Hudson Valley officials are ready to unveil an ambitious plan for green initiatives and economic development in hopes of eventually beating out other parts of the state for $90 million in government grants.
Though still in the draft phase, the Mid-Hudson Regional Sustainability Plan already offers a remarkably detailed, by-the-numbers portrait of the seven counties directly north of New York City.
The plan describes an economically and environmentally diverse region encompassing 198 municipalities and 4,500 square miles of land that boasts "robust transportation accessibility" and the Hudson River as its centerpiece. The draft is about 250 pages, but the final version will probably be 400-500 pages long, said Thomas Madden, Greenburgh's commissioner for community development and conservation. Madden is co-chairman of the report, along with Orange County Commissioner of Planning David Church.
"We had eight months to come up with this plan," Madden said. "When you have $90 million available for funding in the region, you can really help the region move ahead."
The plan was developed in response to a 2011 statewide initiative put together by Gov. Andrew Cuomo. The program divided New York State into 10 regions that will compete for grants intended to reduce carbon emissions while also creating jobs.
Known as the Cleaner, Greener Communities program, it is run by the New York State Energy Research Development Authority, which gave each of the 10 regions an initial grant of up to $1 million to develop their plans. Their finished reports must be submitted by Dec. 24. Next year, the 10 regions will each submit proposals for specific projects. Grants will be awarded in 2013 and continue during the next three years.
The counties defined as the Mid-Hudson area -- Westchester, Orange, Rockland, Dutchess, Putnam, Ulster and Sullivan -- were given a $865,000 grant that was used to support six working groups that involved 300 volunteers. The money also helped pay for creating www.engagemidhudson.com, an interactive website where citizens can weigh in.
In exploring the region's potential for future growth, the report looks at the five core topics of land use and transportation, agriculture and open space, energy, materials management and water resources. The plan cites climate change and the impact of flooding as key issues.
The first of two public meetings on the draft for the plan took place Tuesday at 6:30 p.m. at the SUNY Orange's Newburgh campus. The second is scheduled for 6:30-8:30 p.m. Thursday at the Westchester County Center at 198 Central Ave. in White Plains.
The plan describes the region as 20.6 percent urban -- defined as having 500 or residents per square mile. Westchester is the densest county, with 2,200 residents per square mile. The region contains 531,200 acres of forestland, accounting for 18 percent of the entire Mid-Hudson area.
About 40 percent of the region's population live within easy walking distance of mass transit. With most residents still heavily dependent on their cars, the report noted the need for additional work for local roads and bridges. The plan assessed 42 percent of the region's 2,691 bridges as either "functionally obsolete or structurally deficient." The average road was rated as in "fair" condition.
In analyzing greenhouse gas emissions, the report found that the region represents 0.5 percent of total U.S.emissions of carbon dioxide -- equivalent to the annual emissions for the entire country of Ecuador.
Although Westchester leads the seven-county region with the largest population, its 949,113 residents have the lowest per capita emission rate, at 10.11. By comparison, Putnam's 99,710 residents -- one of the counties with the smallest populations -- is the region's top greenhouse gases offender, with a per capita emission rate of 16.57. The region's single largest source of emissions is from on-road vehicles, according to the draft plan.
The document recommends stronger regional planning to address environmental issues.
"This is not a one-silver-bullet-fixes-everything approach," Madden said. "We're looking at this as a plan that counties and municipalities can implement into their local comprehensive plans to help them out."
Participants in the process say they may keep talking after the final plan is submitted in late December. For starters, the group's website will stay up for the rest of 2013.
"There is a desire among participants to continue meeting and chart our progress as we go and for the plan to be a living document that can be revised and enhanced over time," said Nina Orville, executive director for the Southern Westchester Energy Action Consortium, one of several organizations included in the planning process.