Oct. 14—City leaders in Salem and Beverly are teaming up to tackle climate work, with hopes that a bigger combined mouth can bite off larger pieces of the carbon-neutrality apples coming in 2030 and 2050.
City councils in both the Garden and Witch cities met jointly Wednesday night to hear an update on "Resilient Together," a cross-city effort to pool resources at each City Hall so projects with common goals can share energy and ultimately be more impactful.
"We're hoping this meeting could really ensure we're building awareness and growing advocacy for a climate change agenda, and that we can dual-track it," said Salem Mayor Kim Driscoll at the meeting's opening. "It's a lot easier to jump into the deep end of the pool when you're doing it with someone else."
The work was started with a separate goal being tackled by the administration of Mayor Mike Cahill in Beverly, Driscoll said, which later prompted Salem officials to reach out and ask about teaming up. As such, the meeting in part focused on the work the two cities have done separately. Officials on opposite sides of the bridge showed support for Beverly's newly opened, energy-neutral police station on Elliott Street, and Salem's green building ordinance, which is still coming together and awaiting Salem City Council review.
The fact that the two bodies were meeting together felt historic to those who attended, even if the meeting was held virtually under the COVID-19 pandemic.
"I've known Councilor (Timothy) Flaherty for a long time," said Salem Ward 1 City Councilor Bob McCarthy, who stands to be dean of the body if re-elected in November. "We're both I think in our 14th years in our respective councils, and the first time we've ever been in any kind of a joint meeting between Salem and Beverly."
Midway through the meeting, Beverly Ward 4 City Councilor Scott Houseman implored the cities to do as much as they can together. He listed lobbying for changes at Beacon Hill as one example of the cities merging voices.
"I'm wondering what we can do to combine the leverages, if you will, or the strengths of our common voices, our two cities, to help push upon a resilience and clean energy future at the State House," Houseman said.
Responding enthusiastically, Driscoll said the "whole idea of meeting jointly was to hopefully ferment some of these ideas."
"I'm hoping we can hold hands at the local level," Driscoll said. "If there are ways to develop local policies, ordinances that we're working on, together, it makes for a more even playing field."
The meeting focused on a jointly held goal to cut fossil fuel usage to 50% by 2030 and 100% by 2050. Erina Keefe, Beverly's sustainability director and an ambassador leading the action plan, said the 2030 goal is within reach when "thinking about electrifying buildings (using renewable power sources, like solar panels), removing fossil fuels from our roads ... and our homes, businesses and buildings."
But that can be difficult, Driscoll cautioned, as efforts to cut carbon emissions can go well just as easily as they can become unpopular for some.
"There are opportunities at the local level for us to grow existing programs and maybe think about using some of our own resources," Driscoll said. "We know how many cars Skipper (Salem's ride-share system) has taken off the road. ... We also know things like bike lanes trigger people who don't always like them. How are we going to think about meeting our transportation goals if we can't provide alternative means of getting around our communities that enable less single-occupancy vehicles?"
For more on Resilient Together, visit resilient-together.org. To read live coverage of this meeting, visit bit.ly/3AF2JEj.