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Committee urges Town Board to further pursue state’s ‘Climate Smart Communities’ program

Riverhead Town’s environmental advisory committee is urging the Town Board to take advantage of opportunities offered through the New York State “Climate Smart Communities” program, which helps local governments take action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and adapt to a changing climate.

The program offers free technical assistance, grants, and rebates for electric vehicles to participating municipalities, according to the state. The town would be awarded points on a scale of accomplishments in the climate smart programs.

“None of this is easy,” said Mark Haubner, the chair of the committee, who spoke to the Town Board at its work session last Thursday. 

“There is no magic wand,” he said. “It’s going to take interdepartmental work.” 

The state Department of Environmental Conservation, through its Reforming the Energy Vision 2030 program, offers matching grants, meaning the town would have to pay a portion of the cost of any project, whereas the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) offers 100% grants for such projects, which have to meet certain energy-saving criteria, Mr. Haubner said.

So far, Riverhead Town has 80 points and is seeking to reach the 120-point “Bronze” certification.

Mr. Haubner said he is working to determinate how much of a return in its investment the town has received though the climate smart programs. 

“We’ve already reached some of those benefits,” Councilman Tim Hubbard said. “We got the money from the reduced cost in electricity use due to all the LED bulbs we installed. It was a substantial amount.” 

“And it adds up,” Mr. Haubner said. “You’ve got to figure that over time, the return on investment is like a six to eight-year payback.”

Benefits to the town from participating in the program include increased bond rates, higher chances of receiving grants, improved emergency preparedness, increased community participation and increased knowledge needed to allocate resources wisely, according to the state. 

Among the objectives of the program are reducing greenhouse gas emissions; saving taxes; increasing energy security and reliability; increasing resilience to the impacts of climate change; increasing community goals for public health and safety and supporting a green innovative economy, officials said.

The state’s Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act incorporates clean air requirements in disadvantaged communities. Those areas would have to provide 30% of their grant money to help disadvantaged communities.

There are three communities identified in Riverhead Town, Mr. Haubner said. One of them is downtown Riverhead, and the other two are in Flanders and Calverton.

“So If you receive $100,000 in grant money, you’ve got to spend $30,000 in disadvantaged communities in your town,” Mr. Haubner said.

There is time, however.

The CLCPA requirements are not scheduled to be enforced until the year 2047, according to the state, and the REV2030 isn’t set to begin for another 100 months. 

Another deadline facing municipalities in New York State is the closing of the landfills in eight years.

Riverhead closed its landfill in 1994 but has its trash trucked to a waste-to-energy facility in Nassau County, and the ashes from the trash that is incinerated there is then buried in Brookhaven Town’s landfill. The Brookhaven landfill will have to close, under state requirements.