By ERIN ROLL
On Friday Sept. 20, Montclair middle and high school students participated in a walkout, one of hundreds taking place around the world, calling attention to climate change. That same evening, residents gathered on Church Street where NJ Peace Action held its own rally bringing attention to environmental issues affecting our world.
And Montclair is doing what it can to lower its carbon footprint every day — weighing a proposed ban on single-use plastic bags, entering into a partnership for residents to get energy from renewable sources, installing more charging stations for electric vehicles, exploring adding electric vehicles to the township’s fleet and planting pollinator and vegetable gardens throughout Montclair.
For Gray Russell, the township’s sustainability officer, some of Montclair’s biggest contributions to helping lessen the effects of climate change involve switching over to greener energy.
Montclair has teamed up with Maplewood, South Orange, Millburn, Glen Ridge and Verona to bid on behalf of 53,000 households for a cleaner energy source. The group, the Sustainable Essex Alliance Energy Procurement Cooperative, is now one of the largest community energy aggregations in the state. The partnership means that Montclair residents are now receiving a higher percentage of its electricity — 40 percent, twice the state requirement of 20 percent — from renewable sources. In July, Direct Energy Services, LLC became the new energy supplier for the six towns.
Some households opted out of the SEA’s energy plan. But 12,345 households in Montclair are participating. The expected savings over the course of the 17-month contract, on average, is expected to be $150 for a house and $100 for an apartment.
The Association of New Jersey Environmental Commissions is awarding the SEA its 2019 Environmental Achievement Award, Russell said.
Electric vehicles could be the next step for the township’s fleet. The township’s health and human services director, would like to have an electric vehicle to replace an older department vehicle. “That is a big climate boost because it switches us away from petroleum and onto electricity,” Russell said.
Montclair does not have a charging station at the municipal building at this time. But Russell said Montclair is applying for grants from the NJ Department of Environmental Protection and from Volkswagen to install additional charging stations and to help Montclair invest in electric vehicles.
Montclair was the first town in New Jersey to install public electric vehicle charging stations in 2010. There are two in Montclair Center at the Fullerton Deck (next to the YMCA on Park Street); two at Crescent Parking Deck behind Church Street between South Fullerton Avenue and South Park Street; and two uptown in the Bellevue Avenue Upper Montclair shopping district.
The municipal-owned charging stations are under the purview of the Montclair Parking Authority, which tracks their energy usage. The original charging stations are now out of date and need to be replaced.
A number of private businesses have also installed their own charging stations as well, Russell said. Nauna’s Bella Casa/Quick Chek has two in their Valley Road Plaza at 148 Valley Road near Van Vleck Street. The Bravitas Group, noted for building and owning a number of LEED-certified, ecologically-friendly properties in town has installed a charging station at each of their two office locations — Hillside Square at 8 Hillside Ave. across from Hillside School and 105 Grove St. Brassworks.
Since Montclair residents who have electric vehicles charge their vehicles at home, the charging stations are an amenity for people visiting Montclair from out of town.
The charging stations all see regular use, but Russell did not have immediate access to the meters’ data.
For Lyle Landon, the head of Montclair’s environmental commission, the plastic bag ban debate is one of the most significant issues facing Montclair. The ordinance was to have come up for a vote in July, but was tabled after it was met with some resistance from Montclair merchants. The merchants asked for more time to prepare their businesses for the effects of a single-use bag ban.
Landon said the environmental commission hopes the ordinance can be expanded to include other materials, including polystyrene used as padding in electronics packaging or in food containers.
Montclair is a participating township in Sustainable Jersey, an organization that awards towns and cities for taking steps to become more environmentally friendly. Sustainable Jersey awards points to towns for completing actions such as starting up a green team, improving its infrastructure to enable more people to walk or bike, setting up a farmer’s market, or providing places where electric vehicles can charge up. The township received a bronze certification in 2016, with a total of 260 points as a result of installing electric vehicle charging stations, creating the Montclair Community Farms project at the Israel Crane House, and starting the Green Business Recognition Program.
Montclair has about two dozen businesses enrolled in its Green Business Registry. The participating businesses agree to take steps such as using sustainable packaging and utensils, or cutting down on disposable packaging, or upgrading to energy and water conserving appliances. One focus area has been to cut down on the use of plastic straws, a move encouraged by the group Clean Water Action.
The schools likewise participate in Sustainable Jersey’s counterpart for schools, which rewards schools for taking steps such as conducting energy audits, starting school gardens, and encouraging children to try healthy food choices.
The district also selected Charles H. Bullock School to be the environmental magnet school, among the district’s 11 schools. The school’s curriculum includes topics such as biodiversity, life cycles and natural resources. Field trips to Sandy Hook and the Meadowlands Environmental Center are also included. Some of the school’s projects have included a “Green Fair,” an energy efficiency study, and community service projects in which students help out at local organizations such as Toni’s Kitchen.
The Northeast Earth Coalition (NEEC) has helped set up pollinator gardens and community vegetable gardens in Montclair and in other towns in northern New Jersey, such as Paterson, Passaic and Totowa.
The group recently released monarch butterflies, just hatched from chrysalises, at the garden in Crane Park. NEEC is also installing signage at the park to explain the pollinator plants growing in the garden.
Jose German, the founder of NEEC, said that NEEC is hoping to establish a series of pollinator gardens that would form a “corridor” from Bay Street Station to the Sanctuary Community Garden, for birds, bees and other pollinators.
NEEC also helped set up the Sanctuary Community vegetable Garden at First Congregational Church. Another vegetable garden is being planned for Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church on Pine Street.
In addition to gardens, Montclair’s shade tree canopy is expected to receive some attention over the next several months as the township prepares its fall planting schedules. And this year, Landon said, the township may have to deal with some unwanted insects that attack the trees. Last year, Montclair found itself dealing with the emerald ash borer as a threat to the tree canopy. This year, the major insect threat is the spotted lanternfly, which could invade New Jersey from Pennsylvania. Unlike the emerald ash borer that only goes after ash trees, the spotted lanternfly will attack any tree, Landon said. “It just seems to like trees, period. So that’s a little scary.”