Effort to help towns thrive in climate change will start in Pownal

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Solar panels at the former Green Mountain Race Track site in Pownal. File photo by Holly Pelczynski/Bennington Banner

POWNAL — Pownal has been selected as the first Vermont town to receive planning assistance through a program meant to produce “climate smart” communities.

“We had an application process, and Pownal was selected to be the inaugural community,” said Jon Copans at the Vermont Council on Rural Development. He is director of the Climate Economy Model Communities program.

The program aims to help Pownal implement comprehensive efficiency efforts, transportation system improvements, renewable energy generation, entrepreneurship and business incubation to spur economic progress, he said.

The council is partnering with Green Mountain Power, Efficiency Vermont and other entities in a program that stresses the economic as well as environmental opportunities that can be realized through energy conservation, alternative energy development and other local initiatives.

Two communities annually will receive help in building and implementing plans modeling state-of-the-art rural development in an era of climate change. Copans said he hopes to encourage communities to “embrace the transition to a new economy.”

Working with its partners and Pownal residents, VCRD will form a steering committee and begin a series of community forums by June to solicit ideas. “We want (residents) to identify what the community wants to work on,” he said.

Residents will be encouraged to look at the town’s assets and opportunities and brainstorm ways to create a secure and vibrant future. Anyone hoping to be involved can contact Copans at [email protected] or 802-225-6393.

“The interest we have seen in this new program is encouraging. We had a tough decision to make in selecting from wonderful Vermont communities in all corners of the state,” said Paul Costello, executive director of the VCRD. “The Pownal team showed their readiness to embrace the opportunity to lead our transition to a new climate economy. They also made a compelling case that this effort must improve the financial health and well-being of all sectors of their community.”

State Rep. Bill Botzow, D-Pownal, called the town “an emerging climate economy community.”

He said recent renewable energy projects, “recycling with a vision,” value-added agriculture, farmers market producers, foresters, neighborhood health care and more define it as “a resilient community built on tradition and innovation.”

“This project offers Pownal the opportunity to see itself in a new light and take the next steps on this promising path,” he said.

The program will build on one of Pownal’s great assets: its natural resources, according to Shannon Barsotti, a town Planning Commission member. The town can protect the natural environment while encouraging economic development that links to progress happening throughout the region, Barsotti said.

The VCRD is a nonprofit organization charged by the federal farm bill to act as a neutral party in supporting the progress of Vermont communities.

Jim Therrien

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