By John Colson
Sopris Sun Staff Writer
The Carbondale Board of Trustees is working its way to taking a renewed look at an old question — how the town can best articulate its broad environmental goals, which include reducing the town’s carbon footprint, safeguarding the quantity and quality of Carbondale’s water supplies and cutting back on the amount of trash heading to local landfills, among other things.
A discussion on the topic, at one time scheduled for April 18, is meant to address the idea that Carbondale could use an “environmental charter” or an “environmental bill of rights,” as has repeatedly been proposed by Trustee Frosty Merriott in recent months.
For several reasons, the trustees on Tuesday decided to hold off until a meeting later in the year, to provide more time for the trustees to refine their thinking and come up with proposals to present to the board.
Trustee Frosty Merriott, who was out of town the last time the trustees discussed the idea, on March 21, told The Sopris Sun this week that the idea for an environmental bill of rights first came out of a conversation he had with Trustee Heather Henry and Julia Farwell, chair of the volunteer Environmental Board that advises the board of trustees.
That conversation, according to Merriott, arose after the board of trustees declined, at least for now, to go along with an oft-stated goal of Merriott’s, to both broaden the town’s ban on plastic shopping bags and add to that a ban on the sale of “single-use” plastic bottles filled with water.
“As I remember it, Heather said that what we really need in Carbondale is an environmental charter, a framework for our goals,” Merriott said — an idea that prompted immediate agreement from Merriott and Farwell.
It was Merriott, though, who first brought the topic up at a board meeting several months ago, after Farwell had sent him links to the efforts of other towns along similar lines.
“We’re not reinventing the wheel here,” Merriott stressed, noting that the City of Aspen and Pitkin County long ago adopted an “Ecological Bill of Rights” (EBOR).
The EBOR, adopted in 1989, is posted on the city’s Environmental Health Department website, and Henry passed around a copy of the document to the other Carbondale trustees at the trustees meeting on March 21.
Henry, at that meeting, told her fellow trustees that she had seen other, similar documents adopted by other towns, but that they all “tend to read a lot like this,” pointing to the Aspen document.
Henry said at the meeting that, to her, the larger climate-change issues being debated nationwide and worldwide are linked to energy-related issues, such as recycling and composting as a way of keeping certain materials out of area landfills; energy-efficiency in government buildings, businesses and homes to cut down on the emission of greenhouse gases; and the town’s Green Building Codes that connect energy-efficiency goals to the development process in area towns and counties.
The trustees talked about ways to encourage public support for a Carbondale environmental charter, perhaps by holding public hearings to explain the concepts behind the charter and gauge public sentiment about the whole idea.
Trustee Katrina Byars suggested the town could adopt the Aspen EBOR by resolution, then get to work modifying the document to suit Carbondale’s specific needs.
And the mayor added that he liked the idea of a document proclaiming the town’s “intentions” concerning environmental programs and acts.
Merriott, in a phone interview with The Sopris Sun on April 7, reported that he had met with the mayor on April 5 to talk about the environmental-charter idea, and said it “went very well. I believe we’re all on the same page about this.”
He added that his own environmental activism started when he was in his early 20s, living in Louisiana, and would often take off on trash clean-up missions along local country roads.
Since then, he said, he has broadened his thinking to include opposition to the use of plastics, which he noted have been blamed for the creation of garbage “gyres” or huge trash whirlpools in the world’s oceans.
“There’s six times more plastic in the oceans than there is plankton,” he said, citing environmental studies of the issue.
Closer to home, Merriott said, the Pitkin County landfill (where Carbondale sends some of its trash) processed 25 million single-use plastic bottles in 2015, according to his calculations.
“If people are still using single-use plastic bottles without feeling guilty,” Merriott declared, “they are either irresponsible, or ignorant, or both on this issue.”
Adoption of an environmental charter, bill of rights, or whatever it is called, might be the best way of keeping the matter at the forefront of local policy discussions and educating the populace at the same time, Merriott maintained.
At the March 21 meeting, Mayor Dan Richardson concluded that the trustees might want to follow a two-step process — first work up a Carbondale Environmental Charter, possibly modeled after the Aspen/Pitkin County document; then link it to the town’s already adopted Environmental Action Plan, which has been the framework for the town’s eco-active programming over the past decade.
The other trustees agreed that the entire idea is worth pursuing, and that it should be placed on a future agenda of a regular trustee meeting, rather than a work session, although the date of that meeting has not been decided.