July 24, 2019

Council Hears Update And Approves Resolution On Climate Action Plan

By Anne Levin

Princeton Council passed a resolution Monday, July 22 in support of the town’s Climate Action Plan, following an update on the measure by Sustainable Princeton. The 96-page proposal is focused on resilience, making sure that Princeton is prepared for the extreme weather that has become a regular occurrence.

“It’s real, and it’s happening here,” said Molly Jones, Sustainable Princeton’s executive director, as rain pelted the plaza outside Witherspoon Hall. Jones cited several incidences of flooding, extreme heat, and falling trees caused by weather during the past three weeks. “Much of the choir is here tonight, but I wanted to reiterate the challenge of what we are facing.”

Coming up with the plan, the organization’s steering committee consulted with members of the community at schools, churches, and a “Greenfest” that was attended by 700 people, said Christine Symington, programming director. A draft of the plan, posted online, received several comments. Princeton’s Bicycle Advisory Committee, Board of Health, Environmental Commission, Public Transit Advisory Committee, Shade Tree Commission, and the Sustainable Princeton Board of Trustees have all provided letters of support.

Developed over a 16-month period, the plan is intended as “a roadmap to reduce Princeton’s contribution to climate change and prepare for its effects,” it reads. “It establishes an ambitious goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions 80 percent by 2050 (based on 2010 emissions). Achieving this goal will take the collective effort of the entire community working together to ensure Princeton remains a prosperous and vibrant town for future generations.”

Impacts to Princeton by climate change include more frequent days of extreme heat, an increase in the average temperature that will affect plant and animal life, more heat-related illnesses for residents, flooding, longer dry spells, and a negative effect on air quality.

So far, 16 of the 80 actions listed in the plan have been put into effect, Symington said. Progress will be reported every three years, and the plan will be updated every nine years.

While supporting most aspects of the
plan, local resident Bainy Suri expressed disappointment that it does not address eliminating the use of plastic bags. “I don’t understand why it wasn’t included,” she said. “I want to urge Council to take bold action on this.”

Also at the meeting, Council heard an update on the Princeton Fire Department’s implementation of recommendations by The Rodgers Group, including the hiring of six career firefighters to work alongside volunteers. Bob Gregory, head of the town’s Office of Emergency Management, said the department intends to advertise for the positions next month, administer a written test and physical agility test in October, and begin interviewing in November, with a goal of hiring by December.

“Our main goal is the seamless transition from all-volunteer to a combination department,” he said. Among the other recommendations Gregory mentioned as priorities were the use of social media for recruiting, working with Princeton University to attend student activity fairs, plans to reinstitute junior firefighters, and attending local events such as National Night Out on August 6, also for recruiting.

Council member Leticia Fraga thanked Gregory for making sure flyers were printed in Spanish as well as English, and encouraged him to consider Welcoming Week, which is September 13-22, as a destination for recruiting.

Responding to questions from Council candidate Adam Bierman about the investigation into illegal activity at the River Road Sewer Operating Site, which has resulted in the firing of three employees, Mayor Liz Lempert said the town’s priorities are with cleanup of the site. Princeton Administrator Marc Dashield said that since the Mercer County Prosecutor’s Office is handling the investigation, the site is currently on lockdown. But the Whitman company, licensed state remediation professionals hired to test and remediate the site, is scheduled to go in about July 29 to do soil sampling, he said.

Lempert said the Sewer Operations office is currently being supervised by the Department of Public Works, and that the town is exploring possible shared services with other municipalities. “Whatever we do, we don’t want to rush into anything that binds us for decades,” she said.

In an update posted on the town’s website last week, Lempert said that a contractor has been hired to create a remediation plan for the solar array that sits atop the old landfill. A New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection inspection last February revealed erosion of the soil covering the landfill.

Council voted to introduce an ordinance allowing for outdoor seating at Kristine’s, a French restaurant being opened by Jack Morrison of the JM Group on Hinds Plaza, next to JM’s Witherspoon Grill.