The Sustainable Montpelier Coalition is looking at the big picture of what aspects of climate change pose the greatest risk for our city. We have identified three areas of concern: Watershed Adaptation, Food Security and Sustainable Housing. SMC will facilitate building strong relationships between neighbors and develop coalitions of organizations with missions in these three project areas. In order to discover solutions to our most serious challenges, we need to tap into individuals’ creativity. SMC will then provide support through partners and funding to implement the identified solutions.

We are at the tipping point where the good intentions of mitigation are too little, too late to prevent severe climate disruptions. Mitigation focuses on the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions and by enhancing activities that remove these gases from the atmosphere. An example of mitigation is the conversion from gas powered to electric vehicles.

Adaptation tackles the consequences of climate disruptions. Adaptation is defined as behavior and systemic change in response to climate disruptions that diminishes harm or provides beneficial opportunities. An example of adaptation is building a local foodshed capable of withstanding weather extremes.

Community Engagement – Climate Change Comes to Vermont

May 30th local meteorologist Roger Hill gave a sobering talk "Climate Change Comes to Central Vermont" to a full house at the Unitarian Church. Roger’s message was that weather is not behaving as it once was. The jet stream is weakened by the warming of the poles and as a result stationary trough of weather are bringing longer periods of drought and excess precipitation. This spring such a stationary trough of rain flooded the Midwest leaving farmers unable to plant their fields.

Alas, Vermont Farmers experienced the same weather. As a result, there will be a more limited food supply this winter.

Community Conversations

SMC is here to facilitate building strong relationships between neighbors and develop coalitions of organizations, which requires bringing people together. A couple of weeks after Roger’s talk, SMC held a community discussion. Fifty residents turned out to share their thoughts. In a series of ice breaker exercises the participants organized themselves along a continuum of concern on the issues of: Water, Food Security, Housing, Transportation and Energy. Participants were energized in each area.

Transportation – Year 1

SMC spent its first year securing the On-Demand Micro-Transit Pilot Project due to begin July 2020. This shared use flexible “curb to curb” mobility will target reducing the number of single-occupancy vehicles used and parked downtown. Currently 65% of downtown is dedicated to parking (warehousing cars during working hours). Parking has the secondary characteristic of being an impermeable surface. Reducing the amount of parking will free up land for more uses for more people more of the time.

Watershed Adaptation, Food Security, Infrastructure Redesign – Year 2

Watershed Adaptation, Food Security and Infrastructure Redesign are the focus of SMC’s Work Plan for Year 2.

Housing – Year 3

Montpelier has a housing shortage. Developing sustainable housing and finding locations for accessory use conversions of existing space into new housing units is essential. SMC is working to free-up parking to make space available for access to the river and the siting housing.

Watershed Adaptation

Stormwater is a challenge for Montpelier and our watershed. After extreme rain events, stormwater is added to many sewer lines causing overflows resulting in E. coli outbreaks in our rivers. Stormwater runoff from parking lots along the river contributes to the release of toxins and increased phosphate levels flows into Lake Champlain. Last year, Montpelier was cited as the largest polluter along the Winooski River. To its credit, Montpelier approved a bond to upgrade its sewage treatment plant. This should help reduce the level of pathogens released into neighboring rivers. However, until the stormwater is no longer mixed with the sewer lines and leaking sewer pipes are repaired, the problem will not be completely mitigated. So, the remaining challenge is to identify resilient practices, develop and implement a stormwater management plan that diverts water from the sewage plant.

Downtown Montpelier has had numerous extreme flooding events in the past century. There was 8 feet of standing water in the 1927 flood and in the 1992 flood there was 3 feet of standing water. These flood events required the repair of our infrastructure (electric, roads, etc.) and the clean-up of toxic overflow when heating oil contents merged with the floodwaters.

SMC is building a watershed coalition to identify solutions, determine multi-year action plans and fund implementation projects focused on three goals: water quality (reduce toxic runoff), decrease flooding (green infrastructure) and improve riparian buffer/habitat.

Green infrastructure - rain gardens and swales provide areas for storm water to rest until it can filter down into the aquifer.

SMC was pleased to be part of Vermont State Employee’s Credit Union’s (VSECU) new rain garden project. We partnered with the VSECU, the Montpelier Conservation Commission, Sea Grant Lake Champlain, the Lake Champlain Basin Program, New England Interstate Water Pollution Control Commission, the Vermont Youth Conservation Corps and Ecolibrium, LLC.

There has been a buzz about this project in town. At a recent Montpelier City Farmer’s Market SMC spoke with many residents who had been watching the installation of the rain garden and were curious about what a rain garden is. Individuals who live uphill from River Street, on Cliff Street and Liberty Street were interested in how they might install a rain garden or swale on their property. They described stormwater running like a river across their property and down their streets.

As neighborhood groups come together, they will have the opportunity to determine identify green infrastructure sites, funding for implementation and cultivate partnerships. Neighborhood groups proposed project sites will be collected into a comprehensive map that shows layers of information that are available through the Agency of Natural Resources, E911 and the parcel maps, flood information will help the City to develop a comprehensive plan for absorbing as much runoff as possible to eliminate the storm water overflows and toxic runoff that are currently challenges.

Food Security

As described above in the section “Community Engagement – Climate Change Comes to Central Vermont,” weather patterns will challenge our food security. Creating a food security map empowering the neighborhood groups to convert lawns to food gardens. SMC will provide educational speakers on the topic of food security and facilitate the formation of demonstration gardens.

Infrastructure Redesign

Montpelier is feeling the effects of climate change. Although major flooding events such as Irene are believed to be the biggest threat, indeed it is the repeated small events such as the eleven rain incidents this winter that are proving to be equally disruptive. As of the end of August 2019 Montpelier has already had eighteen (18) sewer plant overflows. Between November 2018 and March 2019 there were eighteen (18) water main breaks. The swing of temperature from freezing to thawing is putting stress on an already aging system.

Montpelier like many cities throughout America was due for an infrastructure upgrade in the ‘90’s. Alas, most cities have yet to make the necessary upgrades. Now, thirty years later the water and sewer lines are failing. The City does not have a comprehensive implementation plan for repair. At some point this will have to be addressed.

Neighborhood Groups

SMC understands the power of Montpelier’s Neighborhoods. Ten years ago, the Capital Area Neighborhoods (CAN) were formed as a response to fuel shortages. Franklin/North Street, the Meadows, Barre Street and Cliff Street neighborhoods have informal neighborhood groups. Other groups fell by the wayside. Unlike ten years ago, Montpelier is facing more complex climate challenges. Learning from past experiences, SMC will facilitate forming neighborhood groups that are sustainable and empowered. Neighborhoods have the unique capacity to embrace climate adaptation by working together to determine solutions and their implementation.

Building Community Coalitions

Many statewide organizations have their main office here in Montpelier, the capital of Vermont. There is great potential for collaboration as key organization in the areas of Watershed Adaptation, Food Security and Infrastructure Redesign come together. Although each organization has a unique mission, there is common ground shared by all. Working as a coalition leverages opportunity to identify solutions, determine multi-year action plans and fund implementation projects. Montpelier will be the initial geographic focus and it will be necessary to build regional relationships to address larger bioregional issues such as watershed adaptation, food security and infrastructure redesign. Successful demonstration projects in Montpelier will serve as models throughout the State and beyond.