursday.

Under the most aggressive timeline, City Hall staffers would update the priority list, publicize the move and "begin work on a roadmap for how the policy discussion can be initiated immediately . . . ," the report says. Proposals could be presented to the elected officials in December and January, followed by the City Hall budgeting process in the spring and early summer.

Diane Foster, the Park City manager, indicated staffers will return with more information in October. It seems that the elected officials at that point could craft the terms City Hall will use as the municipal government addresses emissions and energy. Simpson said she wants City Hall to move forward before the state Legislature, which is far more conservative politically than Park City’s leadership, becomes worried about the efforts. She did not provide details.

The discussions come even as City Hall years ago increased its efforts to reduce emissions and conserve energy. Officials have incorporated environmental features into construction projects like the renovation of the Park City Library and Education Center and operate an environmentally friendly fleet of vehicles.

Leaders argue that a warming climate could someday threaten the ski industry, which is critical to Park City’s economy. They say that climate change could eventually result in rainy winters at the lower elevations and less snow overall. They also fear a changing climate could lead to more extreme summers, increasing the potential of wildfires.

The mayor and City Council on Thursday received input in support of elevating energy and emissions to a critical priority. Speakers touched on series of topics, including the threat to winter.

Becca Gerber, an Old Town resident who is campaigning for a seat on the City Council, said she supported the idea. She said putting more importance on emissions and energy jibes with City Hall’s housing and transportation efforts.

"The time to move ahead is now," Gerber said.

Alex Phillips, a Kimball Junction resident, urged the elected officials to take the issue "seriously now." Conor Quinn, with a group known as the Alpine Collective, said the efforts would "change the future of Park City." Quinn expressed concern about a changing climate, mentioning the prospects of snow falling later in the winter, droughts and wildfires. Caroline Gleich, a professional skier who lives in Salt Lake City, said Park City could establish itself as a leader. She also worried about the impacts on winter of a changing climate.