Ten years later. Ten years after a group of Corvallis residents filled the conference room at the Corvallis Chamber of Commerce to talk about sustainability.
Ten years after an executive committee was formed and work on an action plan began and outreach to the city and organizing, always organizing.
Ten years later. The Corvallis Sustainability Coalition is 10 years old. Ten years after Annette Mills moved to Corvallis.
“I feel good about what we’ve done and I feel good about our ability to support our partner organizations,” said Mills, facilitator for the coalition since its inception. “There will always be work to do. I feel very gratified that there has been such an incredible response from the community.”
Mills and her husband, Dave Eckert, moved west from Falls Church, Virginia, in the fall of 2006 after an extensive, exacting search for their next landing spot. The couple wanted to be closer to family, but they also wanted to be closer to … sustainability. And they had a wish-list of 10 items.
First, they narrowed their search to Oregon. Then, they winnowed further to a final three of Corvallis, Eugene and Ashland. Corvallis won because it had nine of the items on the list (and it added the 10th after they arrived).
Here is the list: 1) university town; 2) water stability; 3) good agriculture and local food; 4) a farmers market; 5) a natural foods co-op; 6) medium size with a real downtown; 7) ability to go car-free; 8) trails and outdoor activities; 9) community involvement’ and 10) ethnic diversity.
Mills noted that Oregon State University’s demographic changes and the addition of more international students enabled Corvallis to achieve the perfect 10.
“When we visited we walked all the way from downtown up Madison to the university. We thought that was amazing,” Mills said. “And when we visited the co-op we thought we had died and gone to heaven.”
Three weeks after arriving in town, Mills had joined the local chapter of the League of Women Voters. She also had been a league member in Falls Church, where she worked for 17 years as an environmental program specialist with the city.
Mills also connected with Maureen Beezhold and Bruce Hecht through her links to organizations such as Beyond War, the Northwest Earth Institute and Natural Step. A meeting at the New Morning Bakery led to the larger confab at the chamber and Jan. 10, 2007 the Corvallis Sustainability Coalition was born with a roster of 25 partner organizations.
Mills joined the steering committee, a group she has never left — Brandon Trelstad and Linda Lovett also have served all 10 years. By March the group was holding the first of its town halls, an action plan was approved in 2008, 12 action teams were formed and the roster of partners grew to include 350 organizations.
Along the way the group has worked on energy issues, water projects, local food, car-free days and a Pedalpalooza, held more town halls, worked with the city and the City Council, added a pair of paid employees, focused on boosting the local economy — and climate action.
“The farthest-reaching thing we’ve done is climate action” said Mills, who worked as part of a citizens task force to convince the City Council to make a climate plan one of its goals for this two-year council cycle. The group even brought forward a draft plan for the city to work from.
Councilors bought in and on Dec. 12 approved a climate action plan developed by a city-led task force with the assistance of outside consultants.
“We really need to move this forward,” Mills said. “Climate change is the greatest threat to Corvallis’ health and global health. I really want to accelerate our efforts in this arena.”
Mills, who routinely works 50 to 60 hours per work on coalition business, was asked if she expects her workload to be the same when the group turns 20.
“I think I would last longer and be more personally sustainable if I didn’t stay involved so much,” she said.
At that point, she had to end the interview: She was getting ready to host a meeting of the coalition’s grant-writing collective.