Environmental Sustainability in Athens

Environmental Sustainability

Conserving energy and building a more sustainable community

 Athens is working to save energy, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, conserve natural resources and upgrade infrastructure to reduce flood risk, and address the opportunities and challenges of the 21st century.

Reducing Emissions & Conserving Energy

A Clean Energy Community – An initiative of the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA), the Clean Energy Communities Program provides funding and technical support to communities that are implementing energy efficiency, renewable energy and sustainable development projects.  A community must complete four out of the 10 High Impact Actions that save energy and money, and contribute to lowering greenhouse gas emissions, to achieve the Clean Energy Community designation. The Village of Athens became a Clean Energy Community in 2019.  The Village received a grant after successfully completing the following high-impact actions:

Energy Use Benchmarking of Village-Owned Buildings – Benchmarking is a policy that a local government adopts that requires the annual reporting of energy used in municipal buildings. The public is informed of energy usage and costs annually and the Village can use the information to identify actions that will lead to energy and cost savings.

LED Streetlights – LED street lights last up to 100,000 hours and require much less maintenance than conventional street lights. By replacing conventional street lights with energy efficient LED technology, communities can reduce street light energy use by as much as 65 percent, generating cost savings and emission reductions. To complete this action, the Village demonstrated that a minimum of 50 percent of all municipal and utility-owned cobra-head-style street lights have been converted to LED.

Unified Solar Permit – The Unified Solar Permit is a standardized permit application designed to streamline the approval process for installing solar in the community. The standardized permit is expected to cut costs by creating a uniform permitting process in municipalities across the State. As municipalities adopt the permit, installers, homeowners and municipalities alike will save time and resources permitting solar electric systems.

Energy Code Enforcement Training – The Energy Code is a minimum building standard for energy efficiency, applicable to new construction and renovation of commercial and residential buildings in New York State. In small to medium sized communities, at least one code official must complete a NYSERDA-approved Clean Energy Communities Energy Code Enforcement Training series including both residential and commercial workshops.

Land Use & Natural Resource Initiatives

Comprehensive Planning – A municipality’s comprehensive plan provides a vision for the future of the community and recommends policies to achieve that vision. The Village of Athens produced and approved a comprehensive plan in 2007. Updates to the 2007 Comprehensive Plan are underway, and will include sustainability and resilience elements.  The updated plan is expected to be completed in early 2021.

Appointing a Conservation Advisory Council – The Village of Athens has established the first Conservation Advisory Council in Greene County.  Per NYS General Municipal Law, each municipality is sanctioned to create a Conservation Advisory Council (CAC) to advise local government on environmental matters and review development proposals with potential environmental impact. The Athens Conservation Advisory Council was established in 2020 and meets monthly. Meetings are open to the public and are held on the 3rd Thursday of the month from 6:30 to 8:00 pm at the Athens municipal building gym.  CAC meeting minutes are available through the Village Clerk’s office at voaclerk@yahoo.com or 518 945–1551.  

Participating in the Local Waterfront Revitalization Program – The Local Waterfront Revitalization Program (LWRP) is administered through the NYS Department of State and provides coastal areas, including Hudson Estuary riverfront communities, with support for planning and implementing improvements on their waterfront.  Climate adaptation and flood reduction strategies are encouraged as part of the LWRP process.  Athens completed a LWRP in 2002.  Information about the plan can be found on the Village’s Planning Documents page. The Village appointed a Waterfront Advisory Committee and has accessed funding through the LWRP to upgrade amenities at the waterfront park.

 Implementing Waterfront Zoning – Waterfront zoning is an important step that communities can take to reduce vulnerability to flooding.   Communities may adopt a Flood Damage Prevention Ordinance, create a Flood Overlay District, or pass an amendment to existing zoning that recognizes new FEMA Base Flood Elevations.  The NYS Community Risk and Resiliency Act (CRRA) will require municipalities to consider risks from sea-level-rise, flooding and other climate related hazards and will provide model local laws that can easily be adopted. The Village of Athens adopted a Flood Damage Prevention Ordinance and created a Waterfront District in 2013. More information about Zoning in the Village of Athens can be found here.

Conserving Natural Landscapes – The conservation of natural landscapes like forests and wetlands result in many benefits, including the reduction of flood damage.  Forests naturally reduce stormwater by slowing the movement of runoff and absorbing rain into the ground.  Wetlands allow water to slow down and spread out during heavy precipitation events, reducing flood volumes.  In tidal areas, wetlands may buffer upland areas from storm surge. Greene County worked with Greene Land Trust and partners to complete a Natural Resources Inventory that includes the Town and Village of Athens. The County also produced an Open Space & Recreation Plan in 2002.  

Conducting a Street Tree Inventory – Street Tree Inventories help communities to keep track of the location, size and condition of trees that help to shade neighborhoods and enhance quality of life. Assessing and tracking the condition of trees can help municipalities avoid costly damages by treating or removing diseased trees before they become a hazard.  The Village of Athens completed a street tree inventory and appointed a Tree Commission in 2017.  The Tree Commission and its responsibilities were absorbed by the Conservation Advisory Council in 2020.

Upgrading Infrastructure

Wastewater Treatment Plant Adaptation – Many wastewater treatment plants in the Hudson Valley are situated close to the river and are vulnerable to flooding. Over the long-term, communities may be forced to raise or fortify critical systems or even relocate wastewater treatment plants to higher ground, to protect from increasing flood risk.  In 2012, the Village completed improvements to the waste water treatment plant that included flood resistant design components.  All equipment that could not be installed above the 100-year flood elevation was designed to be submersible.  This design strategy minimizes damage and allows the plant to resume operations quickly after a flood event.

Sewer System Improvements – The 2014 National Climate Assessment indicated that the northeastern United States experienced a 71% increase in very heavy precipitation events from 1958 to 2012.  This heavy rainfall runoff can overwhelm infrastructure, causing an inadvertent release of sewage into waterways.  This problem is especially bad in areas where sewage and stormwater are combined into a single drainage system.  The Village of Athens is not permitted as combined system, but does experience issues related to the infiltration and inflow (I & I) of surface and groundwater into sewer lines. The Village has addressed these issues through two projects to slip-line sewer drainage pipes to reduce I & I, conducted in 2004 and 2013, with additional projects expected to be completed in 2020.  The Village also separates stormwater connections to sewage lines as they become known. The Athens sewer system was mapped in 2014.

Road-Stream Crossing Management Plan  The bridges and culverts that bring our roads over streams may not have the capacity to handle increasing storm water from more intense rainfall. Additionally, some culverts can also pose problems for the movement of fish and other aquatic animals. The Town of Athens partnered with Cornell Cooperative Extension to assess road-stream crossings and create a management plan to address problem areas.­ The Town of Athens Road Stream Crossing Management Plan includes the Village of Athens roadways.

Relocation of Flood-prone Infrastructure –The Village is relocating a Department of Public Works building that was located in the floodplain in close proximity to the Hudson.  The new building is being erected in a location out of the floodplain.

Flood Preparedness Resources

Hudson River Flood Resilience Network – The Hudson River Flood Resilience Network (FRN), is a group of Hudson riverfront communities that convene to provide mentorship and mutual support in addressing current and projected future flood risk. The group meets periodically for peer-to-peer interaction, hands-on learning opportunities, and presentations by experts on resilience-related topics. In addition to meetings, the FRN provides member communities with access to technical assistance and guidance on resilience-related programs, policies, organizations and funding opportunities.  The Village of Athens began participating in the FRN in 2020.

 Flood Preparedness Guide Athens is working with Cornell Cooperative Extension to create a Flood Preparedness Guide for Residents and Businesses that provides local information, as well as preparedness and recovery tips to reduce vulnerability to flooding.

Resources for Residents

Estimate your greenhouse gas emissions:

US Environmental Protection Agency Carbon Footprint Calculator

Ideas for reducing your greenhouse gas emissions:

Transportation

    • When possible, walk, bike and use mass transit options instead of driving
    • Bundle errands to reduce the amount of time spent in the car
    • Carpool
    • Choose the most fuel-efficient option when buying a vehicle
    • Practice driving habits that improve fuel economy
    • Drive a hybrid or electric vehicle when possible
    • Reduce or eliminate air travel and purchase carbon offsets to minimize impact of air travel emissions

Transportation Resources

    • US Department of Energy Fuel Economy Calculator – calculate your car’s MPG, find energy efficient cars, find tips on driving habits that save gasoline and money
    • NYS Drive Clean Rebate – point-of-sale rebate toward the purchase or lease of a new electric car
    • Sustainable Hudson Valley’s Drive Electric Hudson Valley – information about leasing or purchasing an electric vehicle

Consumer Purchases & Waste Reduction

    • Buy locally-made products
    • Purchase products with low or no packaging and/or buy in bulk
    • Avoid single use plastics
    • Buy used items instead of new ones
    • Reduce or eliminate meat consumption
    • Compost food waste
    • Reuse and recycle

Waste Reduction Resources

    • Composting information from Cornell Cooperative Extension

Home Energy Efficiency

Heating and cooling

    • Caulk windows and doors, install gaskets and foam insulation on wall outlets & light plates
    • Use weather strip or rope caulk and install plastic sheeting on drafty windows
    • Use sweeps or weatherstripping on drafty doors
    • Install insulating window shades and lower them on hot summer days and cold winter nights
    • Install and use a programmable thermostat, turn down heat while sleeping or away, and keep air conditioning at 78 degrees or warmer
    • Use a fan instead of air conditioning to provide cooling at a lower cost
    • Regularly service your heating system (yearly for oil, about every 2 years for natural gas). Replace filters on warm air systems

Appliances & Lighting

    • Turn off appliances and lights when not in use
    • When purchasing new appliances, consider buying ENERGY STAR rated appliances (they are certified to be more energy efficient)
    • Install ENERGY STAR CFL or LED light bulbs
    • Use motion sensor lighting outdoors
    • Hang your clothes to dry instead of using the electric dryer
    • Use “smart power strips” that shut off power to electronic devices when not in use

Conserve hot water

    • Wash only full loads of laundry and in cold water whenever possible
    • Insulate hot water pipes and electric water heaters
    • Use high-efficiency showerheads and shower and faucet aerators
    • Set your hot water heater to 120 degrees (make sure to turn off the electricity before adjusting your water heater’s temperature)
    • Fix any water leaks

Energy Efficiency Resources

    • Guide to New York State Energy Research & Development Authority (NYSERDA) Home Energy Efficiency Programs – guidance on available programs, eligibility and application information
    • Home Energy Audit – no cost energy audit to identify the root causes of energy inefficiency
    • EmPower New York – low-income households are eligible for free on-site energy use, education and strategies for managing their energy costs through the EmPower New York program
    • Residential Financing Options – two loan programs to help New York residents finance energy efficiency and renewable energy improvements
    • Weatherization Assistance Program (WAP) – enables low-income families to permanently reduce their energy bills by making their homes more energy efficient
    • Federal Tax Credits for Consumer Energy Efficiency – federal tax credits may be available for recently installed solar thermal, solar photovoltaic, geothermal or small wind turbine systems
    • Solarize Albany – a nonprofit organizations serving the Capital Region that promotes the use of renewable energy. Check out their website to learn more about rooftop solar, community solar and electric vehicles 

Flooding and Climate Change

Want to see what sea level rise looks like in your neighborhood?  Visit Scenic Hudson’s Sea Level Rise Mapper at http://scenichudson.org/slr/mapper to view projected impacts.

Visit the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation’s Climate Information Resources page for more information on our changing climate.

This content was created through a partnership between Resilience Communications & Consulting, LLC and Cornell University Water Resources Institute, with funding from the Environmental Protection Fund through the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation Hudson River Estuary Program.