Highlanders call on city council to set up a sustainability commission
HIGHLAND – When David and Sarah Masciotra moved to Highland 10 years ago, they were drawn to the city’s trails, the Heron Rookery and the walkable downtown.
Now he and other Highland residents want to ensure the town’s natural resources are protected for generations to come.
“There is often a misperception that there is a conflict between economic vitality and environmentalism,” Masciotra said at an Oct. 24 city council meeting. He and Sarah are “living proof that they often work in tandem because conservation, natural beauty and sustainability are very appealing to young people, young families and retirees looking to relocate.”
Masciotra was one of 12 people who spoke in favor of creating a city sustainability commission during the public consultation session. The Highland Neighbors for Sustainability group, formed in 2020, drafted a bill for the creation of the commission.
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“We hope council recognizes the value of a citizen-led sustainability commission to research and bring back suggested solutions on environmental topics,” said Connie Wachala.
The idea grew out of the recent greenhouse gas inventory conducted by Indiana University’s Environmental Resilience Cohort. In 2021, Earth Charter Indiana, NWI Region Resilience, and the Northwest Indiana Regional Planning Commission (NIRPC) banded together and joined the cohort.
The team was able to secure funding for six Climate Fellows to conduct greenhouse gas inventories for Lake, Porter, and LaPorte counties as well as Cedar Lake, Chesterton, East Chicago, Highland, Hobart, Lake Station, the city of LaPorte, Merrillville, Munster, Schererville and Valparaiso.
The project was later extended, so they were able to inventory Hammond and Portage as well.
Industry accounted for the bulk of the region’s overall emissions, but residential emissions made up the largest slice of the pie in Cedar Lake, Chesterton, Hobart, Lake Station, Schererville, and Highland.
In the second year of the Environmental Resilience Cohort, participants create a climate action plan. Because each community in the region is so unique, NIRPC, NWI Region Resilience, and Earth Charter are creating a climate action plan that offers a menu of options. Municipalities can select the most applicable options.
Because members of town and city councils often have outside jobs and are “so involved in the day-to-day chores of trying to run a city or town,” Wachala said, it could be difficult to implement. climate action plans without a dedicated commission.
The sustainability commission “can be a help if they (the city council) allow us to,” Wachala said.
The proposed commission ordinance is being reviewed by the city’s legal counsel. Wachala said the commission will likely have five representatives and hopefully include local students. The commission would research various sustainability initiatives and make suggestions to city council.
“There are a lot of people who care about the environment,” said Alex Bazán, “and I think a sustainability commission provides that extra capacity to help the staff of the town of Highland do more in terms of sustainability. examination of various environmental problems.”
Sustainability efforts look different in northwest Indiana, Wachala said, but communities can learn from each other.
Michigan City and the Town of LaPorte already have commissions, Gary has a department of sustainability and environmental affairs, and Valparaiso has a citizen-led sustainability group.
“If you all embrace this, it will put influence on those other communities that should see the value in it,” Hammond’s Linda Anguiano told the council at the Oct. 24 meeting. “If we all work together, we can have a really strong region.”
The sustainability commission legislation will be discussed at Highland City Council’s study session on November 21, starting at 6.30pm.
PHOTOS: Community members visit Gary’s location selected for the waste-to-fuel plant