Although there are 2 spots available and 2 candidates running, initially this was a contested race. Thus, we are sharing the responses from two candidates so you can get to know them.
Allison Burson, Jay McHale
The Wellesley Natural Resources Commission oversees the use, preservation and protection of the town's parks and conservation areas, serves as tree warden, sets policies for insect control and pesticide use, and protects the town watershed areas. The Commission also appoints the Wetlands Protection Committee and Trails Committee.
1. What is your track record on environmental sustainability, including any related interests, experience, or initiatives?
I started attending Sustainable Wellesley meetings shortly after moving to Wellesley in 2016. Through Sustainable Wellesley, I have learned about the particular environmental issues in town and the role that town government can play in addressing them. I appreciate that Sustainable Wellesley encourages candidates to run for town office and provides this forum for candidates’ statements on environmental issues.
I studied Environmental Studies and American Studies at Wesleyan University. After college, I managed a successful ballot initiative to fund new parks in Seattle with the goal of improving urban livability. I went on to work on environmental and education policy in the Seattle Mayor’s Office, including organizing state wide opposition to a proposed coal export terminal in Washington. This ranged from coordinating city, county and tribal governments to liaising with University of Washington atmospheric chemists measuring emissions from coal trains.
In 2018, wanting to focus professionally on my love of parks and trails, I started a new job as the Program Manager for “A Greener Greater Boston” at the Solomon Foundation, where I work with greenway and watershed nonprofits, town and city governments, and state agencies toward developing a comprehensive, connected greenway network for the region.
Over the past five years I have participated in Sustainable Wellesley and NRC initiatives such as the Gas Leaks Tagging and Forum, annual trash cleanups at Fuller Brook and the Charles River, and the Landscapes for Living forum on Eco-Friendly Gardening and Lawn Care. I was one of the early participants in the RDF’s food waste pilot. In Wellesley, I participated in the Unified Plan, Hunnewell Elementary design, and the Complete Streets processes. I recently worked with Sustainable Wellesley, the DPW, and Police Chief Pilecki to fundraise for and install a bike repair station to encourage bicycle travel in town for all.
Other sustainability initiatives I’ve led over the years include:
Started Wesleyan University’s “dump and run” end-of-year dorm supplies recycling (sorting/resale) program. Coordinated with university facilities for storage so that the sale could be held the following autumn, arranged student housing for volunteers, diverting a 50-foot trailer’s worth of goods from landfill.
Container gardens on the balconies at the Seattle Mayor’s Office in conjunction with a local food pantry.
Jay McHale -
I have worked on many specific efforts to bring environmental issues and solutions to both employees and customers in the 35+ years I have spent in financial services. Reduction of waste production, paper consumption and travel footprint are just a few of the examples. One product solution not only significantly reduced paper usage but resulted in the planting of over 350,000 trees over the last 10 years.
From my perspective, not only do you have to bring the ideas and efforts to the forefront, but you need to be able to measure and show progress if you are going to keep people engaged. I personally led an effort in my firm to create a client dashboard, showing how efficient people were using our environmentally friendly option. This dashboard could be seen by any of the over 2 million people that accessed our firm though our on-line option. It is these types of new ideas I hope can help in addressing some of the issues the town faces with respect to climate change.
I have a great interest in seeing people be able to utilize the active and
passive recreational spaces of Wellesley as part of my work with Action for Healthy Kids, a national nonprofit that brings together dedicated volunteers and partners to make schools healthier places where kids thrive. I’ve been working with this group for 10 years, and now lead the board in executing its mission: mobilizing school professionals, families, and communities to take actions towards increasing healthy eating habits and physical activity and building healthier schools where kids thrive.
2. What do you think the priorities of the NRC should be for the three years of your prospective term?
My mission at NRC would focus on ensuring sustainable management of resources through habitat preservation, stewardship of water and air quality, balancing active and passive recreation, and improved access to Wellesley's green space for all.
One of my top priorities in 2020 is preparing for climate change by emphasizing resilience in our town's natural and physical infrastructure. I hope to join the new “Wellesley Will” Municipal Vulnerability Preparedness (MVP) process to help prepare our town for hotter summers and more extreme weather events. This could include improving the town tree canopy through enhanced bylaws, more tree planting, and improving our tree data, creative stormwater management to help prevent flooding, and native plant landscaping. All of these efforts can also provide a broad range of other benefits to the town.
I also hope to work to deepen partnerships with all town boards and departments to steward our natural resources. For example, by working with DPW, Planning, the Traffic Committee, Trails Committee, Police, and others we can identify a Complete Streets system that connects to a network of off-street corridors, enabling people to safely walk and bike to their destinations around Wellesley, reducing car traffic and air pollution
My main priority would be to focus on the future of Wellesley’s natural resources, so children and future residents will benefit from improving our outdoor spaces. I would also like increase collaborative efforts between the mission of the NRC and the various constituencies around town.
3. What specific actions would you take to further the Town’s commitment to reduction of greenhouse gas emissions such as maintaining our tree canopy, preserving and enhancing our open space system, improving smart mobility, working to reduce gas leaks and blowdowns, plastic waste reduction, etc.?
In the town’s greenhouse gas inventory, transportation is the area that is preventing Wellesley from meeting the greenhouse goals adopted by Town Meeting. It’s fabulous that SEC’s Transportation Working Group and the new Mobility Working Group are looking closely and working hard on ways to address this. At a personal level, I commute by bicycle and public transit year-round. I put more miles per year on my bicycles than my household’s one car. This has led me to care deeply about enabling safe, efficient transportation by all modes so that driving a gasoline-powered car is not seen as a necessity. Increasingly, I’m hearing from many residents in town that they’d love to have convenient public transit options and to be able to enjoy time outside, beat the traffic, and safely walk and bicycle to nearby destinations.
I have both professional and volunteer experience with road safety and trail access improvements involving work with MassDOT, the Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR), and elected officials, staff, and volunteers from towns including Wellesley, Newton, Weston, and Natick. Wellesley’s Complete Streets process is being led by the DPW, but it overlaps with the NRC’s purview in relation to street trees, greenspace, trails, and gas leaks. As the DPW improves road and off-road infrastructure for people walking and bicycling, I hope to work on the NRC to ensure that major infrastructure projects are also evaluated as opportunities to fix gas leaks below the roads, add street trees, and improve connections or grow the town trail network.
I have some ideas on how to assist moving along the effort to get gas leaks in town addressed that may not have been looked at to date. With respect to the other topics mentioned above, we have to realize that many in town do not focus on these issues as they go about their daily routine. I believe a well thought out plan, marketing each of these ideas as part of a greater effort, might have a greater impact than what we have been able to accomplish to date.
4. In the past several years, there has been increasing pressure to devote more park and conservation land to athletic fields and to intensify the use of existing fields. There is also competing pressure to maintain passive recreation areas and natural habitat as the town becomes increasingly developed. How do you view these competing demands and how will you balance the need for active and passive recreation and habitat preservation on the open space under NRC jurisdiction?
I am a life-long athlete. I grew up nearby in Lexington playing soccer and lacrosse on town fields, and running cross country and track and bicycling on the town trails, paths, and roads. So, I have a long appreciation of the importance of both types of open space that the NRC manages.
Land use challenges are not unique to Wellesley, where space is at a premium, and towns and cities face many important demands for land. The town of Wellesley actually owns less conservation/parkland as compared to neighboring towns. Therefore we need to be creative while seeking to meet the needs of both active and passive recreation users, while protecting our natural resources. Fortunately Wellesley realized long ago the importance of our playing fields, and the resource-intense management needed to keep them in good shape and created the advisory Playing Fields Task Force (PFTF). The PFTF is made up of “land-holders” and stakeholders throughout town, including the NRC, Recreation, Public Works, Select Board, Schools and playing leagues - as the maintenance and accessibility of playing fields is a town-wide shared responsibility. I’d welcome the opportunity to work with MWRA (access to aqueduct trails), DCR, universities, schools, and individual landowners on opening up additional access to open space.
The remaining town-owned open space in Wellesley that is not already playing field or in conservation is the North 40, which is under the jurisdiction of the Select Board, and I look forward to the NRC being involved in the planning process and hearing and evaluating the many ideas that residents of Wellesley have for the future of that land.
Jay McHale -
As we all know, open space is a rare commodity in our great town. I believe there is a need to better utilize our existing active fields, and I think Sustainability Wellesley could be a great asset here, especially when it comes to suggestions on how to do this in the most environmentally friendly way possible.
While I have not heard of pressure to convert park/conservation land to athletic fields, better utilization of existing fields will go a long way to alleviating any need for conversion of passive space.