BAR HARBOR — The town took a next step Tuesday in responding to the climate emergency it declared in November when a new town Climate Task Force was created, despite some uncertainty about the details of the group’s work and whether the town is the best entity to organize it.
Town Council Chairman Jeff Dobbs compared the decision to a Town Council vote 25 years ago to support creation of the Island Explorer bus system. “The council was asked to support this crazy idea and boy did we do the right thing. So, I guess this is a gut vote.”
The council voted 6-1 to create the task force and begin accepting applications for the nine-member group. Councilor Stephen Coston was the dissenting vote.
The debate unfolded in a similar way to the November meeting when the student group asked the council to declare a climate emergency and approve a resolution they had drafted: councilors expressed support for the goal of drastically reducing the town’s greenhouse gas emissions, but said they wanted to be sure they didn’t agree to anything they wouldn’t be able to deliver on.
The task force is expected to recommend the town hire a consultant to help lead and organize the work. “If someone in the community says to me tomorrow morning, ‘What is that person going to do?’ I won’t have an answer,” Councilor Jill Goldthwait said.
“Assigning duties would be a responsibility of the task force,” Mount Desert Island High School student Lily Crikelair said. “We were here in November and what we were told was, ‘We don’t know enough about (the proposed climate emergency resolution) to pass it.’”
Bar Harbor is the only Mount Desert Island town that has been “approached to consider the climate resolution or declare a climate emergency,” Town Manager Cornell Knight wrote in a memo to councilors. A stakeholder group has held several meetings since November. At the most recent of these, Knight wrote, “it was noted that everyone (including me) is too busy to take the lead on this project but this is what the stakeholders are recommending.”
He recommended the high school lead the effort, since “much of the work is about public education,” and the school is a regional institution connected to several towns.
“If this were any other type of emergency, you wouldn’t be looking to the school to solve it,” said College of the Atlantic student Ania Wright, who is also a youth member of the Maine Climate Council.
Knight also defended the work the town has done and is doing to reduce emissions and use more renewable energy, including installing solar arrays, purchasing electric vehicles and planning for more bike paths.
“You were yelled at by a teacher that you don’t get it” at the November meeting, he told councilors. “I disagree. You do get it. You just don’t need another task force.”
Councilor Stephen Coston noted the town recently purchased a fire truck with an expected life of 25 years, but the mission as the task force in the draft provided for the meeting cited a goal of “ending community-wide greenhouse gas emissions by Dec. 31, 2030.”
Councilors plan to make changes to the group’s mission and bylaws at their next meeting. Dobbs noted that creating the task force does not obligate the town to spend any money, except the staff time required to host the task force meetings.