FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) – Fort Wayne Mayor Tom Henry along with other city officials held a press conference Friday to announce its new initiative to combat climate change.
‘Sustaining Fort Wayne’ is the city’s plan to help adapt and mitigate the climate crisis. It assesses the status of the city’s initiatives to combat climate issues and creates a monitoring system to ensure the city is making progress.
Its main focuses are on mitigation, adaptation and resiliency to help protect public health, maintain quality of life and help create jobs and boost economic development in the city.
Friday’s announcement is the first phase of projects the city plans to do with more phases coming in the future.
One of the areas ‘Sustaining Fort Wayne’ focuses on is energy and public utilities. This includes plans to help convert the city to renewable energy and green infrastructure to help reduce waterways from becoming contaminated as climate change is causing more extreme weather events to occur in the region.
Doug Fasick, engineering manager for the City Utilities’ sustainability and energy team, said this is an endeavor the city has been working on for the last couple years.
“We have been working with Indiana University’s Environmental Resilience Institute to give us some direction and gather data. It helped us identify 90 different initiatives, some of which were are already doing,” Fasick said.
One initiative the city is already doing is by setting up a combined heat and power system, which provides electricity, heating and cooling all from one fuel source. Fasick said Fort Wayne is using waste from sewer systems and converting it into power.
“We are now using one-third of our energy from that,” he said.
The city also plans to put in a new six megawatt solar array that will power Fort Wayne’s water treatment, wastewater treatment and storm water management facilities. He said once the solar array is put in, the city will be able to power the three facilities through one renewable energy source.
“Our hope and intent is to have the capability to be energy-neutral with all renewable resources by 2030,” he added.
The city is also looking to put in solar panels at citizens square, fire stations and the public safety academy to help increase the energy efficiency of the buildings. He’s hopes these installations could begin in 2024.
“You got to look at funding and look at the grant opportunities we can take advantage of,” he said.
During the announcement, a local high school student spoke about her involvement with the city in combating climate change. Genevieve Cicchiello is a senior at Bishop Luers High School and is a member of Mayor Henry’s youth engagement council. She first got interested in the issue of climate change after she watched the documentary “An Inconvenient Truth”, where former vice president Al Gore educates viewers about the climate crisis.
“I remember being really terrified after watching it for a few weeks and then I started to think about what I wanted to do when I grew up and I’ve always wanted to do something with the environment,” Cicchiello said.
She then began learning about climate change and the government’s actions towards combatting it along with renewable energy solutions.
She believes the city should push towards becoming carbon-neutral and move towards renewable energy.
Cicchiello first joined the mayor’s youth engagement council during her sophomore year of high school. She enjoyed being a part of it and decided to continue being a member and later became president of the council.
She believes the ‘Sustaining Fort Wayne’ initiative is great for the city.
“I think young people want to go to a city that is sustainable as possible and I think the way to attract my generation back after college is to become a really green city,” she said. “Not only is it the right thing to do, it’s the right thing to do to attract new residents.”
After high school, she plans to attend the University of Notre Dame to study environmental engineering and sustainability.
Another part of the city’s plans is investing in green infrastructure. It’s plan includes improving wastewater transportation and treatment infrastructure to help reduce or eliminate the city’s waterways from becoming contaminated.
Shan Gunawardena, director of public works for the city of Fort Wayne, said every time you have a drop of rain fall on concrete or asphalt, dirt and grime can that’s washed off the street gets into the sewer system and ends up in rivers and streams.
“What we’ve done to combat this is using biosoils where before the water hits the sewers, it will go through the biosoils and trap all the sentiment so the water that gets into the sewers is a lot cleaner,” Gunawardena said.
He said the city’s sewer systems are designed for specific storm events and with the impacts of climate change means major storms will happen more often and old infrastructure will not be able to handle the increased storms.
“This can have some pretty significant implications to the infrastructure we build. Public Works is very concerned about rainfall and what climate change would do to our infrastructure we build,” he said.
To learn more about the ‘Sustaining Fort Wayne’ initiative, log onto sustainingfortwayne.org to view the city’s entire plans.