Dr. Rosemarie Russo

Dr. Rosemarie Russo [Photo courtesy of the City of Moab]

The path forward for the Moab City Sustainability Plan continues to be developed during discussions between the city council and Sustainability Director Rosemarie Russo.

The sixth proposed version of the plan was discussed at the city council meeting on Nov. 12 after a previous version was tentatively approved by the council on Aug. 27.

The proposed plan outlines goals directing Moab to become a more sustainable community, focusing on areas like energy use, water conservation, and other strategies. The previous draft was criticized at the Aug. 27 meeting for not seeming “ready for us,” in the words of Councilmember Kalen Jones.

“I know it’s not exactly what everyone wants,” said Russo, addressing continuing edits and suggestions from the council, “but it’s a great document and I think that we should just approve it.”

Creating a Collaborative Plan

Councilmembers continued to express support for the project and document, while also expressing hopes for greater specificity and greater interaction with existing organizations already doing related work.

Evan Tyrrell, Solid Waste Special District #1 manager, spoke up about a perceived lack of interaction between the plan and his district.

The special district was created in 1992 by both the Grand County Council and Moab City Council. The district manages two landfill facilities for the disposal of solid waste generated by the residents and businesses in Grand County and is home to the Community Recycle Center.

“Basically, we’re designated to be a holistic management of waste throughout the county and city,” said Tyrrell.

“We are almost entirely excluded from the Sustainability Action Plan as it pertains to solid waste management and recycling,” said Tyrrell. “The Community Recycle Center is completely omitted...I feel like that is a very prominent service that’s been provided to the community for such a long period of time, and I strongly feel that it has served as a major catalyst towards sustainability in Moab and Grand County as a whole,” said Tyrrell, who also mentioned that he had drafted a long list of recommendations sent to council members.

Tyrrell expressed support for the plan’s ambitious goals and asked for the district to be included as an important stakeholder.

“The goals are quite optimistic, but I think they can be attained,” said Tyrrell. “But, I do feel that we should be consulted to reevaluate some of these items.”

Tyrrell noted that the statistics used within the plan to quantify solid waste did not match with his data from the two landfills. According to Tyrrell, municipal solid waste sent to the landfill increased by 42% between 2013 and 2018. Data in the Sustainability Plan, according to Tyrrell, was out of date.

“I feel like we could provide some much more practical numbers for 2019 as we approach the year-end,” said Tyrrell, running out his allotted three minutes set aside for public comment.

Russo protested the implication that she had left some organizations out of the plan, saying that many were mentioned in appendices to the plan or would be addressed in future documentation.

“There’s like 40 different nonprofits I’m working with,” she said.

The importance of involving community partners and forming collaborative relationships with private entities in order to make the goals within the plan achievable was underscored throughout the meeting.

“The important thing about that next step is, how do you work with partners?” said Councilmember Kalen Jones, encouraging greater collaboration with potential partners who are already doing work related to aspects of the plan, like the Moab Area Travel Council and the Solid Waste Special Service District #1.

“It can’t be just about ‘what is the city and the city sustainability director going to do?’ It’s more about, ‘how do we as a community recognize who’s working on what piece?’” said Jones.

Budgeting for Sustainability

“I feel like I still haven’t had a process to choose what are the short term priorities. That’s what I’m struggling with,” said Jones.

Niehaus agreed, pointing out that it makes it difficult to make budgeting decisions.

“What are we putting our money toward? Are we going to be ready to put money toward things listed in this plan?” said Niehaus.

“I’m happy with the fact that this is a living document and can change,” Councilmember Rani Derasary interjected, moving to focus the conversation on what language could be included to address Niehaus’s concerns and also add the contributions of the Solid Waste Special Service District #1 to the plan.

“We need to get to the next step where we can prioritize what items we’re investing in in the coming year, well in advance of when we budget,” said Derasary. The councilperson indicated that there were many ideas she found attractive in the plan but needed to figure out which had the most “bang for your buck,” in terms of impact.

“A lot of the projects we’ve done so far were through grants,” not through a budgeting process, said Russo.

Councilmember Karen Guzman-Newton noted that the majority of the funds requested in the plan would go toward composting and recycling programs.

“It seems like we can work with Grand County Waste Management on that,” she said, referring to the Solid Waste Special Service District #1 and bringing the conversation back to the importance of inter-agency collaboration.

Guzman-Newton pressed on the point.

“With those partnerships that we’re trying to build, whether for a shuttle system or recycling, who is in the lead for that? Do you have the capability to be that person?” she asked.

Deciding Scope and Specifics

“I know you guys are more interested in shuttles and mass transportation, but I think that’s a little outside this plan,” Russo said, saying that the current plan focuses on how to make Moab increasingly bike- and pedestrian-friendly.

However, Russo mentioned working on a grant for a pilot for an electric shuttle program, acknowledging that concerns had been raised over the potential cost for such a project. Moab Mayor Emily Niehaus cut in to explain that the costs that were of concern were more expansive than just the initial investment in the vehicle.

“It’s the driver, it’s the liability. The cost of the shuttle is not the cost of the bus,” Niehaus said.

Russo countered that partnering with a private entity to run the shuttle was a possibility.

Emily Niehaus began the discussion on the revised plan, asking for the section addressing residential graywater be expanded.

Niehaus sits on the Utah Water Quality Board, which was recently instrumental in changing the state’s rules on graywater to allow more homeowners to reuse water from sinks and showers for watering exterior landscapes.

“It’s the lowest hanging fruit in terms of what we can do for water conservation,” said Niehaus.

Niehaus also focused on strengthening guidelines for building standards and energy efficiency.

Niehaus had urged for tourist transportation to be addressed more specifically in the Sustainability Plan in previous discussion sessions.

“I love the plan. But I still wish that we had targets in place for transportation outside the city as well as more specific building standards that we could put in place immediately,” she said.

Niehaus confirmed that, should the plan be passed, it would not be committing the city to the included budget. City Manager Joel Linares confirmed that the plan would function more as guidelines, while funding issues would be hashed out in the appropriate budget meeting.

“This would outline what you’re trying to budget for, but it would not commit you to find a way to budget these items,” Linares said.

“If everyone’s pretty comfortable with it, I think that we’ll put it on the next agenda for adoption,” said Linares. The council all indicated agreement.

Moab City Council agendas, including documentation, can be found online at www.moabcity.org/AgendaCenter