Members of the Fairbanks North Star Borough’s Sustainability Commission are putting the finishing touches on an ambitious plan to improve the area’s food supply, energy security and and solid-waste management. The commissioners also are working on a report they’ll submit next month to the borough mayor and Assembly that’ll outline the progress they’ve made during their first full year of work on the task of promoting sustainability.
The borough Assembly established the Sustainability Commission a little over a year ago, and charged it with advising them and the mayor on, quote, “maximizing public health, safety and self-reliance,” among other things. To carry out that impossibly broad mandate, Commissioner Jimmy Fox says he and the other six members of the panel decided to start with the basics.
“Sustainability is such a big thing that we ended up after feedback with the community and talking amongst ourselves, the commissioners decided to focus on food security and energy security and waste reduction,” Fox said.
Commissioner John Davies says after a dozen meetings and town halls and countless conversations over the past year, he and the other members discovered the public shared a lot of same ideas about where to begin.
“It seemed to us on the commission that these three areas that we picked are the kind of consensus areas that most people are concerned about,” Davies said.
Fox says commissioners arrived at the three sustainability priorities by aggregating the public’s specific suggestions and concerns. On food security, for example ...
“We got a lot of comments on the need to see more public gardens, see our local farmers be more successful, get more local food in the grocery stores, have more food on the shelves in case there’s a supply disruption,” he said.
Likewise, on energy security, he added, “We had a lot of interest in switching our power sources to more of a cleaner, more renewable energy. There were people who were very focused on energy efficiency and the fact that the more efficient your building and your homes are, the less energy and power you’re going to need to consume.”
And, on the need to reduce production of solid waste that mostly goes into the landfill, Fox says “There was of course a lot interest in recycling, and composting food, and re-using items (at) transfer stations.”
Davies says the waste-reduction effort would build on the borough’s revamped recycling operations and focus more attention at the front end of the waste stream.
“How do we reduce the amount of stuff that comes into the borough that needs to be disposed of?” he said. “How do we re-use materials that otherwise would be buried in the landfill?”
Davies is a former borough Assemblyman who wrote the ordinance that transferred the borough recycling commission’s responsibilities to the sustainability commission. He also served as the Assembly’s recycling commission liaison. He says the sustainability commission’s next big challenge will be to establish a means of determining whether it’s succeeding in improving food and energy security and reducing solid-waste production.
“We want to develop some metrics what our food security really is,” Davies says, “and then seeing over time if over time somehow that measure would increase – that we would have more food security.”
But first, he and Fox say the commissioners must complete work on the sustainability plan, which they say they’ll submit to the Assembly and mayor in January. Davies says the commissioners will probably talk about that in an Assembly work session in December, when they’ll also submit a progress report on this year’s work – and talk about plans for the coming year