Sustainability plan: Dream or nightmare?
Dec. 1 deadline to fill out PPACG goals survey

       A dream that could lead to a Pikes Peak region with healthy, prosperous, less wasteful people over the next 20 years?
       Or pie in the sky that could turn into a nightmare of government regulation and intrusion into personal lives?
       Citizens can ponder such possibilities if they fill out a “sustainability” survey that's available from the Pikes Peak Area Council of Governments (PPACG) through Wednesday, Dec. 1.
       Intended as a step toward a wide-spectrum plan that would guide the region's future, the survey includes such goals by 2030 as an increase to 50 percent renewable- energy use, a 20 percent cutback on energy as a whole, all streams becoming fishable, fewer people smoking or overeating, almost zero poverty and a 50 percent cutback on personal vehicle use.
       The website link is ppacg.org/sustainability/ aboutsustain. People can also pick up a hard copy from PPACG, 15 S. Seventh St.
       “Public input is a critical component of this regional sustainability effort to ensure that the goals reflect the values and concerns of the community,” states a press release from Jason Wilkinson of PPACG.
       However, in response to a question, he said no public vote is foreseen on the plan, nor are any of the local elected bodies expected to vote on it either.
       Published Nov. 18, the survey represents a climactic step in the sustainability effort's Phase 1, which involved the work of several topic-specific volunteer committees. The Dec. 1 deadline is needed “to give staff time to compile and distribute the results” for a consensus committee meeting Dec. 6. Wilkinson said. Phase 2, which “will focus on developing measurable strategies, objectives and benchmarks in the development of a Regional Sustainability Plan,” according to the PPACG website, is to start in January, he said.

The transportation category's sustainability survey sub-statements (which people can mark how much they agree with) include calls for purchase of more "sustainable fuels" and fewer fossil fuels, as well as a 50 percent reduction in the usage of personal vehicles.
Courtesy of Pikes Peak Area Council of Governments

       The “Phase 1” intent, the website states, is “to create measurable regional sustainability goals (referred to as stretch goals) for El Paso and Teller Counties… These goals are referred to as 'stretch goals' because they will require fundamental changes in order to be met.”
       This approach, reflected in the survey's 12 screens/ pages, could lead to some community contention, based on interviews with two City Councilmembers, Jan Martin and Sean Paige, who were contacted by the Westside Pioneer. Martin, a Westside resident, is a participant in the PPACG effort and a supporter of the goals, while

'This is not leading to regulation. That's just not happening in this community.'
– Jan Martin

‘Boulder went down this road years ago, and it failed in almost all its benchmarks.’
– Sean Paige
Paige, whose District 3 includes the Westside, is a strong advocate of individual rights. He said he believes in preserving natural resources but is concerned about government involvement that could lead to coercion.
       At issue are the several stretch goals that fit the “fundamental change” description in that they require radical alterations of personal or business behavior in order to be accomplished. Examples in the survey can be found in the topics of energy use, water use, waste disposal, transportation and economic development. Could a future sustainability phase offer up “green police”?
       Martin emphatically said no. “This is not leading to regulation,” she said. “That's just not going to happen in this community. This is providing a plan for the community to strive for.”
       When it was suggested that without regulation, many of the goals were not likely to be met, Martin said that is not the issue. The goals can be altered as time goes by, based on changing conditions and new technologies. Now “is a place to start, in my opinion. We don't want to discourage people from dreaming a little bit.”
       But Paige has his doubts. “Boulder went down this road years ago, and it failed in almost all its benchmarks,” he said, and recently the city has begun taking enforcement steps in terms of personal car use. The current local effort sounds typical of such social-change experiments, he asserted, by starting out with “warm and fuzzy words that sell people until they get down to the brass tacks of what they want to accomplish.”
       Regarding the goal of 50 percent of trips on mass transit, Martin said such a reduction in personal vehicle use would be helpful because of the increased cost of building and maintaining highways. She did not respond to the question as to “which 50 percent” of the public would no longer be allowed to drive.
       Another concern relates to economics. The stretch goals show the region in 2030 using 50 percent renewables (it's now about 5 percent, according to the Colorado Springs Utilities website) and, despite a certain increase in population, using 20 percent less energy and sending 70 percent less trash to the dump. In addition, (as implied in the survey) the area would have found a way to pay for such amenities as enhanced parks, 100 percent fishable streams, daycare that's affordable “to all residents” and modernized, affordable educational facilities. In general, the survey sees the region as prosperous and healthy with flourishing arts and culture and 95 percent of the residents above the poverty line.

The sustainability survey screen for education pledges significant advances in its three sub-statements, but none of the survey screens, nor any of the Pikes Peak Area Council of Governments website information, explains how attaining any or all "stretch goals" by the year 2030 would beef up the economy and/or free up the kind of government funding that would allow such favorable outcomes to take place.
Courtesy of Pikes Peak Area Council of Governments

       Asked on what basis these conclusions were reached, when renewables are currently more expensive than traditional energy sources (chiefly coal) and any changeover could prove to be expensive and problematic, Martin said she agreed that there is uncertainty in that regard. “We don't know what the renewable industry will look like in 10 years.”
       Paige was more adamant, saying there is “no proof” that renewables can be cost-effective, even with government subsidies.
       However, Martin does believe that waste reduction is possible, as indicated by the recent successes of single-stream recycling, and she quoted a staff report that Colorado Springs Utilities hopes to achieve a “20 percent energy efficiency.”
       In general, Martin added, “I sense there could be an economic boost for a community that is known for its sustainability. This could attract businesses.”
       She does not support the city requiring businesses to show sustainability in coming here, however. The Pioneer in-quired about this point out of a concern that the related demands might lead businesses to go elsewhere, even overseas.
       Another question from the Pioneer concerned what triggered the sustainability push. Martin and Wilkinson said they were influenced by the region's 2010 Quality of Life Indicators document, but the Pioneer's review of it showed no real changes in the previous status quo under which the area's water and air quality meets or exceeds the significant federal standards.
       One of the hopes in establishing a regional sustainability plan is to qualify for grants from the federal government. According to Wilkinson, the most desirable federal grant target is an Obama administration program through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), which, according to its website, “is awarding nearly $100 million in new grants to support more livable and sustainable communities across the country.”
       According to Wilkinson, financial support totalling $30,000 to $40,000 has come in so far from federal sources (Transportation Consolidated Planning Grant, the Department of Defense's Office of Economic Adjustment through Fort Carson) and local public and private sources (City of Colorado Springs, Sierra Club, Bettr Recycling and the Edmondson Foundation).
       Note: The city pledge, Wilkinson said, is $1,000. Martin expressed a different view of the facts, saying no local/city funds had been used.
       As explained by Wilkinson, and last August by fellow PPACG staffer Rich Muzzy, Phase 1 got started this year in response to an independent Fort Carson push, interest from several community leaders/ volunteers and the availability of the above funding. The survey emanated from meetings this fall of several volunteer committees (assigned to the areas of energy, water, materials management, built and natural environment, transportation, economic development, health, education and culture, with coordination from the consensus committee).
       Most of the survey's 12 pages/screens are headed by a statement of a desirable goal, followed by several related, sub-statements on which extent of support can be marked as “Very,” “Not at all” and points in between. As an example, the fifth screen states: “By 2030, the region will be moving toward a zero-waste future. Achieving this goal means…” Under that statement, the first rankable sub-statement reads: “There will be a 70 percent reduction in solid waste to landfills.”
       Other elected officials on the consensus committee, in addition to Martin, are Green Mountain Falls Mayor Tyler Stevens (who gave a PowerPoint presentation on the Phase 1 effort at a “Sustainability Conference” Nov. 17-18 downtown) and El Paso County Commissioner Dennis Hisey, Manitou Springs Mayor Marc Snyder and Woodland Park Mayor Stephen Randolph.
       Asked to respond to specific questions (as Martin did), Stevens responded in an e-mail that he was “out of town for Thanksgiving.” However, he did e-mail a general statement, claiming that the individuals developing the stretch goals are “regional experts and leaders.” He also said that the region's efforts “are modeled after many other sustainability plans throughout North America and the world. It is vital that we have a vision of our sustainable future so that we can plan, act and invest towards our region's sustainable future. It is truly inspiring and exciting to see these drafted sustainability stretch goals for our region.”

Westside Pioneer article