I expect to get flamed about my pro-casino comments (below). But that doesn’t mean I’ve abandoned by (generally) green principles. Sullivan County isn’t unlike a lot of other areas, with a polarization between pro-development and pro-environment forces. But we here in Sullivan County have a tremendous opportunity to distinguish ourselves as the ‘green showcase’ in New York state. It will take resolve, determination and coordination — which are in far shorter supply here than the fresh air, water and natural resources we seek to protect.
An article in this past Sunday’s New York Times describes Woodstock, NY’s initiative to reduce net-carbon emissions to zero by 2017. A handful of other ‘left leaning’ cities like Portland, Oregon and Boulder, Colorado, have also taken the net-carbon zero emissions plunge. Green is ‘hot’ — just think about how many articles or news reports you’ve seen in the last year or two about global warming, hybrid cars, energy efficient buildings and solar or wind power.
Why can’t Sullivan County be a green showplace, from development policies and new construction to energy and waste disposal? The pro-environment faction looks at the casino, or other big developments, as environmental scourges. But what if Sullivan County mandated "offsets" of some type, so large development projects had to contribute to the funding of green initiatives. What if Sullivan County made a commitment to build or attract alternative energy production equal to the amount of energy expected to be consumed by the casino? Can we mandate that the casino subsidize low-emissions alternative fuel buses to transport casino guests to and from NYC?
The Sullivan Alliance for Sustainable Development has been working hard to bring commercial wind farms to Sullivan County (hey, we got plenty of wind ’round these parts). (See a recent article in the Sullivan County Democrat, Wind Power Promises New Source of Funds for Towns.) Its an uphill battle, because there isn’t a lot of incentive for property owners to convert valuable mountain property to wind power generation. But what if we started tying development and subdivision approval to the level of green initiatives a developer was willing to include? For example, permitting higher density in exchange for designating land for wind power, or installing a common geothermal heating and cooling field? Or go one step further like Boulder, Colorado, and require all new construction to ‘earn’ enough green credits before getting a building permit. Or provide property tax breaks to smaller energy efficient, LEEDS (leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certified construction and disincentives to the large 5,000 to 10,000 sq. ft. country McMansions were starting to see pop up here. (I’ve long thought that there should be a ‘house guzzler’ tax similar to the ‘gas guzzler’ tax on big cars.)
I yearn for the day to see us on the cover of the Sunday NY Times Magazine with the headline "The Sullivan County Catskills — from Borscht Belt to Green Belt." We can do it — if the will is there. Sullivan County can be known as the greenest county in New York, even with a casino.