SOMERS, N.Y. - Receiving recognition for sustainability efforts that might make other towns “green” with envy doesn’t mean Somers is content to rest on its laurels.

After being declared a “Climate Smart Community” by the state, Somers was named recently as one of Westchester County’s first-ever Eco Award winners.

But it couldn’t have done it, town officials say, without the cooperation of residents and the efforts of local volunteer groups such the Somers Energy Environment Committee (SEEC).

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The committee, a tireless advocate for sustainability, was chartered by the town in 2008.

Eco Award recipients were announced in June by County Executive George Latimer and Louis Vetrone, deputy commissioner of the county’s Department of Environmental Facilities.

The winners included residents, students, businesses, municipalities, nonprofits, and other organizations.

The brand-new award, Latimer said, provides “an opportunity to recognize those individuals and institutions who contribute to making Westchester a great place to live, work and visit by improving and caring for our local environment.”

Somers was lauded for “demonstrating a commitment to sustainability.”

Read at the Town Board’s July 12 meeting was a letter from state Sen. Terrence Murphy congratulating Supervisor Rick Morrissey and the “entire town of Somers” for the honor, which, he said, is “evidence of the town’s valuable contributions to the environment and sustainability.”

“I know a great deal of hard work was involved in earning this designation and I applaud the town’s commitment to sustainability,” the letter stated.

SEEC efforts recognized

At the meeting, town officials expressed gratitude for the SEEC’s contributions to local energy and environmental initiatives.
Receiving a certificate on behalf of the committee were members Chris Zaberto and Jason Crawford.

Don Bleasdale and Jerry Stern are committee co-chairs. Other current members are Frank Maricic, Stacie Vourakis, Rick Warren, Marialisa Zywotchenko, and Jane Harsha, who has served on the committee since its inception. Past chairmen were Herb Oringel and Michael Blum.

The committee, in a mission statement posted on its website, said its primary role is to act “as a conduit for the purpose of promoting and communicating environmentally sound and cost-effective initiatives in order to reduce CO2 emissions and energy consumption while making effective use of relevant town resources.”

The big three

According to Councilman Richard G. Clinchy, who is the committee’s Town Board liaison, the three biggest eco-initiatives the town has undertaken—so far—are: Solarize Westchester, Energize Somers, and Community Choice Aggregation (CCA).

The first involved a countywide initiative that offered residents significant discounts off the cost of installing solar photovoltaic (PV) systems, as well as incentives from state and federal governments.

It is funded by the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA), a public benefit corporation, through NY-Sun. The intent is to increase energy efficiency, save money, use renewable energy, and reduce reliance on fossil fuels.

Energize Somers is an initiative of Sustainable Westchester and promotes home energy efficiency.

This is just as important, Clinchy said, because not every home, or business, is able to use solar panels.

Energize participants receive free energy efficiency audits and subsidies when corrective work is necessary. They then pay back the cost through their energy bills.

Under the CCA program, municipal governments such as Somers can form buying groups on behalf of its citizens.
Combining the buying power of residents allows the community to be more effective in negotiating electricity rates than an individual customers might be.

Residents are automatically signed up for the electricity provider chosen through the program—in this case, it was Constellation Energy—but can opt out and stick with, for instance, New York State Electric and Gas Corp. (NYSEG).

Sustaining momentum

Also part of the town’s continuing efforts to “go green” are, according to Morrissey’s 2018 “State of the Town” summary: the acquisition of an electric vehicle for its fleet, the construction of an electric vehicle charging station, the installation of solar panels on the library, the planned installation of solar panels at the highway garage, and energy benchmarking of town buildings.

Morrissey said this week that the town is also seeking grants to build sidewalks in its business and historic district, and maybe along Route 116 so folks can walk to and from the train station in Purdys. Less driving obviously cuts down on fossil fuel usage, and it’s healthier for folks, too.

The supervisor also pointed out that DeCicco & Sons, a boutique supermarket chain that is building a store in Somers, received an Eco Award in June.

DeCicco Marketplaces are located in Ardsley, Armonk, Brewster, Harrison, Larchmont, Millwood, and Jefferson Valley.
The long-awaited supermarket will be located in the hamlet of Somers on Route 202 across from the entrance to Heritage Hills.

According to the county, the chain’s supermarkets are among the nation’s “most energy-efficient, cleanest and greenest.”
Volunteers make it work

Clinchy, noting that volunteers are among any town’s most valuable assets, praised the SEEC’s efforts. “These folks are dedicated. For them, it’s all about what’s good for the town, the environment,” he said.

It’s good to publicly recognize such hard work because it can inspire other residents to become volunteers, Clinchy added.

Said Morrissey: Somers is a place “where people just don’t sit at home; they come out (to volunteer). And that’s what makes this town great.”

Councilman Anthony J. Cirieco also thanked the committee, saying “You’re doing a great job.”
It has found “very innovative” ways to protect the town’s environment and to save its residents money, he said later.

At the meeting, Clinchy assured the SEEC folks that he and other town leaders will “always listen and go as far as we can” with initiatives the committee supports and promotes.

“Your job is to push us. We appreciate it and I know the whole town does,” the councilman said.