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The city of Corvallis is moving forward on a plan to address global warming.

The City Council has adopted climate change as a goal for this two-year council term and will work with citizen volunteers on developing a plan of action.

The volunteers, which included members of the Corvallis Sustainability Coalition, the League of Women Voters, the Sierra Club and 350 Corvallis, submitted a 71-page plan to the city in January that will help serve as a blueprint (see complete text at right).

The Urban Services Committee, which consists of Penny York (Ward 1), Roen Hogg (Ward 2) and Zach Baker (Ward 3), will be joined by three or four community members appointed by Mayor Biff Traber in a task force that will shepherd the plan forward.

“We’re not asking the City Council to adopt the plan,” said task force member Annette Mills. “We wanted to show what could happen. They can tear it apart or rewrite it. It helps having other people in the community look at the problem. It’s a great starting point for the city.”

The problem, the task force said in its report, is that global warming is a serious threat to Corvallis, with projected impacts of higher temperatures, reduced snowpack, more intense storms and challenges to agriculture and human health.

The task force divided the challenges into six topic areas and came up with 20 objectives, including:

• Reduce energy consumption by 50% by 2030

• Transition to 100% renewably produced energy by 2030

• Increase biking, walking, and transit use, with 80 percent of trips under 2 miles to be made without a car and 75% of commuters to Corvallis to do so via mass transit by 2030.

• Decrease ownership of personal motor vehicles, with the goal of 40% of households to be car-free and 40% of households to have only one car by 2030.

• Increase the recycling rate for Corvallis to 75 percent by the end of 2020 (45 percent is the current baseline)

Many of the actions the task force recommended already are the focus of community-wide attention. The city has added solar panels to fire stations and installed a large array near the Public Works Department. Nonprofits are assisting households with solar installations and other energy-efficient upgrades. Republic Services, the trash hauler in the city, is converting its fleet of trucks to cleaner-burning compressed natural gas.

The Sustainability Coalition and its member partners and action teams have worked on a blizzard of projects, from waste prevention and habitat restoration to emphasizing locally grown food and transportation alternatives.

And the city released its first greenhouse gas emissions audit in June of 2014 (see complete report at right).

“Corvallis is several steps ahead (of other cities),” said climate and energy analyst Matt McRae of the city Eugene, which has been working on and implementing its climate action plan since councilors endorsed the concept in 2010. The Eugene plan was used as a model by the Corvallis volunteers.

“They’ve already got their greenhouse gas report completed and have had grass-roots action," McRae said. "It’s clearer now the public is ready for this. Corvallis should be in a good spot to get a climate action plan in place.”

Not everyone agrees that the problem requires such urgency.

“Consulting the Internet and other media reveals that the global warming issue is anything but settled,” Chuck Lane of Blodgett wrote in a letter to the Gazette-Times.

“There are credible scientists on both sides of the issue (and) billions of dollars have been and are still being spent to convince the public that it exists and billions more are being spent to combat its perceived effects.”

McRae noted that in a survey conducted by Eugene that 81 percent of respondents said climate change "requires us to entirely rethink our behavior."

The Corvallis task force members agree.

“I think that conversation needs to be over,” Mills said when asked about climate change skeptics. “It’s important to hear people’s perspective on specific actions, but a debate on climate change itself? That’s not where we intend to put our energy.”

A lot of energy — and resources — likely will be required to address the problem. Councilors discussed the issue at a Feb. 24 work session, using a framework of four options supplied by city staff.

Three of the options required estimated additional spending of more than $100,000, which includes hiring additional staff and/or consultants. The fourth option would depend upon the Sustainability Coalition's action teams for the bulk of the heavy lifting.

City Manager Nancy Brewer, noting the monitoring requirements of any plan that is adopted suggested "we'll need someone working on this on a permanent basis until 2040."

A lot of tough policy work would be required first.

Philip S. Wenz, a Corvallis-based environmental activist and designer who has reviewed the task force plan, said implementation poses some stiff challenges. 

"Planners have spent their whole lives learning how to accommodate auto-centric development," said Wenz, a twice-monthly Gazette-Times columnist. 

Wenz noted that much of Corvallis's current development strategy is geared toward projects on the periphery of town, such as the Sather and Campus Crest student housing developments.

"If an important (plan) goal is to reduce driving, then the planning department must be persuaded or instructed to discourage such development and zoning policy."

Wenz and others interviewed for this story cautioned that developing and implementing a complex strategy will require patience ... in a city with two-year council terms.

"This is perhaps the great challenge of all," Wenz said, "following a rather detailed program until meaningful results are achieved takes persistent effort — effort that will outlast the council term. To ensure that effort is made the council would have to lock in some long-term programs, a potentially politically risky move."

"The message we want to send out is that we have done the legwork," said Linda Lovett, one of the task force leaders. "It's an effective, feasible plan, and I know people are going to say 'what are you worrying about?' Some people are going to dig into this and call us a bunch of tree-huggers.

"(But) I worry about it not being enough. I won't be here in 50 years. but I have a child and would like her to live in a better world."

Contact reporter James Day at jim.day@gazettetimes.com or 541-758-9542. Follow at Twitter.com/jameshday or gazettetimes.com/blogs/jim-day.

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