Suhoski: Athol a leader in green communities effort

  • Contributed photo Contributed photo

For the Athol Daily News
Published: 1/16/2023 2:44:10 PM
Modified: 1/16/2023 2:40:56 PM

ATHOL — The town of Athol, according to Town Manager Shaun Suhoski, was an early convert in the campaign for municipalities to operate in a way that causes less harm to the environment, both locally and regionally.

Recently, the town has begun development of a Municipal Decarbonization Plan, as well as a Municipal Vulnerability Preparedness strategy in response to accelerating changes in the environment.

“Moving to a more environmentally friendly manner and moving towards renewable energy is a good and noble cause, whether or not it appears in, for example, the goals and objectives set for me by the selectboard,” Suhoski told the Athol Daily News. “Athol was an early pioneer under former Town Manager David Ames as a Green Community in the commonwealth. We have continued each and every year to try and advance projects that keep us moving in that direction, but that also make sense economically and in a practical sense.”

With Suhoski’s endorsement, the town worked with the planning department, Department of Public Works, police and fire, and National Grid to do an assessment of the vehicle fleet and how the community could move toward renewable energy vehicles to reduce the carbon footprint.

“That’s where the town decarbonization plan comes in,” he said.

Solutions from around town

Suhoski praised the work of local residents and committees that have worked to come up with solutions to problems confronting the town as a result of environmental changes.

“These efforts have been led through our Energy Committee and citizens who have an interest and involvement in these things, and our town planner, who is always looking forward for best practices,” he said. “So I give those groups credit.

“My top line objectives have typically been around community and economic development, responsible budgeting and fiscal policies that would set the town on a longer term, more stable course where we’re not moving year to year from crisis to crisis. That being said, I’ve supported every project here at Town Hall that we’ve done.”

Suhoski pointed to the installation of EV charging stations at Town Hall. The town, he added, has supported an effort by the Athol Bird & Nature Club to expand EV charging stations to Millers River Environmental Center, the club’s home. More charging stations are planned for the former Pleasant Street School as part of that facility’s redevelopment.

“While it has not been at the very top of my priorities, it is in the thought process across our departments as we go forward,” said Suhoski. “So that’s why we have made progress each and every year.”

Other environmentally friendly efforts

Suhoski then ticked off some of the other steps the town has taken in response to climate change.

“We have invested money and capital funds into a Municipal Vulnerability Preparedness Plan for Lord Pond Plaza, which is an example of looking at greening that plaza, reducing that heat island, which it is, downtown.”

The town manager said he didn’t have enough fingers to count the number of projects the town has taken part in to promote green energy in municipal facilities.

“We are the municipal sponsor of a solar field in Hardwick, which is saving us on energy but is also investing in renewable power,” he said. “I think we’re in year six of the 25-year agreement, maybe year seven now. We see net metering credits from that.

“We’ve made improvements at Town Hall, the Senior Center, the DPW garage, the Police Department, the Fire Department, wastewater treatment plant, the water treatment facilities across the board. The library expansion is LEED (Leadership in Environmental and Energy Design) certified; that was done under my predecessor and the Building Committee for the library. That’s a leading example of energy efficiency in the construction and design of that facility.”

Suhoski said while green and clean energy may not be at the top of the priority list of every municipal department head, it is in the minds of all department leaders. He credited the town’s selectboard for being out front in the effort to promote renewable energy and energy conservation at town-owned facilities by endorsing the creation of Athol’s Decarbonization Task Force.

“I may be morphing energy into sustainability, but look at the Lake Ellis watershed plan,” he said. “We’re looking for longer term solutions so that we can manage weeds, but also manage that water body so that it’s healthy and not posing risks to residential neighbors and is healthy for the species that reside there.”

Suhoski gave credit to Town Planner Eric Smith for being the town’s boots on the ground. Suhoski believes that the town is on the cusp of being able to demonstrate the long-term cost-effectiveness of transitioning away from fossil fuels toward the use of more renewable energy across the municipal infrastructure.

“The folks on our Energy Committee are very passionate about what they do,” he said. “They want to see progress and each and every year we’re looking to make our buildings more efficient from an energy standpoint.”

Greg Vine can be reached at gvineadn@gmail.com.


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