If we want Athens to remain a vibrant and attractive community well into the future, we’ve got to prioritize keeping our air, water and land clean and healthy. While local government alone isn’t strong enough to do everything we need to do on the environmental front, we still need to be ambitious here locally.

Here’s a start. Five environmental goals I would champion as Mayor:

1. Local ban or fee on single-use plastic bags.  It is clear the damage bags can do to our waterways, and ultimately to people, as plastic particles make their way through the food chain back to us. We need a carefully-sequenced plan that involves coordination with area retailers and other local governments, and includes widespread distribution of reusable bags to ensure we don’t create a burden for families across the income spectrum.

2. Establish solar power production for municipal use. To help do our part locally in combating climate change Athens should pursue solar power production for municipal use, joining residents that have made this move. More specifically, we should consider he hardscape disposal site at the corner of College and Cleveland Avenue as one possible site for installing solar arrays as it’s located close to municipal facilities and infrastructure.

3. Identify and protect more greenspace and riparian areas. 

4. Create stronger energy efficiency standards and incentives for new and old buildings. We need more ambitious requirements related to energy-efficiency in municipal facilities. We can use these incentives and award programs to encourage private builders to meet higher standards.

5. Continue improving solid waste reduction efforts. Every effort to steer waste away from the landfill reduces funds that have to be committed to land acquisition and engineering, keeps the active landfill further from nearby residents, and promotes material re-use. I will work hard to establish more robust construction debris collection system and food waste collection system to assist in providing these benefits.

Of course, these five goals aren’t the only things we should be working on. There are many other policies worth exploring, such as expanding a tree planting program to build more tree canopy–and provide more shade–in the county; creating a program to help residents in rural areas maintain aging septic systems; and continuing to lower emissions from municipal vehicles. What are YOUR environmental goals for Athens?

-Kelly Girtz