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Highland Town Council still has questions about proposed sustainability commission

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STOCK_Highland Town Hall

The proposed sustainability commission will go before the town council again, during the Dec. 5 study session.

HIGHLAND — A formalized sustainability commission would give environmental efforts in Highland "teeth," Carlos Aburto told the Town Council during a Monday night study session.

"(By creating the commission) you’re beginning a process of really buying into the sustainability of the town," Aburto, a member of the Highland Park Board, said, "not just talking about it."

Legislation for a town sustainability commission was drafted by the group Highland Neighbors for Sustainability, which was formed in 2020. Under the proposed ordinance, the commission would consist of five representatives and would advise the town council on different environmental initiatives. Representatives would also research grants and bring them before the council. 

During the Monday study session, council members had a number of questions about what the commission's exact responsibilities would be.

"What makes this proposed commission an asset for Highland, why is it necessary and why is it necessary to be part of the governmental structure of Highland?” Councilman Mark Schocke, R-3rd, asked.

Cathy Perrin, of Highland Neighbors for Sustainability, said she would like to circulate a survey to gauge what environmental issues residents are interested in. Perrin said the commission could help plant native wildflowers and grasses in some of the town's green space and research solar resources to help residents install panels. 

Though Schocke said he supports the mission of the proposed commission, he asked to see something more concrete. Schocke would like the group to come up with three goals and a plan for execution. 

Michigan City and the city of LaPorte already have commissions, Gary has a Department of Sustainability and Environmental Affairs and Valparaiso has a citizen-led sustainability group. If the council approves the creation of a sustainability commission, Aburto said, the town could help lead neighboring communities. 

Across the globe, Aburto said environmental issues are taking center stage. Aburto noted that during the COP27 United Nations Climate Change Conference held earlier this month, Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb discussed Indiana's efforts to transition toward renewable energy resources.

"Everybody is becoming aware of this (the need for sustainability)," Aburto said. “We have to fall in line with it or we’re just going to be a town that doesn’t know what sustainability means."

Education would be a big part of the commission's work, Aburto said. The group could advise other town commissions, boards and departments on different sustainable practices. 

Aburto called the commission a "no-brainer."

The proposed ordinance will go before the council again during a Dec. 5 study session which will start at 6:30 p.m.

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