Group readies Middlebury for climate change economy

MIDDLEBURY — Advancing public transportation, hiring more local staff to coordinate energy-related activities and helping farmers transition to organic and more sustainable agricultural practices should become Middlebury’s top priorities in its efforts to shape a stronger economy and community in the face of climate change.
A group of more than 50 Middlebury leaders, entrepreneurs and residents mapped out those priorities on Thursday during the latest gathering of the Greater Middlebury Climate Economy Initiative. That initiative, coordinated by the Vermont Council on Rural Development (VCRD), is aimed at making Addison County’s shire town better prepared to confront the various challenges posed by climate change.
The effort kicked off last month with a meeting that drew more than 100 people who pitched suggestions on how to make Middlebury more affordable, energy efficient and resilient. The second gathering, held at the Middlebury American Legion headquarters Thursday evening from 7 to 9 p.m., saw participants review the ideas from their first meeting and vote on three “priorities for action” they believed could be transformative and achievable in the face of climate change.
Jon Copans, director of VCRD’s Climate Economy Model Communities Program, identified the top three priorities for action as:
• Advance public transportation, facilitate more ridesharing, and make Middlebury and surrounding towns the best possible place for biking and walking.
• Increase staff capacity at the local and regional level to coordinate climate change and energy related actions.
• Help farmers transition to organic and regenerative practices.
Participants at Thursday’s meeting created task forces to further develop, and put into action, those three priorities in Middlebury. That will likely involve networking with the Middlebury selectboard and local organizations like the Addison County Relocation Network (ACORN), according to Copans.
A fourth task force that concerns energy efficiency and renewable energy for homes and businesses, and is already ongoing, was added for those participants who wanted to join.
“It’s not just a planning exercise, it’s very much a ‘doing’ exercise,” Copans said.
The participants also agreed that the first step in the process would be to establish an overarching goal (as related to the climate economy) to which the three task forces would adhere and keep headed in a coordinated direction. Involving youth (defined as high school students) in the process was also a priority of many in attendance.
Former Middlebury selectboard Chairman John Tenny was among those present at the most recent meeting. He was pleased with the good turnout on a chilly, rainy night and said the group had good energy and focus. He is optimistic the effort will lead to some tangible results for the town.
“It takes time, but this betters the community and makes us all stronger,” he said. “It’s a good activity for the community, and it will be helpful.”
Participants will next meet on Thursday, Nov. 16 from 6:30 p.m. to 9 p.m. at Middlebury Union High School. The VCRD will bring in a resource team of experts to provide advice and technical assistance to the three task forces as they begin their work.
Anyone from Middlebury and surrounding communities are invited to attend.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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