COG hears student conservation report

GOSHEN — Conservation efforts have ramped up from coast to coast as the nation works to achieve President Joe Biden’s  “America the Beautiful” executive order. Looking to expand conservancy in the area, the Northwest Hills Council of Governments (COG) reviewed a series of environmental studies during its March 9 meeting.

The report from students at the Conway School in Northampton, Massachusetts, provided the COG with information on the present state of conservancy in the area and suggested ways to further protect the environment.

“22.6% of the region is currently conserved,” said Conway student Shayne Geiger while addressing the COG.

Their report offered insight on how the Northwest corner can work toward achieving the federal 30 by 30 conservation goal, which aims to protect 30% of all lands and waters nationwide by the year 2030. A Conway study found that of the 735 miles of river that traverse the region, 178 (24%) are currently impaired due to high levels of bacteria.

The presentation stated that protection and restoration of riparian zones around impaired rivers could improve water quality and create jobs through local and federal funding programs.

“There’s also a need to continue, as land trusts are doing, to prioritize those ecologically important areas,” said Conway’s Carrie Gotwals.

Gotwals explained that acquiring lands adjacent to protected parcels can increase habitat connectivity and promote climate resilience by facilitating species migration.

Following the presentation, town leaders provided updates on their municipalities during an information sharing round table. Budget requests and inflation were common topics across the board as towns have been preparing spending plans for the fiscal year. Members of the COG pointed to rising education, health care, and energy costs among the leading causes of increased expenses this year.

Norfolk First Selectman Matthew Riiska informed the COG that his town was “breaking ground as we speak” on a 5-megawatt solar project at their transfer station. Riiska said the project is expected to be completed by late summer.

Salisbury First Selectman Curtis Rand provided an update on affordable housing in his town. He said there are “over 80 proposed units of affordable housing on acreage that the town owns.” Rand said these projects were made possible through new zoning regulations that allowed for the creation of high-density zones in the village centers.

Falls Village and Cornwall reported that the long-awaited installation of high-speed internet cable has begun in their towns. Falls Village First Selectman Henry Todd said that internet service provider Frontier is “covering about 85% of our town,” and First Selectman Gordon Ridgway informed the COG that Optimum has started to install fiber optic cable across Cornwall.

During this meeting, the COG agreed to move forward with acquiring a new office at 355 Goshen Road in Litchfield.

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