TOWN OF BETHLEHEM
2155 Main Street
Bethlehem, NH 03574
Minutes of June 27, 2023 Meeting of Sustainability Working Group
The meeting of the Sustainability Working Group (“Group”) commenced in the Bethlehem Library at 5:37 PM. Present were Bruce Caplain, Bruce Etter, Barry Zitser, Alvah Johnson, Madeline Koehler and Rachelle Lyons.
Bruce Caplain read the following Mission Statement that was adopted at the Group’s last meeting:
The purpose of the Sustainability Working Group is to facilitate, educate and enable residents, businesses and municipal entities on economic, environmental, and socially sustainable practices so humans and nature can exist in productive harmony for present and future generations, while collaborating with others when appropriate.
The minutes of the May 23, 2023 meeting were unanimously approved with the addition of the phrase “…other groups as determined by the Energy Commission”, at the end of the sentence which begins: “Bruce C. suggested including NH Clean Energy as an additional author”.
Bruce Caplain will also reach out to NH Clean Energy to see whether there is a potential for partnering with the group for a fall event.
There was a discussion about the election of a Chair for the Group. Among the benefits of designating a Chair is having someone responsible for scheduling meetings and putting together agendas. There would also be a representative to sign letters on behalf of the Group. Bruce Caplain was the only nomination put forward and seconded for the position. He was unanimously elected (with the nominee abstaining) on the understanding that there was no set term for the position and that there might be a decision in the future to have a rotating Chair.
Bruce Caplain circulated the Colonial’s response on the possibility of working with the Group on a future sustainability series. The response was enthusiastic, and Bruce suggested that the Colonial’s currently scheduled series for this year was sufficient. Rachelle suggested that we keep a list of items we might want to pursue for a longer view, including proposals for consideration by the Colonial for next year.
Bruce Caplain had previously circulated Rachelle’s reference to a global movement known as Plastic Free July, promoted by the Plastic Free Foundation. Bruce Caplain loves the idea and was wondering if there is something that the Group could still do to promote the movement. Rachelle stated that she would look into the possibility of getting a donation for the distribution of reusable produce bags. Bruce Caplain suggested that we could promote the movement through social media such as the Bethlehem News, emails, and Facebook. He volunteered to contact Chris Jensen concerning Bethlehem News and its email list, and also to look into the possibility of publicizing the Group’s ideas on the Town website with Pam Sullivan.
Rachelle noted that Cheryl Jensen of the Conservation Commission has been coordinating activities with the Ten Towns’ Initiative that is focused on reducing plastic use. Bruce Caplain volunteered to contact Cheryl about the Ten Towns’ Initiative. He also emphasized that this discussion begs for the Group to have its own page on the Town website and to develop its own email list, including the email lists of existing Town commissions, such as the Conservation Commission and the Transfer Station Committee.
Barry mentioned that the next edition of the Transfer Station Committee’s Just Be Greener publication might address the June 5th public informational meeting held on the proposed new transfer station on Route 116. The meeting did address the need to reduce plastic use, and perhaps the next edition could expand on further options to achieve this goal. Bruce Caplain raised the possibility of putting together a challenge for Plastic Free July, and developing a list of suggestions to reduce plastic use. Madeline volunteered to create social media accounts to publish this information, and Rachelle could compile some content.
Rachelle suggested that the Group publicize the achievements of our own Town businesses, which could encourage other businesses to be innovative in pursuing sustainable practices. Bruce Etter stated that there are detergents that come in sheets that do not rely on plastic containers. He doesn’t recall seeing them in local grocery stores, as opposed to being available for purchase on the internet. Bruce Caplain volunteered to reach out to the Littleton Coop to consider sustainable, non-plastic options and whether the Coop could promote Plastic Free July.
Individual achievements for reducing plastic use could also be celebrated. Barry noted that some members of the Transfer Station Committee participated in setting up a virtual swap shop for Bethlehem residents on Facebook for large items that are not suitable to be brought to a transfer station swap shop. Rachelle noted that it is listed as Bethlehem NH Free for the Taking, and that it currently has more than 500 members.
Barry updated the Group on the Town’s application with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) for an approximately $310,000 grant to build a new transfer station on Route 116. The Town was recently notified by the USDA that money for such projects had become so substantially limited for the coming year that little, if any funding, would be available for the Town’s project. The total funding limit for such projects for all of Vermont and New Hampshire for the coming year is less than the grant requested by the Town. The Town would be allowed to keep an open application, but it was suggested that the grant might have to be scaled down to $50,000 to $75,000 for a future year. Barry noted that when the Town was first encouraged by USDA to apply for the grant by mid-April he was left with the clear impression that money was available to fund 35% of the cost of a transfer station even more costly than proposed in the Town’s application. The information from USDA suggested that the reduced funding might have been due to Congressional earmarks.
Most of the remaining agenda items, concerning values and goals, along with events and some key working groups, were addressed during the discussion revolving around Plastic Free July. Bruce Caplain stated we have not addressed the item concerning buildings and forests. He acknowledged that although there are limits on changing building codes many buildings do not efficiently utilize their current space and engage is wasteful utility usage. As to forests, there is more potential to influence sustainability, such as requiring replanting of trees for each tree that is cut down. There was a discussion of perhaps having an arbor day in April.
There was a conversation about endangered trees, such as ash trees, which are being besieged by insects, and other factors. Bruce Etter will look into whether there are preventive measures, such as injections, which can preserve healthy trees. Bruce Caplain will reach out to the Select Board to become more proactive in managing our trees and forests. It was suggested that perhaps a school project could look into the potential for more sustainable trees. Alvah stated he might bring this up when school resumes.
On the subject of whether the Group should take on NH Saves, Barry suggested that perhaps we could add this as one of the subjects on the Group’s social media.
The subject of conducting a resident challenge was again addressed, with the possibility of setting forth a number of options for people to choose and adopt. Bruce Caplain noted that proposals for such a challenge should not be condescending but be motivational. Madeline suggested that perhaps a challenge could consist of the person who achieves the most home composting. Rachelle stated that we might get some ideas from existing challenges offered by other governmental and non-governmental organizations. Alvah stated he could do some research to look into creating a challenge This should be addressed at future meetings, along with prioritizing and defining our issues and efforts.
Barry noted that one of the issues that is not the focus of any existing Town committee or commission is public transit. There is a declining percentage of persons with driving licenses, due to our aging population and the inability to afford motor vehicles. Alvah noted that it cost him $700 just to obtain the driver’s education necessary to obtain a license. Bruce Etter later noted that this fee has recently been raised to $800.
A motion was made, seconded, and unanimously adopted to authorize the Chair to write a letter to the head of Tri-County Transit, Jeanene McDonald, to request a meeting at a time to her convenience in her Berlin Office, to discuss public transit options that may be available to, or can be encouraged by, the Town. Barry volunteered to give the Chair some suggestions for the letter.
The meeting adjourned at 6:44 PM.