New Haven’s Environmental Advisory Council met on Wednesday night to discuss pertinent sustainability issues facing the city. From brainstorming ways to enforce the state’s idling law, to opposing the Wheeler Street transfer station proposal and planning a new sustainability bee, the committee considered many ways to ensure that New Haven becomes as green as possible.

“Not everybody can come to City Hall for a meeting on a Wednesday night,” council chair Laura Cahn said. “We want to be as inclusive as possible and to try to solve as many problems as possible to help fix the planet.”

On Wednesday, the group condemned a proposal from the private company All American Waste to expand a transfer station onto Wheeler Street. The council discussed ways to halt the approval process — the proposal must be approved by both the state and the Board of Alders before implementation can begin.

Ward 18 Alder Salvatore DeCola noted that he aims to stop the process at the state before it even reaches New Haven. DeCola mentioned that the company advertised the new station’s location as 19 Wheeler St. but that this location didn’t actually exist on the map, a fact the alder plans to bring to the attention of the state. Other council members and volunteers at the meeting agreed to help by creating a petition that, with fifty signatures, would force the state to hold a public hearing about the proposal.

Though Yale was mentioned several times in the meeting, it was rarely used in a positive context. The board raised concerns with a recent University initiative to implement AstroTurf on its competitive football field, citing a News article and other articles published in New Haven news outlets. Council members took issue with the fact that the rubber in AstroTurf could harm air quality, along with other dangers to human health and the environment. In addition, the council expressed disapproval with the University’s process for over-watering its golf course with hundreds of thousands of gallons of water per day, as well as with its high-tech scoreboard in the Yale Bowl.

The board also discussed a recent educational initiative — a new sustainability bee — and considered possible ways to reduce the use of plastic bags in New Haven.

Following discussions of recent initiatives, the council launched into brainstorming and critical analysis of their own processes and projects. Members believed that such a session would be important, noting that the committee was so busy with projects that it had little time for serious self-reflection and improvement. In this final session, they lamented over their lack of important resources.

The council is made up of officials from various city departments, representatives from the Board of Alders and community members. Anyone in the city can apply to be on the board, which was created soon after Mayor Toni Harp was sworn into office five years ago. According to Cahn, the council works to make sure everyone in New Haven can apply and be a part of the board’s process.

The board is tasked with a far-reaching and in-depth charter, which includes making legislative recommendations to local and state governments, advocating for productive environmental policies and practices, opposing environmentally harmful proposals, educating the New Haven people about environmental issues and more. In short, with the exception of two sustainability officers hired by the city in separate departments, the board is the entire environmental agency of the city of New Haven.

While reaffirming the board’s commitment to covering as wide of a swath as possible, Cahn explained the need for the brainstorming session.

“We don’t miss any issues and haven’t ever turned down any issue. We discuss every issue that comes up. Perhaps we haven’t yet found the appropriate method to deal with every issue,” Cahn told the News. “We have many processes we can use — we can advocate to the city, we can advocate to the state, we can go to other meetings, we are planning a couple of kids’ initiatives … We’re trying everything we can to engage every person we can with the issues they care about.”

Despite their seemingly overwhelming portfolio of projects and issue areas, the council has managed to make meaningful inroads — perhaps most notably in a city-wide fracking ban passed in early 2018 and in a voluntary ban on chemicals, via a recommendation from U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn.

New Haven’s Environmental Advisory Council convenes monthly. The group will next meet on March 6, on the second floor of City Hall.

Emmett Shell |