By Barrett Seaman—
Communities across Westchester County, including the rivertowns, are elevating the status of environmental sustainability enhancement as a function of local government. The latest move in that direction is in Irvington, where the village board recently created the position of Sustainability Director and hired village resident Charlotte Binns to fill it.
Binns will be paid $60-an-hour, up to 1,000 hours a year, to advise the board and village departments on policies and best practices in furtherance of renewable energy, clean air and water. She will liaise with Irvington’s volunteer groups, including its Green Policy Task Force, Climate Smart Communities Committee, the Irvington Woods Committee, the School Wellness and Sustainability Committee and Greater Irvington Land Trust (GILT).
Other rivertown villages have equivalent volunteer groups and rely on them to advise government. “We are fortunate,” says Sleepy Hollow Village Administrator Anthony Giaccio, “to have a very active Environmental Advisory Committee and Climate Smart Task Force.” But some local environmental activists feel that their recommendations sometimes get pushed down the list of priorities without a dedicated advocate in village hall. Having someone focus on such issues “can get good recommendations on the table quickly,” notes Dan Convissor, a member of Sleepy Hollow’s Environmental Advisory Council, “and if the Village implements them, that’s a good thing.”
Leaders of TEAC, Tarrytown’s Environmental Advisory Council, wrote to say it “applauds the Village of Irvington on their hiring a Sustainability Director and hopes that other local municipalities will soon follow suit. This action recognizes the importance of climate resilience in the vulnerable rivertowns area and should lead to even more effective action by the Village.”
Binns was one of five applicants for the job. Though her resume includes stints as a filmmaker, editor and creator of a software company that she subsequently sold, it also paints a portrait of an eco-dynamo who has practiced and preached environmentalism since she did a project on the Amazon in high school.
A graduate of Columbia, Binns applied training at Al Gore’s Climate Reality Project in her role as a community organizer in Brooklyn. For several years, she worked for Joule Community Power, a company that contracts with municipalities around the state to help their residents shift from fossil fuels to renewable energy providers. When she and her British-born husband moved to Irvington with their two sons in 2019, they bought a 150-year-old house and rendered it fossil fuel free and are in the process of installing solar. For fun, she keeps bees and chickens and has organized a dance meditation class held on the second Thursday of each month at the Yoga Love studio in the Bridge Street complex.
Though Irvington was awarded a bronze certificate by the New York State Climate Smart Communities Program in 2021, its board aims to get even cleaner. It recently launched an online survey (https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/NXWVRQB) to learn what environmental priorities the village’s residents have. It will be Binns’ job to sort through the results and recommend a plan of action. She says she is particularly interested in what the village’s youth want as much as what their parents do. She will work with the village to make sure the new fire house that is in the works is as sustainable as possible. She will be prodding them to bring more electric vehicles into the village fleet and to install more EV charging stations. What she will not be doing is ticketing landscaping companies for violation of gas-powered leaf blower laws. “We were careful to stay away from enforcement,” says Village Administrator Larry Schopfer in describing how the new position was crafted.
Having a dedicated sustainability officer is unusual for a small village like Irvington, which is alone, so far, among the rivertowns in having one. “The [municipalities] are filling the need in different ways, depending on their staffing plans,” says Lauren Brois of Sustainable Westchester. According to Peter McCartt, Director of Energy Conservation and Sustainability for the county, the larger communities—Mt.Vernon, New Rochelle, Yonkers—have dedicated sustainability positions. The City of White Plains has a working group representing the mayor’s office, DPW and the city’s Planning Commission. The Town of Bedford is able to afford an independent non-profit board that advises the government.Read or leave a comment on this story...