Groton – Following is an article by Judy Benson, reporter for The Day, that appeared in the newspaper’s June 29, 2010 edition:

The town should set an example for residents of maximizing energy efficiency in town buildings, installing solar panels on new buildings and adopting planning, development and building codes that require efficient use of water and land, and protect forests and open space.

Those were some of the suggestions made by residents who attended a “listening session” Monday of the Groton Task Force on Climate Change and Sustainable Community.

The task force had asked the public for its ideas about how the town should respond and adapt to climate change while also making the town more energy efficient, environmentally friendly, improving the quality of life and enhancing its economy. It was the first of four such meetings the task force has scheduled over the next three weeks. Businesses, local officials and members of town boards and commissioners were asked to attend the upcoming sessions.

Task Force Chairman Zell Steever, in introductory comments, summed up the panel’s charge: “How do we go on an energy diet and still maintain our quality of life?”

The seven-member panel was established by the Town Council in December 2008 for a two-year term with the purpose of developing recommendations and a plan of action for the town to face and adapt to the challenges of climate change.

The first of 15 speakers was Todd Fake of the University of Connecticut at Avery Point’s Marine Sciences Department. In a short PowerPoint presentation, he showed examples of storm and sea level rise maps being developed at the campus. The maps, he said can be used by town planners to predict which neighborhoods are most vulnerable to flooding as the climate change brings more frequent intense storms and rising seas. In maps he showed, significant stretches of the town’s coastal areas near Groton-New London Airport and Groton Long Point are under water in various climate change and storm scenarios.

“They would be useful in making decisions about evacuation,” he said, as well as for planning.

Sidney Van Zandt, the next speaker, called for changes in rules governing town development so that more open space and woodlands are protected as buffers for stormwater and to absorb carbon dioxide. New construction should be directed toward reuse of areas that have sewer and water lines, she said, and impervious surfaces should be minimized. These are roads, parking lots and other artificial surfaces that don’t absorb stormwater, but instead permit it to run directly into rivers and streams, carrying pollutants with it.

Her husband, Claiborne Van Zandt, called it “tragic” that the neither of two new town buildings – the senior center and the Fitch High School addition – include solar panels.

“The town needs to be sure that for any project, the energy aspects are considered very carefully before the design starts,” he said. “Energy efficiency should be a prime concern of the people in the planning department.”

Horace Newbury called for the town to prepare for rising sea levels and heavier rainfall by installing larger culverts and raising roads in shoreline neighborhoods. Other speakers said that the town should initiate more walking and bicycling trails, water efficiency requirements for homes and businesses, municipal vehicles that use renewable energy, replacement of old lighting with energy efficient fixtures and long-term planning that minimizes population growth, among other suggestions.