GHENT–A presentation that advised the town to avoid participating in the Capital Region Sustainability Plan was met with what seemed to be undivided dissent of the from town residents who attended the presentation.
The Town Board’s workshop meeting last week featured John Wallace of the Hudson Valley Oath Keepers, who presented the reasons why he believes participation in the plan would not be beneficial to the town.
The Capital Region Sustainability Plan is a product of Governor Andrew Cuomo’s Cleaner Greener Communities Program. According to a draft of the plan, its purpose is to “provide a framework for programs and projects that will reduce air, water and land pollution and improve our quality of life through smart growth and sustainable development,” as well as guiding work to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and improve energy efficiency. Columbia County is one of eight counties included in the region.
During his presentation, Mr. Wallace likened the plan to the United Nations’ Agenda 21, an action plan to promote sustainability. He said the grants available through the plan come “with strings attached.” He warned that if the Town of Ghent signed onto the plan, local boards would be stripped of their power.
“If the town board signs an agreement, zoning and planning will be taken out of your hands and moved to Albany,” he said. “You will lose your local ability to plan.”
He added that individual property rights would not be protected, and that regional planning boards are “virtually irreversible” once started.
After the presentation, residents complained that the content was not factual and expressed disappointment to the Town Board.
“Can we get somebody in here who could explain this to the board?” asked Ghent resident Sheldon Evans. “There is another side to this.”
Town Supervisor Larry Andrews said he intends to invite someone who has worked on the plan to give a presentation in the next few months. He added that presentations often contain bias depending on the presenter.
“There is a difference between having a bias and having facts,” replied Ghent resident Koethi Zan. “This presentation was filled with factual inaccuracies.”
Ms. Zan said that she has read and understood the sustainability plan, and says there could be grants in the plan that meet the needs of the Town of Ghent.
“When you apply for the grants, there are strings attached as with any grant,” she said. “There isn’t any grant in the world that doesn’t come with specifications.”
In a phone call with The Columbia Paper after the meeting, Tom Crowell of the Columbia Land Conservancy said that the sustainability plan is an entirely voluntary program meant to “encourage green development in New York State.” Mr. Crowell served on the Executive Committee of the sustainability plan.
He said that the planning process consisted of eight separate committees–Climate Adaptation, Energy, Economic Development, Food, Land Use and Livable Communities, Transportation, Waste, and Water. Each committee developed a series of goals and guidelines for communities to reduce their impact on the environment and encourage sustainable development.
“This is a means for local communities to seek out grant funding to implement programs that they are pursuing that are in line with the goals of the Regional Sustainability Plan,” he said.
In a phone call earlier this week, Assembly member Didi Barrett (D-106th) called the sustainability plan an “an initiative that offers the opportunity to the region to establish sustainable land use policies, promote sustainable growth, and reduce emissions.”
Supervisor Andrews said he sees no need for the board to make any decisions on the matter in the immediate future, but that the town is “trying to be proactive to learn about this.”