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Sustainability study generates strong opinions
March 31, 2011 Jerry Purvis   
Monday’s Gering City Council meeting ended with a number of strong opinions being expressed over whether to adopt a sustainability plan for the city.
Gering residents Al and Lois Herbel had just completed a presentation on how conservation, recycling, energy efficiency and other issues contribute to a better, sustainable community for both present and future residents.
Council member Jill McFarland said Gering city staff has already bought into the idea of sustainability. The city has completed an energy audit to determine utility usage at all city buildings. Staff is also working on resource management, such as recycling and the joint landfill. Also in the works is a plan for a wind generator for one of the city buildings.
McFarland said the city needs to lead by example if it wants residents to be more aware of how they use energy and other physical resources and be more ecologically friendly.
The plan was completed by Gering, Scottsbluff and Terrytown in 2009. The Herbels’ presentation was to explain sustainability to council members and how the plan could be implemented.
As council members discussed the plan, member Julie Morrison wondered whether a plan was necessary at all. She said it was just common sense to turn off the lights when leaving a room or turn off the water when not in use.
Larry Gibbs also said the plan was so far-reaching that little of it would ever be implemented in a rural community like Gering. It included things like mass transit, which would be impractical here.
“As council members, we’ve already discussed that parts of plan wouldn’t be specific to us,” McFarland said. “I had moved that we adopt the plan with the caveat that some parts of it would have to be changed, some things would have to be rewritten to fit us, and that it would be a dynamic document that would forever be changing into the future as our needs changed.”
The council ultimately voted 5-2 to not approve the sustainability plan, with McFarland and Manuel Escamilla voting in favor.
“Right now I don’t think many council members really understand what sustainability is,” McFarland said. “It was obvious that some of them never read the plan and it’s been available for more than a year.”
She added that sustainability is more than just turning off the lights. It’s making sure that every decision the city makes is intended to sustain quality of life into the future. “It’s a sad day when a majority of our council can’t even vote to approve a sustainability plan. This would be a wonderful tool for decision making.”
McFarland said the sustainability plan isn’t dead. She plans to continue meeting with city staff on how to implement its elements into the city’s operations. “This is a top priority of our mayor, so I’ll continue to carry this ball and work with the employees and move it in that direction.”
Mayo Ed Mayo said that based on the discussion among the council, they said a formal policy isn’t necessary to implement the plan guidelines.
“If we’re going to do it, we’re going to have a policy,” Mayo said. “I’ve broken down the plan and basically written a one-page plan we can implement.”
McFarland said was going out on a limb, but “I hope the people in this community are really upset that we have a council that is not willing to take a stand on the future of this community. I just don’t see any vision on the part of a majority of council members. If that’s the way it is, they probably need to step back and let some people who have vision come forward. In the meantime, I intend to continue working with the management staff on a monthly basis to make sustainability a top priority within our day-to-day operations.”

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