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Bloomington council signals early support for Green Infrastructure Commission

Bloomington City Council member Julie Emig represents Ward 4, which includes portions of downtown and nearby neighborhoods.
Emily Bollinger
Bloomington City Council member Julie Emig represents Ward 4, which includes portions of downtown and nearby neighborhoods.

The Bloomington City Council on Monday discussed the creation of multiple commissions to address issues in the community – including one focused on the environment and city infrastructure.

That proposal from council member Julie Emig would create an advisory Green Infrastructure Commission. She says inspiration for the proposal started back in June 2021, when severe storms slammed the city — pouring nearly 10 inches of rain onto Bloomington in less than a week.

“This initiative was born out of a conversation with a lot of other community members around the flooding that happened last June,” Emig said. “And truly the conversation from the beginning was, ‘Are there other ways to address the massive overflow we had into our combined sewer systems, and hence the flooding of basements with sewage?’”

Emig’s idea soon expanded beyond sewage and flooding. She said she wants to utilize her green infrastructure proposal as a way to create a community that she describes as “more environmentally sound.” Her proposal would “promote incorporation of green infrastructure planning and implementation strategies in new construction as well as redevelopment or rehabilitation of existing sites.”

“(The commission’s) role would be to survey all of the work that is currently being done,” Emig said. “This is an opportunity to say, are there other ways that we might be able to go forward? How might we enhance these current projects? How might we bring in other stakeholders in the community? There are many ways this could go, but I thought having an advisory panel with experts and community members … would make this process more intentional.”

Under Emig’s proposal, the city’s Green Infrastructure Commission would consist of members who have “knowledge of infrastructure, environmental practices, planning, and education. Their role will be advisory, providing policy recommendations to the City Council and public at large. These recommendations may include, but not be limited to, permeable pavement systems, bioretention swales, rain gardens, infiltration trenches, and/or rainwater harvesting.”

The proposal was met with both support and reluctance from other council members during Monday’s nonvoting Committee of the Whole meeting.

Sheila Montney of Ward 3 said she’d like to see current plans in place play out before establishing a commission, giving Emig’s initiative a “no, for now.”

Ward 6’s De Urban initially disagreed with starting a new commission, instead supporting the creation of a smaller task force for green infrastructure. Urban then proposed an idea of her own.

“I would like to see us up the bar here and make an expectation of staff to establish green space with every project,” Urban said. “Just upping that bar, and making it to where we have an expectation for green space every time there’s a project or a planning commission submitted.”

Urban ultimately voted to advance Emig’s initiative. Also voting yes were Jamie Mathy of Ward 1, Donna Boelen of Ward 2, Urban of Ward 6, Mollie Ward of Ward 7, Jeff Crabill of Ward 8, and Tom Crumpler of Ward 9.

Nick Becker of Ward 5 opposed the idea, alongside Montney of Ward 3. In a WGLT interview earlier Monday, Mayor Mboka Mwilambwe sounded skeptical about the need for such a commission, suggesting city staff was already sufficiently focused on sustainable practices.

Becker himself had a separate proposal discussed at the meeting. His council initiative looks to to avoid increasing the financial burden on taxpayers for future spending by instead lowering costs in other areas. Becker discussed the possibilities of bringing multiple entities together with similar goals, such as the Bloomington Election Commission and county clerk, and the city’s standalone 911 communications center (separate from the county’s Metcom center). All members of the council signaled initial support for the initiative.

The final council member initiative discussed Monday was Mollie Ward’s gun violence commission. Ward did not delve much into detail regarding the initiative, having already done so at a previous meeting. Instead, she chose to respond to concerns people had about it. Ward made clear she believes there is a gun violence issue in Bloomington, citing the two gun homicides that have already occurred in 2022. She also said she believes people would see a gun violence commission not as a sign of danger, but as a signal of reassurance that the community’s safety is looked after.

A majority of Bloomington council members signaled support for the idea.

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Jack Podlesnik is a student reporter and announcer at WGLT. He joined the station in 2021.
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