During a recent public hearing related to the new five-year City of La Crosse Capital Budget plan, a community member asked where within the plan were the items that got our city closer to a carbon neutral future. Where were the green energy projects? Where was the focus on non-vehicle transportation? Where were the sustainable flood improvements that would help better safeguard our community against ever-increasing hazards from climate change?
Many of our city infrastructure projects do indeed include a sustainable component. Placement of solar panels on several city buildings is evidence of this. As is our transit system’s investment in a new electric fleet of buses. Additionally, updates to the wastewater treatment plant on Isle la Plume will make that plant fully self-sustaining and energy independent once the project is complete in just a couple of years. All good projects. But not enough to meet the demand of our rapidly changing climate and its negative impacts on our community. We simply lack the financial ability to do much more.
Every year, we debate priorities in city infrastructure plans and whether those plans should skew more heavily towards public safety or parks, streets or sewers, levees or libraries. There exists a competition for scarce resources and an understanding that some projects must simply get set aside. Maybe permanently.
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Within that project planning process, we clearly need to allocate more towards sustainability. Our changing climate demands it. Historic rains and damaging floods this summer were just the latest sign of urgency in this climate crisis. Unfortunately, additional sustainable project funding is extraordinarily challenging in this fiscal environment. Federal assistance simply must be a part of the funding formula.
There is a strong infrastructure investment opportunity for the entire nation within the bipartisan $1 trillion plan that has been approved by the Senate and is moving forward in the House. That bill will help our nation address long-neglected roads, bridges, and lock and dam systems in ways that we haven’t seen in decades. Critically, the proposal also tackles the need to expand broadband access and dedicates historic dollars towards sustainability.
When President Biden visited La Crosse this summer, he was eager to hear about the city’s commitment to a more climate-resilient future through our investments in electric buses. It is this very type of sustainable investment that we can continue to make in our community with not only the first bipartisan infrastructure bill but also with the president’s Build Back Better plan. This progressive plan focuses on infrastructure in ways never seen in this nation. The plan lowers healthcare and childcare costs and adds an additional boost to sustainability through job training and energy efficiency block grants.
As our city council debates operating and capital budgets this fall, tough decisions will have to be made. That is true every year. With federal investments through the current infrastructure proposals, future budget debate could yield many more sustainable achievements for our community. That can get us closer to carbon neutral goals in La Crosse, help protect our homes from increasing threats of climate change and create a model of sustainability for communities across the nation and around the globe.
Mitch Reynolds is mayor of La Crosse.