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Trustees consider an Ecological Bill of Rights

Locations: News Published

By John Colson
Sopris Sun Staff Writer

At the Carbondale Board of Trustees meeting on May 24, Trustee Frosty Merriott kicked off discussion of a proposed town Ecological Bill of Rights by holding up a partially crushed plastic water bottle he had found on the pavement next to his parked car outside Town Hall.

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“You can’t make this stuff up,” declared Merriott, who has advocated banning such single-use plastic bottles in town as part of the community’s commitment to environmental friendliness.

“Well, you can, but I didn’t,” he added with a grin, then launched into a set of remarks about the ongoing debate concerning whether Carbondale should adopt an Ecological Bill of Rights (EBOR) similar to the one that Aspen adopted nearly two decades ago.

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“The town needs to lead more by example” than by simply adopting an existing EBOR, Merriott said. “Sometimes we get push back when we copy Aspen.”

Along with crafting Carbondale’s own version of an environmental charter, he said, the trustees should consider updating the town’s mission statement, a two-page document that can be found at under the button for “Mayor and Trustees.”

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Merriott said the mission statement, when he read it recently, seemed outdated in many ways, but particularly with regard to Carbondale’s evolving environmental policies and outlook, as the town seeks ways to expand and solidify its efforts to reduce its environmental “footprint.”

He mentioned his fascination with a tradition known as the “Seventh Generation” basis for decision-making, which originated with a confederation of Mohawks and other Native American tribes in the eastern U.S. prior to the arrival of Europeans. Under that tradition, tribal decisions must be based on an examination of the decision’s impact on the seven succeeding generations.

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Former Aspen/Pitkin County Environmental Health Department director Tom Dunlop, who spoke in favor of the idea, said that where European culture might look perhaps five years down the road in planning for the future, the tribes were concerned with effects 150 years or more into the future.

Merriott and Trustee Heather Henry had submitted a 16-point treatise, titled “Town of Carbondale Environmental Charter,” that outlined a range of general goals and guidelines such as reducing solid waste, encouraging people to use cars less, maintaining high water quality for locals’ use, pushing for greater use of renewable energy sources and a call to “create a land use code that has environmental protection as a major priority,” among other provisions.

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The document, which is available as part of the meeting packet, recognizes that considerable headway already has been made by the town in many ways.

In terms of “leading by example,” Merriott suggested such measures as having water refill stations in public and private spaces, to encourage people to stop buying single-use water bottles that clog landfills and are a major component of pollution in the world’s oceans.

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“That’s one of the things I would like to see come out of this,” Merriott stated.

The other trustees, after thanking Merriott and Henry for their work so far, were supportive of the concept if skeptical on the details of implementation, as were several citizens who showed up to comment on the idea.

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“I think it’s really important” that Carbondale embark on this kind of effort, said Cholla Nicoll, a Carbondale resident and a veterinarian technician by trade.

And Wyatt Smetzer, a 15-year-old student at Colorado Rocky Mountain School who wrote an impassioned, environmentally oriented op-ed in the May 11 edition of The Sopris Sun, addressed the trustees with words drawn from the works of the late environmental writer Aldo Leopold in support of continued ecological advocacy by the town.

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“The land ethic is not something, like, crazy,” he said, explaining that it can be as simple as riding a bicycle to work, planting a garden, starting a compost pile and “just being thoughtful in everything you do.”

Mayor Dan Richardson said he initially felt “apprehension” about Merriott’s proposal for an environmental charter given Carbondale’s history of work in that regard but was moved by the statements of the trustees and citizens.

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“If we were to undertake it, and do it right, it would require a champion or champions” to move it forward, he said of such a document.

After discussion, it was agreed that Merriott, Henry, Environmental Board chairperson Julia Farwell and perhaps former Aspen/Pitkin County Environmental Health Department director Tom Dunlop would get started on coming up with a more definite proposal.

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That proposal could then be submitted to the board of trustees at a meeting later this year for further consideration.

In other action, the trustees:

• Heard a report from Kathleen Wanatowicz, public information officer for the Grand Avenue Bridge project in Glenwood Springs, about the upcoming 95-day closure of the bridge starting on Aug. 14. The closure is part of the replacement project for the bridge, which is a main link between Interstate 70 and the Roaring Fork Valley, and Wanatowicz described a number of anticipated problems and impacts resulting from the three-month closure as the old bridge is removed and a new one erected in its place.

• Approved a hike in water user fees for Carbondale residents.

Published in The Sopris Sun on May 24, 2017.