Getting climate smart with infrastructure

infrastructure

Bainbridge’s ongoing Comprehensive Plan Update is an important opportunity for the island’s residents to participate in defining the vision for a policy document that is intended to guide our City’s long-term development. And in its final draft version, the Island’s new vision statement clearly articulates our collective interest in protecting the island’s natural environment by reducing the effects of human-induced climate change, concluding that “[t]he people of Bainbridge Island understand that it will take an active approach to not only maintain, but restore and enhance the condition of the island if we expect to continue enjoying its bounty” (http://www.ci.bainbridge-isl.wa.us/653/Visioning-Workshops). But what does this active approach entail? And how exactly can residents ensure that we as a community implement this vision in the coming years?One of the most important ways that the City seeks to implement its residents’ vision is through the Capital Improvements Planning (CIP) process.  The CIP is a tool that local governments use to forecast and budget multiyear, large-scale infrastructure projects and acquisitions that are beyond the scope of the city’s operating budget. These projects often include: construction of buildings or infrastructure, major repairs or rehabilitation of existing infrastructure, and the purchase of major equipment (including vehicles, machinery, etc.). The process of developing, prioritizing and implementing these projects represents the coupling of the City’s plan for development with available funding. In fact, the most recent version of the CIP available on the City’s website includes Plan Consistency Codes that identify the degree to which particular projects are consistent with the Comprehensive Plan.
As Bainbridge’s Plan prioritizes environmental stewardship, I spoke with the City’s Public Works Director Barry Loveless to advocate for some “climate-smart” measures adopted by the City of Seattle and recommended by the World Bank. First, I suggested that the City of Bainbridge should draw on the expertise of City of Seattle staff in developing a greenhouse gas (GhG) inventory. GhG inventories track the source and amount of greenhouse gases produced in city operations like the construction of public infrastructure.
This information would allow departmental staff to consider a range of project alternatives rather than just submitting conventional project designs. These alternatives could incorporate costs associated with carbon emissions over the life cycle of the infrastructure investment and also resiliency measures that would factor in the potential costs of natural hazards over those same life cyles. The World Bank is currently working with 300 of the world’s largest cities to encourage them to adopt a similar CIP framework as part of its Low Carbon Livable Cities Initiative (http://www.worldbank.org/en/topic/urbandevelopment/brief/low-carbon-livable-cities).

Mr. Loveless was receptive to the ideas, but told me that time and expertise are two limiting factors. The department’s staff work hard to draft proposals now, so the idea of requiring multiple alternatives per proposal seemed unrealistic. Similarly, he stated that he didn’t have the staff to kickstart a GhG inventory. I realized that while Mr. Loveless was providing me useful information about the current CIP process, the proper person to meet with and propose changes to that process is the city manger Doug Schulze, since those changes would require additional resources over which the Public Works director has little control. I do intend to follow up with Mr. Shulze, as I believe these steps allow the City to fulfill its duty to implement the will of its residents expressed in the Comprehensive Plan.

Also, we may be reaching a point where this process becomes a moral imperative. Last year, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change created a “carbon budget” representing the estimated amount of carbon dioxide that can be released via human activity while limiting expected temperature rise to 2 degrees Celsius. This target represents the point beyond which extreme effects of climate change are expected to occur. As of today, we’re already more than halfway through that budget. If we as a community are committed to implementing the vision that we’ve articulated in the past few months, then we might strongly consider how we move forward once the Comprehensive Plan update is complete.

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