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'Sustainability' covers many areas
February 17, 2011 Jerry Purvis   
Some may think the term “sustainability” means environmentalism or the more current term, “green.” But it’s more expansive than just that.
Gering City Council member Jill McFarland has been part of the task force that will help implement the Tri-City Sustainability Plan and enhance the quality of life in the entire community. The plan was passed by Gering, Scottsbluff and Terrytown in 2009.
‘You can have clean water, but if you’re living in a cave, that’s not quality of life,” McFarland said. “Once I started studying the plan, I realized that green isn’t the same as sustainability. Green is one part of it.”
The overarching term sustainability means allocating the community’s natural resources so that future generations have the same or better lifestyle than previous generations.
The Joselyn Institute for Sustainable Communities in Omaha mentions five different pillars that make up a sustainable community. They include technological, economic, socio-cultural, public policy and environmental. Each of these pillars must address three needs: people, planet and profit.
“In the past, we’ve looked at sustainability as sustaining physical resources,” McFarland said. “Now we have to look at it as sustaining quality of life.”
She said some of those factors include quality of the schools, crime rate, access to technological advances such as broadband Internet access, business development and much more.
The sustainability task force met with Gering city staff last week, and they will work on resource management, including recycling and the joint landfill.
“If we want the citizen to be ecologically friendly, the city has to set the example,” McFarland said. “This included making it easier to recycle and conducting an energy audit of all city buildings to see where we can save on energy costs.”
She added some visionary thought to the future will be needed before the task force can develop what steps can be done and what is economically feasible.
Another pillar McFarland mentioned is public policy, which includes how the city can make it easier for businesses to relocate.
“A law firm wanted to move into one of our historic buildings and needed a handicap ramp,” she said. “That item has to come before the council at least twice before we could make a decision. That should only have taken about three minutes. If the business hadn’t already bought the building, they might have walked away. Sometimes I think the city isn’t very business friendly. We operate too much like government and business needs to move faster than that. We need to more responsive.”
She added it’s unavoidable that state statute can often slow down a city’s ability to make fast decisions. However, cities need to streamline the process as much as possible.
McFarland said the Tri-City Sustainability Plan is a long-term project that will be implemented in sections over the next several years.

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