Low hanging fruit

On August 28, 2011, I went on a tubing excursion on the Mad River. I grew up in hurricane country and knew the day before the storm would be a gorgeous one, as the massive low pressure system to our south drew in all the clouds and moisture.

It was a gorgeous day, and my friends and I followed it up with a great meal at the Alchemist in Waterbury; we waited a long time to be served and finally sat down at nearly 10pm to what may have been one of the last meals ever served at that fantastic brew pub.

The next day, I watched the storm from my Burlington window; it didn’t look too bad, but then the news from further south and east started to come in and I realized that the full impact of the storm was mostly felt elsewhere. What I didn’t realize was that the impact of that storm would play a big role in my life for much of the next four years. At that time, I was the president of the Vermont Green Building Network, and I realized that climate change played a role in the increase in heavy rainfall in Vermont.

When Irene hit, the ground was already saturated by months of wetter than normal weather; in May, Lake Champlain had crested at a level that surpassed previous records by an order of magnitude, and Irene brought a second wave of flooding- two “Hundred Year” floods within a 4 month period.

In late September, I led two trips to help rebuild and restore the 1836 country store in Wilmington, adding insulation donated by retailers in various locations across Vermont. Shortly after that, I began work to respond to an RFP from the State of Vermont to address the damage to the Waterbury State Office Complex. I toured the flood damaged complex, where mud was still visible on the second stories of some buildings.

In January of 2012, the architecture firm where I work was awarded a contract to produce a study on how the state could replace the lost office space; we produced 4 options, all of which focused on sustainable design and resiliency to flooding and other impacts of climate change.

Two of the options involved reuse in Waterbury, and the others explored the big picture impacts on the environment and on Vermont taxpayers of new buildings elsewhere.

We were later awarded the contract to design the new complex, and I have been a part of the design team since then, making trips to the site almost weekly and working hard to make sure the buildings are as energy efficient, flood resistant, and resilient as they can be, while restoring the best of the existing buildings and bringing over 900 state employees back to the Waterbury community.

In a state like Vermont, with some of the oldest building stock in the country, improving the energy efficiency of existing buildings is truly the low hanging fruit when it comes to achieving energy independence, and while we are leaders in achieving this, there is always more we can do.

That’s why I support putting a price on carbon pollution and establishing an energy independence fund.