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At students’ urging, Tupper town passes climate resolution

Tupper Lake High School senior Sophia Martin, standing, addresses the Tupper Lake town board Thursday about becoming a Climate Smart Community. At the board table from left are Councilman John Quinn, Supervisor Patti Littlefield and Councilman Michael Dechene. (Enterprise photo — Aaron Cerbone)

TUPPER LAKE — This town board passed a resolution Thursday recognizing climate change and resolving to take steps to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Seven Tupper Lake Middle-High School students from the school’s Green Team, along with team adviser and special education teacher Lee Kyler, attended the town board meeting to propose the resolution, which passed unanimously after their presentation.

Senior Sophia Martin addressed the board and laid out a plan for the town to become a Climate Smart Community, part of a state Department of Environmental Conservation program that awards grants to communities aiming to become greener.

Saranac Lake and Lake Placid have designated themselves as Climate Smart Communities, and Martin said Tupper Lake, with a strong connection to the environment and being home of the Wild Center nature museum, should be one, too. There are 262 registered CSCs in New York.

“It was something that I was surprised we haven’t done,” Martin said.

Seven Tupper Lake students Emily Burns, Sophia Martin, Charlotte Price, Aaron Price, Lily St. Onge, Ruby Ladue and Libby Gillis, along with Green Team leader Lee Kyler and Wild Center employee Erin Griffin, asked the Tupper Lake Town Council to pass a climate resolution Thursday, which it did. (Enterprise photo — Aaron Cerbone)

Martin said she got the idea to have Tupper Lake become a CSC after attending a workshop at the Adirondack Youth Climate Summit, hosted at Wild Center in November.

Erin Griffin, the climate and community manager at the Wild Center and Saranac Lake’s CSC coordinator, was also in attendance, as she helped guide the creation of the presentation.

Students Charlotte Price, Aaron Price, Lily St. Onge, Ruby Ladue and Libby Gillis from the Green Team also attended.

Kyler said Tupper Lake students developed a community climate action plan after the event last year.

“Sometimes after the climate summit it’s easy to let things fall or not follow up, but Sophia and the rest of the seniors did a really good job of finishing this,” Kyler said.

The students’ plan also included doing a compost audit of the cafeteria’s food waste. Composting starts at both schools in September. Senior Emily Burns said with these two goals being met before the school year is done, she feels “accomplished” and said the Green Team has been successful.

Communities registered with the CSC program can limit greenhouse gas emissions to earn points toward a bronze (120 points) or silver (300 points) certification. The more the communities work to limit emissions, the more eligible they are for grants to fund more green projects.

Last year, though, there were no grants awarded in the North Country. Kyler said that is an opportunity for Tupper Lake. The presentation showed that in 2017 the town of Indian Lake received a large grant for the construction of a firehouse and regional security center.

“I’m particularly impressed with the grant for the town of Indian Lake, the firehouse,” town Supervisor Patti Littlefield said. “That’s a lot of money, $639,000.”

The board took a vote and passed it, to the sound of applauding students.

“This is sort of like motherhood and apple pie. Who can be against it?” town Councilman John Quinn said. “Perhaps not our current president, but I think any other free thinker in this country recognizes that there is a problem now with climate change.”

The resolution states that the cause of climate change is “primarily due to the burning of fossil fuels.”

“We have the salutatorian (Martin) and valedictorian (Burns) of the class reading this program,” Councilman Mike Dechene said. “That tells me everything right there. Some of the brightest kids in the class of 2019 are pushing this. It’s very impressive.”

Kyler said he was surprised how easily the measure passed and was encouraged that the town is putting its decision to combat climate change in writing.

“The biggest thing is that now the town of Tupper Lake recognizes that climate change is something that is real, that is impacting people in the town,” Kyler said. “In a lot of ways the resolution is symbolic. It’s sort of just a first bureaucratic step, but it’s an important one.”

Students said the decision surprised them, too.

“It was like a sudden realization that we have just made a pretty lasting impact on the way that our town runs,” Burns said. “It was shocking.”

“Honestly, I never thought that I’d feel so accomplished about something to do with our town’s government,” Martin said. “I could tell that we were really working with people who understand. They’re from this town. They recognize climate change. They appreciate any sort of efforts to reduce it.”

Next the town will develop a community task force made up of school members, board members and community members to determine the projects it will tackle to make Tupper Lake a greener town.

“I think that it’s imperative that everybody — whether it is a town, village, city, state, the country in particular — get on board with this and accept it as a scientific fact,” Quinn said. “It’s not a theory any more. It’s real. It’s happening.”

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