New Milford achieves Sustainable CT Silver Certification: ‘An opportunity to sustain this momentum’

Town of New Milford

Town of New Milford

H John Voorhees III / Hearst Connecticut Media

NEW MILFORD — In what was described as a “Herculean effort,” at Monday’s Town Council meeting, the town has achieved Silver Certification in an initiative called Sustainable CT.

Sustainable CT is a statewide certification program that’s run by the sustainable Energy Institute at Eastern Connecticut University. It inspires and supports communities in becoming more efficient, resilient, and inclusive.

In completing the initiative, the town achieved tasks in a variety of categories such as economic development, land and natural resources, arts and culture, public services, infrastructure, and planning.

The highest level of Sustainable CT certification offered is silver, said New Milford resident Stephen Gass, co-caption of the Sustainable CT New Milford Action Team and owner of The Gass Co., a media design and production firm. The town achieved Bronze status in 2018.

A year in the making

In his presentation, Gass said the road to Silver took about one year for the town to achieve.

“About the last week in October, Juliane (Bailey) and I met with the Town Council via Zoom to talk about this idea,” he said. “We set our goal for Silver certification and went through the list of hundreds and hundreds of possible sustainability actions, and they evaluated each one individually as to what would be involved to achieve it.”

An initial group of about 30 — made up of volunteers and municipal leaders — gathered together to begin the project.

“We touched every department, commission and committee and several businesses and private residents to get this to happen,” Gass said.

Another 50 or 60 people were then brought in to help. In total, close to 100 people played a part in the effort.

“We clocked thousands and thousands of hours over a 12-month period,” Gass said. “We responded to 40 different actions.

He added the actions involved hundreds of separate documents, as well as plans, maps inventories and reports.”

To attain Silver Certification, the town needed to achieve a minimum of 400 points — but it far surpassed that goal.

“We ultimately submitted 920 points worth of action and were awarded 870 of those 920,” Gass said.

The town received the third highest number of points following Greenwich and New Haven, and is one of 27 towns statewide that has achieved this status, according to Gass’ presentation.

The achievement was accomplished at no cost to the town, Gass said.

Sustainable CT is funded by several nonprofits. Additionally, the initiative generated $40,000 “in special projects, independent of anything coming from the town,” Gass said.

Initiatives the town chose to accomplish to attain Silver Certification include the Great Brook Hulton Meadow Park clean-up and restoration, the Arts by Youth initiative — My Heart Beats For, developing an affordable housing plan, and the creation of newmilfordnow.org, a new arts, commerce and recreation site for residents and tourists.

Achieving sustainability means much more than caring for one’s environment, Gass said.

“It involves your local economy, and sustainability is about everybody in town,” he said. “The health and well being of your economy is dependent on the health and well being of your environment, which in turn is dependent on the health and well being of your people. Unless you look at all of these pieces of the puzzle together, wherever it is you think you want to go, you’re not going to get there.”

Bailey, who was also involved in achieving Silver Certification, said she’s grateful for everyone who played a role.

“Lovely kudos have begun rolling in from (U.S. Rep.) Jahana Hayes' office and UConn, which provided a pro- bono intern and faculty support for our Brownfields inventory and mapping efforts,” she said. “We also had incredible help from Dr. Amy Brown, PhD, and an intern in UConn's School of Engineering, in rationalizing the system that tracks automatically our town's energy usage municipal building by building.”

Bailey added the town’s Sustainability team also launched, led or identified multiple projects in “everything from the arts, restoring streams, cataloging open spaces, our town's natural resources and wildlife, invasive species management to sustainable municipal purchasing, homelessness prevention...and a lot in between.”

Going forward

Gass said achieving Silver Certification is not the end goal for New Milford — far from it.

“We have an opportunity to sustain this momentum,” he said. “Sustainability and this award — while it may be about today — is all about tomorrow. So, we need to analyze what we’re looking at. We have to look at the priorities and prioritize them so we are all marching in the same direction.”

He added the town now has an opportunity to showcase its accomplishments.

“This will give us yet another point of civic pride and ultimately when all this comes together, it will give us an opportunity to attract new business, which in turn attracts new families and a broader workforce,” Gass added.

New Milford and all other 2021 certified communities will be recognized later this month at the annual Convention of the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities. For more information, visit sustainablect.org.