GROTON — The following article on Groton’s Task Force on Climate Change and Sustainability was published in The Day Feb. 24, 2011. It was written by Day Staff Writer Judy Benson.

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A committee charged by the Town Council with examining current and future local impacts of climate change and how the town should respond presented the results of two years of meetings, discussion and research Tuesday [Feb. 22], concluding that the town should make climate change response a “central organizing principle” of planning and development.

“You will set the tone and set the direction for how this community will operate as a community” as the town faces rising sea levels and other effects, said Zell Steever, chairman of the Task Force on Climate Change and Sustainability. “These are huge opportunities as well as difficult challenges.”

Steever gave a summary of a report prepared by the task force and gave blue binders with copies of the entire report to each councilor. Instead of acting on the document, councilors decided to take time to read it and have the task force return March 8 for discussion and possible action on their recommendations.

In the report, the task force asserts that by considering climate change effects in land use and other decisions, the town and taxpayers will save money and avoid property damage and other harmful effects. The most important actions the town should take involve increasing energy efficiency to reduce the town’s output of greenhouse gases that are the main drivers of climate change, and preparing for a sea level rise that threatens to flood coastal neighborhoods, the report states.

“To those who think climate change is something for the future,” the report states, “let’s be clear that today we already face a clear and present danger in Groton from hurricanes and major nor’easter storms.

“We need, right now, to think about public safety and what are the prudent responses and alternatives to these looming natural disasters for our community today and tomorrow, never mind the added challenges of climate change in the future.”

Working with a $198,100 federal grant, data on the town’s carbon footprint – the amount of energy used by the town that corresponds to the amount of greenhouse gases being emitted – have been collected, but analysis is not yet complete. The task force has asked the town to hire a consultant to find ways to conserve energy that can be adopted in the town’s 60 buildings. One building, the Charles Barnum School, has had energy efficient lighting installed, but a similar project planned for the town library has not yet begun.

The report also warns that given predicted rises in sea levels, development policies for Groton Long Point and downtown Mystic will need to be changed. It recommends that the town review all zoning and planning regulations for needed changes; adopt building codes that promote energy efficiency and use of environmentally friendly materials; and provide access to efficient mass transportation.

“We need to encourage people to move away from vulnerable areas, not into them,” the report states.

Other recommended actions for the council include:

–promoting education on climate change, energy conservation, efficiency and sustainability in the community and schools.

–securing grants for energy efficiency and conservation projects

–conducting a communitywide “vulnerability assessment” to identify properties most susceptible to flooding.

–establishing the task force as a permanent body. The task force is scheduled to have its last meeting Feb. 28, having fulfilled its two-year commission from the council.

–creating the Groton Energy Fund to finance efficiency projects.

–establishing a new town office for climate change and sustainability staffed by a climate change and sustainability officer. One of the officer’s main responsibilities would be to apply for state and federal grants for energy efficiency initiatives and climate change hazard reductions.

–“We think this is crucial,” Steever said. “We’re missing the opportunity” to tap grants currently available.