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Climate: 3 candidates speak to climate-related issues

Katya Gordon

Question for candidates: "Given the higher intensity and frequency of heavy weather events in Lake County (rain, snow, wind); higher heat/humidity in the summer; increased outbreaks of invasive species due to warmer winters; and the growing unpredictability of our seasonal shifts, and given the number of citizens in Lake County who are concerned about this, how would you prioritize the following climate-related adaptations and solutions?"

Not all candidates answered these inquiries; the three candidates below did.

Silver Bay Mayor Scott Johnson, who is running for another term, spoke with me about several projects. As economic diversity is one way that small towns can reduce their vulnerability to climate change, he spoke about Black Beach, which is quickly gaining popularity for travelers along the North Shore. Soon, this area will be accompanied by a campground.

Infrastructure is a huge issue, he acknowledged. Fixing roads and what is beneath them is expensive. With a growing percentage of senior citizens in Lake County — many on fixed incomes — Johnson works on streets and sidewalks in a slow, controlled fashion, always with an eye to the budget.

Johnson mentioned a recent, aborted project that included renewable energy (wind). The plan revolved around the hydroponics garden and a wood chip plant, which so far has not come to fruition.

Johnson believes the recycle program in Silver Bay is relatively convenient, with a once/week hauler. He believes that many, if not most, citizens in Silver Bay recycle because it's convenient. There are no plans to create recycling opportunities in public places at this time.

When asked if he would support a national carbon pricing measure that returned all fees to households, Johnson was tentatively favorable. He would want to understand any legislative measure thoroughly, but he stated: "To be energy-efficient is to be efficient with your budget."

Two Harbors City Council at large candidate Jackie Rennwald's interest in improvement with the water treatment plant began with a personal story. When her water pipes started spouting pinhole leaks, she started asking questions.

For Jackie, common sense dictates energy efficiency, particularly when that meshes with good stewardship of the land, water and planet. If it makes sense to install solar on public buildings; if we can replace street lights with motion sensor lights; if we can bring more businesses, particularly trades, into the Industrial Park, then she is all for it. She is all for finding win-win solutions, even if they are not the way things have been done in the past.

Joe Baltich is a candidate for Lake County Commissioner District 1. Baltich, a lifetime resident surrounded on three sides by Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness lands, writes in response to the inquiry about tourism and climate that no specific weather forecast is going to affect whether or not guests come north — "they have seen it all."

Noting that visitors to his area are more connected to wireless internet and RVs than in years past, he advocates for easier access to the woods for less hardcore outdoor activity.

As for Lake County working on its own carbon footprint, Baltich says: "Alternative energies that are reliable and capable of producing real, actual savings, both in the long and short term, should always be considered."

He doesn't see pressing issues around erosion or flooding, though if other areas of the county are genuinely affected, it should be addressed. Working on light pollution he sees as a trend that is more important in urban areas and not a concern for Lake County with its far-flung population.

Baltich is concerned about invasive species and the effects they have and will be having in our county. He would like to see state funding allocated toward research and development of appropriate responses to various invasive species, or perhaps paying for research with royalties from mining income.

Baltich is not a fan of plastic bags or today's "barrage of throwaway electronics."

"How about using paper bags made from Lake County trees?" he asks. Recycling should be easy and affordable.

Overall, Baltich believes his job as a commissioner should be to "take care of residents and the environment — in that order." Yes, they are connected, but he is wary of putting environmental concerns ahead of his residents' more immediate needs, and prefers the approach of "making changes as they present themselves."

In summary, all the candidates who returned my inquiries were generally well versed in the issues presented, though they varied in the intensity of their concern. Great thanks to them for their commitment to public service; their responsiveness to my inquiry is a mark in their favor in my opinion.

They reinforce my hope that caring for our planet need not be the rancorous and politically adversarial fight it is touted to be at the national level. The trick is to elect residents who understand the long-term repercussions of the climate issues and use level heads when they must balance immediate needs with long-term realities.

Katya Gordon is a volunteer for the Citizens' Climate Lobby and a Two Harbors resident.