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Looking at Sustainability in Snoqualmie


April 26, 2016 by Jill Sterrett
Category: Climate Change

Looking at Sustainability in Snoqualmie

Image: Snoqualmie City Hall is a model of green building design, which will increase energy efficiency and move the city toward stronger environmental stewardship.

Sometimes stories about huge global issues can be very personal.

Ten years ago, Snoqualmie mayor Matt Larson received a letter from a middle school girl asking what their city was doing about climate change. The letter hit home, he met with the girl, and decided to take action. One of the many actions he took was to ask faculty at the University of Washington to help.

Since I was teaching an undergraduate class that engaged students in projects for local communities, we took on the mayors’ request.  As part of this class, students developed a citizen survey, held an interactive town hall meeting, and produced an informational website on climate change and sustainability issues for the city.

Mayor Larson felt the city was ready for more.  So we formed a paid internship team of graduate and undergraduate students for a 9-month project to create a Sustainability Strategy for the city of Snoqualmie.  The final strategy covered a wide variety of issues from flooding and ecosystem protection to health and food security, capped by a Sustainable Decision-Making Tool designed to help integrate sustainability practices into the daily operations of the city.  The city’s newly formed Sustainability Advisory Committee, which included that letter-writing middle school girl, provided input and valuable suggestions over the course of the project.

In the years since the UW student work in planning, the city has amassed a strong record of action in both climate change and sustainability.

2009: U.S. Mayors Climate Protection Agreement

In 2009, Mayor Larson signed the U.S. Mayors Climate Protection agreement. This agreement is described below by a 2009 report from the United States Conference of Mayors Climate Protection Center:

Mayors are on the front lines of impacting human behavior - from their work on recycling, to aids prevention, and prostate cancer, they are changing human behavior every day. This is one of many reasons why 1,060 mayors continue to join The U.S. Conference of Mayors' Climate Protection Agreement, vowing to reduce carbon emissions in their cities below 1990 levels, in line with the Kyoto Protocol. Seattle’s former Mayor Greg Nickels was the founder of this movement.

Under the leadership of The Conference, the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant (EECBG) Program was conceived, making it possible for the first time in U.S. history, for cities, counties and states to receive grants specifically to fund energy-efficiency projects. This program was a top priority of the Mayors' 10-Point Plan and the Mayors' MainStreet Recovery Program. The Obama Administration earlier this year, acted to distribute $2.8 billion for EECBG, included in the Recovery Package (ARRA), which will benefit hundreds of U.S. cities.

2010: Green City Hall

Snoqualmie City Hall was dedicated in January, 2010. It centralizes citizen access to city services by housing the mayor's office, the city administrator's office, the city council chambers, and five city departments, all of which were previously located in four separate buildings. Designed as a model for other green buildings in the city, city hall building elements that significantly reduce energy use include:

  • A natural ventilation system to move fresh air through the building, reducing energy usage while increasing oxygen and thermal comfort,

  • R38 insulation made with recycled content,

  • Gas-fired condensing boiler to convert more fuel into useful heat and produce less carbon dioxide,

  • Exterior shading devices to prevent solar heat gain and improve natural lighting, and

  • Optimized 'low-emissivity' window glazing to reduce heating and cooling needs.

2013: PSE Take Charge Green Power Challenge

After competing against the cities of Anacortes, Bainbridge Island, Kirkland, and Tumwater, Snoqualmie won the PSE Take Charge Green Power Challenge by securing the highest percentage increase in new Green Power Program participants. Snoqualmie has won a total of $40,000 to be used to install solar panels at the Snoqualmie Valley YMCA. PSE’s announcement says: Congratulations Snoqualmie!  You are 2013’s “Greenest Town in Puget Sound."

2016: Comprehensive Plan Update

The city’s Comprehensive Plan update will be adopted this year.  It incorporates many of the concepts and specific actions offered in the Sustainability Strategy.  The Comprehensive Plan’s vision core components includes:

Snoqualmie Is: A Unified City with Strong Leadership that cultivates community, incorporates equity and sustainability in decision- making, fosters partnerships to further local and regional goals, and thrives through active citizen engagement.

Other projects are in the works. By next year, Snoqualmie Elementary School will be receiving a new solar power system thanks to a successful "Solarize Snoqualmie" initiative. In this initiative, the city of Snoqualmie and NW Wind and Solar agreed that the company would donate 1-kilowatt for every 10 contracts signed for residential solar panel installation. The Snoqualmie Elementary School prepares to ‪#‎GoSolar, with a donated 4-kilowattt system, as 40 contracts have been signed within the community.  The 4-kilowatt system would offset more than 104,000 pounds of carbon dioxide during its first 25 years of operation.

Mayor Larson continues looking forward to explore how climate change will affect Snoqualmie in the future, explaining: “Snoqualmie is threatened by climate change on three fronts: 1) The projections for more frequent and severe flooding, 2) Disruptions of hydropower production, and lastly 3) Impacts on recreational tourism.”

The city is taking action working with partners, such as FEMA on housing in flood zone areas and Puget Sound Energy on rebuilding the Snoqualmie Falls power plant.  They are also looking to diversify their economic and tourism base.  You can hear more from the Mayor of Snoqualmie in a new APA video on climate change.

And, to close the circle (or start another?) - this year my daughter taught her middle schools students in Brooklyn, New York, a unit about climate change which included writing a letter to their local mayor.

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We are looking for your stories! The Washington Chapter of the American Planning Association formed a task force that has developed resources for local communities to deal with Climate Change.  To date, the task force has prepared 17 Discussion briefs covering specific hazards (flooding, wildfire), broader impacts (food systems, health), and preparation (planning for adaptation).

The Washington Chapter also prepared a series of short videos on climate change and related topics for you to use in opening a discussion with your city council and the public. You can hear about Snoqualmie and other communities in the video on climate change.

We want to share more stories about cities in Washington that are taking action. Please let us know what your community is doing by contacting Jill Sterrett at: jill.sterrett@gmail.com.


MRSC is a private nonprofit organization serving local governments in Washington State. Eligible government agencies in Washington State may use our free, one-on-one Ask MRSC service to get answers to legal, policy, or financial questions.

About Jill Sterrett

Jill Sterrett writes for MRSC as a Planning Advisor.

Jill Sterrett has more than 30 years of experience as a planner and consultant to federal agencies, utility companies, and local governments in Washington State, Oregon, and California. Jill's areas of expertise include planning for climate change, comprehensive plans, historic preservation, strategic planning, and environmental planning. Jill is currently teaching as an affiliate instructor at the University of Washington in the Department of Urban Design and Planning, where she teaches a graduate course in Climate Change and Infrastructure.

The views expressed in Advisor columns represent the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of MRSC.

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