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Mayor Heartwell outlines future of Grand Rapids climate resiliency

Mayor Heartwell talks about several programs focused on the future of Grand Rapids sustainability and climate resiliency.

Grand Rapids Climate Resiliency Report

Grand Rapids commitment to climate resiliency was greatly influenced by the 2013 report, "Grand Rapids Climate Resiliency Report." The report was published by the West Michigan Environmental Action Council (WMEAC) and Grand Rapids Office of Energy and Sustainability. It investigates Grand Rapids capabilities of resisting future climate change using a "Triple Bottom Line" framework, concentrated on the social, economical and environmental implications of a dynamic climate, and includes climate forecasting through 2022.

Grand Rapids Mayor, George Heartwell is known for his progressive environmental and sustainability policy. In 2010 Grand Rapids was named the country's most sustainable midsized city by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. While Grand Rapids has made significant strides in improving its sustainably and green infrastructure, the city is now striving to drastically improve its resiliency to climate change.

"I'd like to think by 2020 we are going to be the nation's most resilient midsized city," says Heartwell.

One of the foremost concerns over climate resiliency comes from the reported inadequacies of Grand Rapids stormwater management system. A significant rain event, like the one that caused the 2012 flood, has the possibility of overwhelming current stormwater infrastructure in place. The first portion of investment related to climate change will focus on stormwater management.

"We've done some good things already, if you look at Plainfield Avenue and the bio retention islands. Any new designs for streets are typically now including bump outs for traffic protection but also used for planning areas to absorb stormwater, rather than having grey asphalt that just repels it," says Heartwell.  

Further steps toward sustainable stormwater infrastructure came as the Grand Rapids City Commission recently passed a resolution forming the Stormwater Oversight Committee. The committee is charged with guiding the development of future sustainable stormwater infrastructure.

The city is currently working on two major renewable electrical power generation projects. The first is a "biodigester" that will use energy emitted through wastewater to produce electricity for the Waste Water Treatment Plant, and save energy equivalent to that of powering 500 homes. The second program involves the development of a solar array at the Butterworth Landfill.

The Wastewater Biodigester is reported to be under construction by the end of 2014 and the Butterworth Landfill solar array by 2015.

Grand Rapids is also making strides to improve its mass transportation system, an important step toward climate resiliency, based on recommendations outlined in the Resiliency Report. The "Silver Line," a part of the Division Avenue Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) Project is scheduled to launch in the summer of 2014.

"Citizens will be able to ride the Silver Line in August of 2014 and we are well into the planning for the second line that will go from Grand Rapids to Allendale and the campus of GVSU," says Heartwell.

The city is also in the planning stages to develop an electric streetcar line downtown. The line will run roughly from Leonard Street down Monroe Avenue to the Rapid Central Station.

"That committee is together now and we have $250,000 in planning money to begin doing the preliminary engineering and planning work. It's going to be a very transparent process and you'll be able to watch that process unfold over the course of the next year," says Heartwell. "We could see rail as early as 2016."

Steps toward developing a climate resilient city are being met with some opposition. Some local leaders are concerned about funding development projects focused on green infrastructure, without overburdening citizens. There is also opposition surrounding the legitimacy of climate change throughout the country, including members of Congress.

"Maybe history will prove me wrong, and 100 years from now you'll be able to laugh in my face. But in the meantime, we are going to work on having better transit, we are going to build better and more energy efficient buildings, we are going to use resources to fuel our electrical power generation that are perpetual and won't run out at some point in time and we are going to have cars that are going to produce less emissions and therefore lessen conditions for asthma and respiratory disease," says Heartwell. "Those are all things that society ought to invest in and local government ought to be doing for the benefit of its citizens whether or not there's a change in climate."

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All of this is simply great;  I am so happy to live in a city with such collaborative and thoughtful leadership.  Great work!

> We could see rail as early as 2016

Wonderful.  Is there a way for citizens to contribute?  I'll make a donation.  This would make getting around downtown so simple - especially when the weather is lousy.  Build it, please.

There is also opposition surrounding the legitimacy of climate change throughout the country, including members of Congress. 

"throughout the country" seems a little misleading. There is an overwhelming scientific consensus, and I would hardly say our members of Congress are experts on climate change.