TARPON SPRINGS — A passionate group of city residents has been urging officials for months to form a sustainability committee. They want the committee to address environmental concerns in the city, including sea level rise that results in flooding during moderate storms.
Last summer Dory Larsen, an electric vehicle program associate at the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy and head of the Turn the Tide for Tarpon pro-sustainability group, petitioned the City Commission to hire a sustainability coordinator and form a citizen advisory board to help address the increased risks.
“We would like to see the city adopt a citizen advisory board that would build capacity for the sustainability coordinator and also to increase communication with the community at large,” Larsen said during the July 24 City Commission meeting.
Nearly eight months to the day later, Larsen’s request was granted. On Jan. 22, commissioners unanimously approved the creation of a sustainability committee. The details of what the panel will do will be hammered out later.
Commissioner David Banther noted that after Larsen raised the issue of a sustainability committee at the July 24 meeting, he and Mayor Chris Alahouzos asked City Manager Mark LeCouris to come up with a plan for creating the advisory panel.
At the Jan. 22 meeting, Banther, a money manager and real estate agent, said he is “probably “the last person you’d think would bring this item up.” He added, however: “When you hear enough citizens want something and they want to engage in a formal process to advise the city on important matters, and you have surrounding communities doing the same thing, I see no harm in allowing us to do that. I only see good coming from that.”
Alahouzos agreed, stating: “The environment is everybody’s responsibility. It’s the responsibility of the citizens, it’s the responsibility of the government, and all of us together have to work to make sure that the environment is going to be there, protected, not only us but for generations to come.”
Alahouzos thanked Larsen for the reams of information on sustainability she provided the city, noting, “This is more than a beginning, this is a lot of work that’s already in place” and said he believed the sustainability board would be very beneficial to the city.
In response, LeCouris noted the people urging the creation of the sustainability panel prefer to form a committee, rather than a board, due to the requirements of the state’s Government in the Sunshine laws.
At the Jan. 22 meeting, Larsen thanked commissioners for their commitment to sustainability, which includes the recent installation of the city’s first electric vehicle charging station, at City Hall, on Jan. 23.
“I just really wanted to thank everybody, again, that’s been involved in bringing this to this point for discussion, and, hopefully, moving forward with the creation of a committee or a board in order to make sure that there’s more engagement with citizens,” she said.
Larsen presented the commission Turn the Tide for Tarpon’s proposed sustainability ordinance, which is based on a similar measure in West Palm Beach. Its focus includes, she said, “Reducing greenhouse gas emissions, increasing energy efficiency, conserving water, reducing waste, and employing environmentally responsible products and technologies.”
“It lays out the intent of why we think this is important, and why other communities think it’s important as well,” Larsen said.
After the meeting, Larsen said she was pleased the City Commission recognizes the value the sustainability committee will bring to the city.
“There is an opportunity for citizens to help set goals and create an integrated sustainability plan for the City,” Larsen said. “Tarpon prides itself as a full-service city and this is a step toward continuing that for future generations. I'm glad this is coming to fruition.”