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Highland Town Council Conducts Study Session for a Sustainability Commission

On Monday, December 5th, the Highland Town council met to conduct a study session to determine what the pros and cons might be were they to pass an ordinance and approve the official formation of a citizen commission focused on environmental and sustainability concerns.

Nancy Moldenhauer, Chair of the Michigan City Sustainability and Human Rights Commission, President of Save the Dunes and Co-founder/Team Coordinator for Northwest Indiana Green Drinks, Joined Connie Wachala and others of Highland Neighbors for Sustainability, to help answer questions.

The meeting proved to be lively and informative to the council, whose questions were many.

Moldenhauer was able to point to numerous accomplishments that Michigan City has realized as the direct result of their sustainability commission:

  • Completed Greenhouse Gas Emissions Inventory in 2019
  • Created Sustainability Action Plan based on the highest three emissions areas
  • Sourced two free electric-vehicle chargers for public lot with assistance of Drive Clean Indiana
  • Increased solar panel installation on homes and businesses collaborating with Solar United Neighbors
  • Acquired SolSmart Silver Designation for city from U.S. Department of Energy
  • Sanitary District has significantly decreased fuel costs with conversion of diesel vehicles to propane while Transit Department is currently investigating the transition of its whole fleet to electric thus eliminating fuel costs
  • City ongoingly saves on electric utility costs with solar panels on some buildings thus Sustainability Commission is receiving free consultation from National Renewable Energy Laboratory to install solar panels on Washington Park Zoo roofs and electric-vehicle charging stations at Washington Park and Beach

Numerous benefits to the city of  establishing a commission were also highlighted for the council members:

  • Recognition in newspaper articles plus published state and national case studies
  • Capitalization on free volunteer hours of, approximately, hundreds per/month (thousands annually) to improve the city
  • The coordination of cooperative relationships with City Council, Mayor, Planning and Inspection Departments, Tree Board, Parks and Recreation Department, and Redevelopment Commission
  • Decrease in government energy costs to utilize saved budget amounts for city improvements
  • Attraction of new businesses and young adults to the community
  • Increased property values because energy efficient homes sell faster and for more money 
  • Lower community greenhouse gas emissions
  • Improvement of residents’ health, well-being and quality of life

The study session ended on a positive note with commitments from the council to review and seriously consider the proposed ordinance.

Bernie Zemen, President, stated that when the council builds their new building it will be an example of environmental standards, including solar-derived energy.  In general, council members echoed support of changes that will lead to sustainability and mitigation.  Their greatest concerns were cost and return on investment.

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