Peekskill NY -- Balancing Growth With a Healthy Environment

Nestled on Peekskill Bay, in arguably the most beautiful location on the Hudson River, it's easy for a visitor to spot the renaissance in Peekskill. Trendy restaurants and nightspots, music, theater, artists, new and expanded businesses are popping up in town and on the riverfront. We even have a new Holiday Inn Express. Recent articles in The New York Times and the Wall Street Journal touting Peekskill's rise have prompted a new stream of residents to choose Peekskill as their new hometown; they come for its diversity, beautiful riverfront, walkability and easy access to New York City. Our exemplary riverfront has been preserved with expanded parklands, walkways and amenities. New development projects promise more growth -- all welcomed with open arms.

But growth increases our demand for more energy and demand on our resources. As government leaders we must take a pro-active approach to bringing renewable energy resources into our city while ensuring our environment is safe.

The city faces challenges to the environment that every town and city must deal with. But it also must acknowledge the potential impact of its proximity to an aging nuclear power plant and the current expanding Spectra pipeline running within a few hundred feet of it. Recent environmental challenges have sharpened focus on an undeniable truth: we will only thrive if we can ensure a safe environment with sustainable resources.

An argument one often hears is that we are almost completely reliant on non-renewable energy to run our cities and towns, homes, businesses, and infrastructure: we can't live without it, at least not now. But I believe we can begin to reduce and ultimately limit our reliance on non-renewable energy.

The recent Paris Climate talks were an excellent global first step in gathering world leaders together to begin working together to slow our dependence on fossil fuels. In the afterglow of these historic and optimistic international talks, and as we continue to focus on economic stability and growth for Peekskill, we have a serious responsibility to address renewable energy before the Indian Point power plant ages out of service, and our appetite for gas and oil depletes those non-renewable resources or makes them too dangerous to use like the Spectra pipeline expansion.

But how can we make it happen locally? Where do we start?

Locally, we must make it a priority to decrease our dependence on non-renewable energy, increase recycling efforts and embrace programs that will reduce our energy consumption and make us less reliant on imports.

Thankfully, a growing consortium of Westchester cities and towns called Sustainable Westchester has been very successful in providing relatively sustainable and cost-saving energy solutions. One such initiative is the Community Choice Aggregation (CCA), a program approved by New York State to "allow local governments to pool their electricity load in order to purchase and/or develop power on behalf of their residents, businesses and municipal accounts." Over 19 cities and towns in Westchester have had the good sense to sign on to CCA with another half-dozen pending. In order to join this initiative the city council must pass a resolution, which will make CCA the default electricity purchaser on our electricity bills instead of ConEd. Anyone can opt-out at any time just like we can do now.

NYSERDA, another Sustainable Westchester energy-saving program, was rolled out in Peekskill a few years ago. It promotes energy efficiency and use of renewable energy sources through home heating inspections and insulation. Free (and very comprehensive) home inspections are available to a surprisingly large number of people who meet the income standard. A pool of pre-vetted installers is available to perform any suggested installations. (I was one of the first in the city to take advantage of NYSERDA and am happy to report my energy bill has shrunk noticeably!)

Another SW initiative is Solarize Hudson Valley. It promotes energy efficiency and the use of renewable energy sources. The program was "designed to increase the amount of solar installed in Westchester County and helps the residents and businesses install solar more easily and at a lower cost." A large number of municipalities have already jumped on board. Recognizing the benefit to their residents, neighboring Cortlandt signed up for the program, taking a leadership position in the area regarding global warming and the environment.

Beyond these accessible and innovative programs that are or could be available to our community, there are several serious environmental challenges causing concern in the community and beyond. A growing group of activists are working hard to stop the Algonquin Pipeline Expansion, which will create a 42" pipeline pushing fracked gas from Pennsylvania to offshore export in Massachusetts. Unbelievably, the pipeline will run within 100' or so of the aging Indian Point nuclear power plant and 350' from a grade school. In the ironic words of one activist: "What could possibly go wrong?"

Amid growing calls from federal, state, city and town officials for answers to significant safety concerns like tritium leaks and improved oversight and accountability, Peekskill (and the greater metropolitan area with its 23+ million residents) is watching and hoping their public servants and government agencies will do their jobs and protect the public.

As a Peekskill councilwoman starting my second term and a life-long city resident, these challenges can seem daunting. But I take the safety and health of our environment seriously and work hard to support initiatives that will move us towards greater safety and sustainability. We are mandated to be good caretakers of our environment and must make energy conservation and sustainability a priority.

We may not be able to do it all but we will surely fail if we do nothing. As a member of Sustainable Westchester, I am committed to getting Peekskill on the road to sustainability. The time is now.