POWNAL — Shannon Barsotti, Pownal Planning Commission member, loves to sit on her porch and watch the Hoosic River flow by her home in the Pownal Valley. Beyond the peace of the water, Barsotti saw potential not just for the river, but also the many natural resources of Pownal.
“The Vermont Council on Rural Development were seeking communities to participate in their partnership with Green Mountain Power and Efficiency Vermont called the Climate Economy Model Communities Program,” Barsotti said. “I applied, and Pownal was chosen as the first community to participate in the state.”
The three-year project will include two communities a year, and provide them with both financial and state agency support. Pownal will have its community kickoff in mid-June. Another community will join the initiative in the fall. According to Jon Copans, project manager at Rural Development, town leaders will help to identify projects that will lead a rural community into an age of climate change and, hopefully, increased prosperity.
The large farm and agricultural community along with the substantial forest is a wonderful base for the project. Pownal is known for its beautiful farmland, forests and scenic Hoosic River Valley, Copans said. The Low Income Trust for Vermont and the High Meadow Fund are fundingthe three-year model community program, with a goal of reaching families of all income levels, to help them maximize their transition into a new climate economy.
In early May, a steering committee will meet to develop local initiatives modeling state-of-the-art rural development in an age of climate change. The committee includes members of the Hoosic River Water Association, the Pownal Select Board, businesses, Rural Development and specialists involved with energy efficiency, recycling and agriculture.
“Pownal has the perfect framework for clean energy and economic development, which we can build on,” said Barsotti.
Specific projects may include the use of solar panels, weatherizing of homes, creation of bike paths and trails, efficiency power uses for farms and forests, recycling and creation of hydro power.
“We see this as a way for economic development to also increase the tourism in our area,” she said.
After the kickoff in June, when local residents will have a chance to weigh in on projects and explore how they can be involved, state agencies will join in to help the community. Students from Williams College’s environmental department will have the opportunity to work hands-on with the project and offer their insight.
“The goal is to transform Pownal into a climate-smart community by implementing comprehensive efficiency efforts, transportation system improvements, renewable-energy generation, entrepreneurship and business incubation to spur economic progress,” said Copans.
Barsotti added they want to link Pownal to the increased recreational and tourism economic development that is happening in the region. This includes the arts and cultural communities in the Northern Berkshires, as well as the redevelopment of downtown Bennington. Rural Development saw a lot of enthusiasm and interest in this program. One reason Pownal was chosen is because they made a strong case that the financial health and well-being of all community members would be improved, according to Copans.
Members of the Pownal community are encouraged to participate. There will be an invitation sent out announcing the date and time of the kickoff event. Those wanting to be involved can contact Copans at firstname.lastname@example.org, or call him at 225-6393.