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Issues of the Environment: 'Resilient Washtenaw' climate action plan advances toward approval and implementation

Washtenaw County director of strategic planning Andrew DeLeeuw
Washtenaw County
Washtenaw County director of strategic planning Andrew DeLeeuw


  • The Washtenaw County Board of Commissioners unanimously approved a resolution to allocate funds to climate action planning efforts. Per a contract, Resource Recycling Systems is assisting in the development of a comprehensive, innovative, and accessible climate action plan for Washtenaw County, as a community and as an organization.  (Source:https://www.washtenaw.org/CivicAlerts.aspx?AID=1849)
  • Washtenaw County acknowledges that because the county’s organizational greenhouse gas emissions account for .2% of the total, residential input is vital in developing a stepwise plan for reductions. After a plan is made it will need approval by the Board of Commissioners Consideration, followed by modifications to County Policy, programming, and planning, and coordination with efforts outlined other climate and sustainability plans, including A2Zero and other local governments
  • Over the past year the Resilient Washtenaw planning team has held over 50 engagement/listening sessions with local governments, county agencies, and county leadership, and has determined that there is broad support at the organizational level for changes that will make the county less fossil-fuel dependent. Resilient Washtenaw will be releasing its Climate Plan for public comment in the next few weeks (up to 1 month).  From October 3-21, 2022 a public comment and draft revision period will take place, and residents of the county are encouraged to add their input to the plan.
  • The Resilient Washtenaw draft recommendations and action goals are available for review on the RW website: https://res.cloudinary.com/courbanize-production/image/upload/v1/information_plans/ptgjt0g1ltyynfmfsao
  • The recommendations center around several principles including:

    • HEALTH
  • STRATEGIES are the broad categories of actions to achieve the goals of carbon neutrality.
  • HEALTH - Provide opportunities to achieve optimal health and well-being and prevent negative public health impacts from changing climate. Reduce Heat Islands and Expand and Maintain County Tree Canopy. Plan and prepare for responses to climate caused emergencies
  • ENERGY TRANSITION - Increase Renewable Energy, Energy Efficiency, and Electrification in all Buildings
  • INFRASTRUCTURE INVESTMENTS - Plan for and build public improvements that reduce dependency on fossil fuels and prepare the county for more frequent and intense weather events.
  • CIRCULAR ECONOMY - Build an Equitable, Low-carbon, and Resilient Circular Economy that manages materials streams for their highest and best use. A circular economy is one that designs out waste, keeps materials in use, and which regenerates natural systems (Ellen MacArthur Foundation)
  • MOBILITY ACCESS - Reduce emissions from transportation. Support mobility modes that eliminate fossil fuel use over time
  • WORKING FARMS AND NATURAL AREAS - Preserve 30% of Washtenaw County as working farms or ecologically significant Natural Areas by 2030. Protect County watersheds, surface water, ground water, and agricultural soils
  • Action and implementation specifics are still in progress and Resistant Washtenaw is encouraging residents of the county to submit their public comments between October 3rd and 21st 2022. https://www.resilientwashtenaw.org or email: Climate@washtenaw.org
  • Resilient Washtenaw aims to make the county’s operations carbon neutrality goal by 2030, reach community-wide carbon neutrality by 2035. A final draft of the plan is expected in November 2022. 
  • Resilient Washtenaw aims to make the county’s operations carbon neutrality goal by 2030, reach community-wide carbon neutrality by 2035. A final draft of the plan is expected in November 2022. 


David Fair: This is 89 one WEMU, and the efforts to combat the growing climate crisis continue on a number of fronts in individual communities and throughout Washtenaw County. I'm David Fair, and welcome to Issues of the Environment. Washtenaw County is in the development process of its Resilient Washtenaw Plan. It aims to make county operations carbon neutral by the year 2030 and to achieve countywide carbon neutrality by 2035. The plan has been in the works for some time now, and a final draft of the plan is expected to be submitted to the Board of Commissioners in November. Our guest today has been working at the center of all of this. Andrew DeLeeuw is Washtenaw County's Director of Strategic Planning. And good to have you with us, Andrew. I appreciate it.

Andrew DeLeeuw: Yeah, thank you, David. My pleasure to be here. I look forward to speaking with you.

David Fair: Well, over the past year, there have been some 50 public engagement and listening sessions on this plan, so that you can all ingest and include the public's priorities when it comes to the action plan. And I know that you're continuing to take public feedback at this time. How well have the sessions been attended, and what are you learning from the public feedback?

Andrew DeLeeuw: Well, I think, you know, to your first question, in terms of the attendance of the sessions, it's varied quite a bit, depending on the groups that we've been meeting with and the forum in which we've been meeting with them. I think, you know, knowing that the county has got 380,000 residents, I would love to be able to talk to everybody. We're not there, but I think we have done really well, both in terms of our efforts and our outcomes, in terms of the groups and the individuals that we've been able to talk to and that we've been in front of people who care a lot about this issue and who are really involved in it, both locally and at state and federal levels. I think those sessions, for me, have really made me feel like the county is well positioned to act on this. I think, across the county, regardless of the type of group or their location or, you know, the type of sector that they might be involved in, we've really had a strong response to the county's desire to take action on climate change. Certainly, there's differences and many of the specifics perhaps around the concerns that, you know, more rural residents might be facing with the types of stresses that they're already seeing from climate change and what they think would be appropriate for the county to do with it, compared to people in more urban areas or farmers compared to, you know, people in different types of business fields. But I think consistently there's a desire and a support of action from the county. And I think that common sense there really has helped those discussions that we have had be productive and really focused on what can the county do to to combat climate change in a way that makes sense for Washtenaw County, given where we are in the world and the resources that we have around here to address climate change.

David Fair: And as I mentioned, there is still a little time anyway for those who missed that opportunity to give their public feedback to you. How do they go about doing that?

Andrew DeLeeuw: Yeah, so we are currently in the middle of a public comment period on our drafted climate action plan. That period opened on October 3rd, and it will be closing at the end of October--on October 21st. What we're really doing with this public comment period is looking to take back those things that we've learned from that engagement process and give the public another opportunity to say, "This is right. This is wrong. Here's what I like," or "Here's what you can do better." Our goal since the start of this is that we've got a plan, like you heard me say, that makes sense for Washtenaw County and public involvement and public participation in that, I think, is critical both for the credibility of the plan and for giving us the best plan that we can have. As you mentioned, we are working on bringing that plan back to the Board of Commissioners in November and expect good debate in the opportunity for further public comment at that meeting, like, with everything that comes before the board. And then, I think going forward and anticipating and personally I'm hopeful of a board acceptance and adoption of the plan, public engagement and information sharing and involvement in our work is going to be critical to our success in this work. So, I think we've been trying to build in public engagement into our process, and that's something that will continue as the county continues to be involved in fighting climate change.

David Fair: This is 89 one WEMU, and Issues of the Environment and our conversation with Andrew DeLeeuw continues. Andrew is Washtenaw County's Director of Strategic Planning, and we're talking about the Resilient Washtenaw Carbon Neutrality Plan. County operations only account for about 2% of total greenhouse gas emissions, which means success is dependent on the residential and business parts of the community to get on board. How is Resilient Washtenaw addressing that component?

Andrew DeLeeuw: Yeah, I think that's still very much the case, right? And we know it's important for the county to get its own ship in order, but really for us to be successful here, will require us to look outside of the county's operations. And I think that's another thing that's been very clear to us as we look at what success in addressing climate change looks like in other places in Michigan, across the country, and around the world. We know that you need to be able to partner to work with other governments, other for profit and not for profit entities, and the community to really be successful given the type of challenge that climate change is. And so, that's been really critical to our thinking and has been central to the draft plan that we've put forward at this point. One of the actions that's been recommended that I'd like to touch on, and I think gets at that point, is the creation of a regional authority. And there's still a lot to be worked out with that. But that's the very first recommendation that is in our draft plan at this point. And that is first because I think it really speaks to the centrality of partnership and the centrality of multiple entities coming together and working outside of the traditional boundaries in which we currently operate to address climate change. For the county to be able to influence what happens across the county is going to require us working in partnership with a lot of different entities with a lot of different expertise and responsibilities.

David Fair: And, of course, Resilient Washtenaw will only be strengthened by properly coordinating, as you've mentioned, with other communities who are putting into place similar measures. Ann Arbor has its A2Zero plan and is working with others in the county to create a pathway to community-wide carbon neutrality. So, these cooperative efforts have played into development of the countywide plan. You are depending on these other entities.

Andrew DeLeeuw: Yeah. Yeah, certainly. And I think, you know, we've got reason to be hopeful. You mentioned what's happening in the City of Ann Arbor, and that's something that the county is paying attention to. I would also point to efforts at the state level with the adoption of the MI Healthy Climate Plan as interest in support from the state. And also thinking about this and then many of the actions at the federal level, specifically the Inflation Reduction Act and all of the different programs and resources that the federal government is looking to bring to address climate change. This is, I think, a very hopeful time. And we feel like the county is really well-positioned, given the work that we've been doing over the past year to take advantage of those federal and state programs that are coming online and help Washtenaw County really do well to prepare for the impacts of climate change and to reduce the emissions that are made here locally.

David Fair: This is Issues of the Environment on 89 one WEMU, and we continue talking with the county's Director of Strategic Planning, Andrew DeLeeuw. We're talking about Resilient Washtenaw. And there are a series of principles that are behind this plan, and they've been prioritized. Right at the top of the list is racial equity and environmental justice. How inclusionary has the process of planning been in developing a plan that will address the issues that more dramatically impact people of color and the lower income portions of Washtenaw County?

Andrew DeLeeuw: Yeah, I'm glad you pointed that out. So, just a little bit generally about the framework that we've tried to put forth, you know, that document was created earlier this summer, and the draft plan that is currently out for review now was really intended to bring those principles to light in terms of how the county will be approaching climate action. I believe that those principles are very much in alignment with the county's priorities generally, and that was certainly clear and central to our thinking as we developed our document. And knowing that the climate action work of the county needs to be in harmony with the other work of the county for us to be successful, and that this isn't something that can be in isolation, but rather it needs to be incorporated into everything that the county does. To the prioritizing or the numbering of racial equity and environmental justice at the top of the list, that's been a very clear priority for our organization, starting with policies set by our Board of Commissioners and resources put towards that issue. I think, as the county through the course of our Climate Action Plan, has gone about this work that has been important as we think about who in the county is at risk from climate change and knowing that there's a lot of work to be done here, but that the county as an entity that's a provider of human services, and that tends to worry about or...not tends to worry, but tends to really try and focus its efforts on helping those most at risk in the community, that climate change is a type of harm that's going to come to people in our community. And so, as we think about where we need to start our work and where we need to first put our efforts forward, we want to be thinking about those communities that are most at risk from climate change. And so, climate change, going back to the harmony principle that I just mentioned, is, you know, being able to incorporate and thinking about racial equity and environmental justice and bring that into our climate change space makes sense for how the county tries to do work and how we think we're going to be successful in addressing climate change.

David Fair: So, as we continue the march towards a finalized plan, there's so much that is included that we simply don't have time to cover in detail. But health initiatives, energy transition, and infrastructure development, the creation of a circular economy that does play into the relationship with the state, mobility access, and the preservation of working farms and natural areas, there is a price tag to consider. How much is dedicated so far, and how much more money will be needed to make this plan come to reality?

Andrew DeLeeuw: Yeah, so to be determined on both of those things. At this point, the board has supported the creation of this plan, and we are working to bring them back a plan that would bring county resources to bear on these issues. And certainly, we want to do that in a way that makes good use and effective use of public dollars to address this issue. We're working right now in parallel to the development of these actions, to put dollar amounts and not only costs, but also the return on those investments as well and try and make clear that not only would we be spending money, but that the spending of that money would lead to things in terms of public health outcomes and avoidance of future emergency responses, for example. So, we know that that's important information that we'll need to bring both to the board and the public as we go about this work. I think, you know, we do have some important or some relevant benchmarks in terms of other climate action plans--again, the City of Ann Arbor--I think, is helpful. And the county's plan isn't an exact copy of that, but it's a good local reference. And we know that it will take significant work to address climate change. But we're trying to approach that by looking at existing resources, how existing spending that's already happening can be rethought to better incorporate or plan for climate change before we start talking about new money that needs to come to the table. So, we're working on that, know it's important, and know that we've got to be able to bring forth a plan that not only addresses, you know, a really critical issue with climate change, but does it in a way that will allow us to be successful with resources that we've got available to us.

David Fair: So, with a plan to be put before the Board of Commissioners in November, they'll have to be considerations, as you mentioned, more public input and feedback. And then, once approved, how quickly can implementation begin? Because, obviously, the end goal is to be completely fully realized by 2035.

Andrew DeLeeuw: Yeah. So, we, in addition to the plan itself, are working on a series of implementation recommendations for the board. Those will include things, such as staffing and funding and public reporting and governance of all of this work. And so, we've tried to anticipate the question, knowing that it is urgent for the county to work quickly. That said, many of the things that we think are important for the county to do in our plan are hard and are challenging. And so, I think we're looking to start soon. But we know that this will be very challenging work, you know, given the size of the issue of climate change and the way in which we're able to influence the outcomes that we're pursuing. So, we hope to be able to start quickly, but we know that it will take all of those, you know, those eight years in the case of the county goal, or 13 years in the case of the community-wide goal to reach those ambitious targets that have been set for us by the Board of Commissioners.

David Fair: You're going to be in a decade long rush.

Andrew DeLeeuw: Yes. Yeah, but it's a good rush. I mean, it's a good rush to be on because the consequences of not being successful are very, very consequential. I mean, I wish I had a better word there, but we need to be successful with this for the residents of Washtenaw County.

David Fair: Well, thank you for making time for us today, Andrew. I do appreciate it.

Andrew DeLeeuw: Well, I really appreciate being here, David. Thank you for your time. If I may just say, I would encourage residents or listeners to go to Resilient Washtenaw dot org. More information about our draft plan and everything we've done to date can be found there, so it's a really convenient resource for people looking to learn more.

David Fair: And we'll have that as part of our links on the WEMU website at WEMU dot org. That is Andrew DeLeeuw. He is Washtenaw County's Director of Strategic Planning, updating us on the Resilient Washtenaw Carbon Neutrality Plan, which is expected to be put before the County Board of Commissioners next month. Issues of the Environment is produced in partnership with the Office of the Washtenaw County Water Resources Commissioner. And you hear it every Wednesday. I'm David Fair, and this is your community NPR station, 89 one WEMU FM Ypsilanti.

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