Candidates on the environment: Different paths to common ground
This year's candidates for first selectman and selectman squared off in a debate on environmental issues Monday, and though they generally agreed on the need incorporate forward-thinking environmentalism into town management, they parted ways on which team offers the better solutions.
"We all need to know what are the issues that are important to environmental sustainability to our town," said Tony McDowell, the new executive director of Earthplace, which hosted the debate.
In her opening remarks, Democratic selectman candidate Melissa Kane, now a District 3 member of the Representative Town Meeting, called herself and Democratic first selectman candidate Helen Garten, the Board of Finance vice chairwoman, "unapologetic environmentalists."
"Good environmental stewardship leads to good public health, increased property values and a better way of life," Kane said.
"It's not a Republican or a Democratic issue on a local level," Kaner said. "We don't have any coal-burning plants. We do have a lot of SUVs."
Kaner was critical of Garten on the issue of deer management locally, saying, "I believe our opponent voted against" funding an aerial study of deer herds.
A short time later, after Kaner made commented on the importance of public transportation, Kane countered. "I'm really glad to see Avi come around to this way of thinking because I know you cut the transit budget two years in a row," she said.
Asked about the local deer population, Marpe blamed the tick-carrying animals for his daughter's affliction with Lyme disease 11 years ago, "no doubt as a result of the deer population ... As a result, I guess I'm not necessarily a friend of the deer."
Still, both he and Garten said they do not favor allowing deer hunting in town.
Prompted by a question from town Conservation Director Alicia Mozian about the care of trees in town, both on public and private properties, the candidates appeared to favor different approaches.
Garten spoke out against developers clear-cutting wide swaths of properties to make way for construction. "I certainly would support some sort of regulation ... about clear-cutting lots when there are developments."
She also favored the idea of marking some old trees as "historic" in an effort to preserve them, especially along rivers, where she said they help control pollution and stop erosion.
Kane, too, noted the many "teardowns that occur daily in Westport," coupled with lot clear-cutting, which she said not only leads to erosion, but also the planting of non-native vegetation.
"I'd like to see trees protected," she said, "just as I'd like to see a little less of the development."
Marpe, however, was reluctant to add regulations on land use, and said he wants to educate homeowners on the possibilities of having trees moved to different sites on their property in order to make room for building, as he did at his home.
At one point, Kaner said the downtown stretch of Main Street "looks like the Stamford Mall," and add he would like to see it beautified with more trees. He also suggested creation of a pathway along the Saugatuck River, which would link existing parks.
Garten proposed looking for opportunities to purchase more open space, especially along the river, noting that the town hasn't actively pursued such purchases for some time.
Kaner, who supermarkets in New York City, said he would like to implement a variety of energy-saving techniques he uses there for town buildings here, such as switching over to LED lighting and using light-activation sensors. He said he'd also like to integrate the environmental platform into the budgeting process, having each department submit information regarding its ecological programming with each budget request.
Garten said that environmental programs among town agencies need to be better coordinated. "Being green can make economic sense for our community in the long run," she said.