Community organizations claim Mayor’s Office gutted sustainability plan

Six organizations penned an open letter to Sioux Falls Mayor Paul TenHaken Tuesday, asking him to reverse changes to a proposed sustainability plan.
Published: Mar. 14, 2023 at 6:18 PM CDT
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SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (Dakota News Now) - Six organizations penned an open letter to Sioux Falls Mayor Paul TenHaken Tuesday, asking him to reverse changes to a proposed sustainability plan that a city committee has been working on since 2020.

A 30-member Sustainability Steering Committee made up of members and organizations from many of the city’s industries released a revised Sustainable Sioux Falls Plan in March of last year. In it, specific actions were laid out for the city and it’s partners to implement as a part of making Sioux Falls a more sustainable community. Committee members said that a consensus was achieved on an actionable and realistic implementation plan in December. But in the open letter, the six organizations state that on February 23, the committee was informed that the consensus plan had been replaced by the Mayor’s Office with a draft framework which removed many of those goals and actions.

SoDak 350 was one of those organizations that penned the letter. They were joined by Dakota Rural Action, the League of Women Voters of Sioux Falls, Citizens’ Climate Lobby - Sioux Falls, The Mindfill SD, and Common Grounds Indivisible. SoDak 350 Administrative Coordinator Arlene Brandt-Jenson said much of the language was also changed to remove phrases like “climate change” and “greenhouse gas.”

“The plan went from having several hard goals and goals that were implementable in our city, to more ‘exploring the feasibility’ and ‘assessing’. The time for assessing is over.” Brandt-Jenson said.

Brandt-Jenson points to a 2021 community survey for the need for action and hard goals. In that survey, at least 80 percent of those that responded said that they were concerned or very concerned about sustainability and environmental issues. Over 90 percent said that it is important or very important that Sioux Falls address sustainability and environmental issues.

Brandt-Jenson also said that the changes to the draft plan throw away much of the work by the committee through 2021 and 2022, which was made up of a diverse group of members.

“And it really negated months of work by that full sustainability committee. A committee that had stakeholders from all across the community. Educators, business people, the gas and utilities, electric utilities,” Brandt-Jenson said. “Why did we need this broad community that spent hours and hours, days and days working on this plan when all of that was negated in one stroke pen basically?”

In a statement to Dakota News Now, City Environmental Services Manager Josh Peterson said that it was explained to committee members that changes could be made based on feedback from committee members and the City, including the Mayor’s Office.

“We appreciate the time and effort each steering committee member has put into this process so far. Sustainability is an important topic that also requires pragmatic and realistic solutions that recognize the many stakeholder voices. The City has been a leader in sustainability with water conservation, buffering the river, green infrastructure, and LED streetlight conversion. When committee members received a draft of the framework in December, it was explained that changes could be made based on feedback from various committee members and the City, including the Mayor’s Office. Although this is an ongoing process, we’re optimistic about the updated draft of the Sustainable Sioux Falls framework that is realistic, measurable, and actionable. We look forward to moving this conversation ahead in a positive and impactful direction that the public and City Council can support.”

Josh Peterson, City Environmental Services Manager

But SoDak 350 said it’s asking why these changes were made without consulting them and others on the committee during the process. In a release Tuesday, SoDak 350 co-founder and chair Michael Heisler said the change in language devalues the effort from the committee so far.

“The decision to gut the Sustainable Sioux Falls Plan undermines the good-faith effort of a committee representing the full spectrum of stakeholders to agree on a plan that helps clear the path toward a sustainable future for all of Sioux Falls,” Heisler said. “This new ‘framework’ created behind closed doors allows the city to hide behind vague platitudes while delaying meaningful action.”

A petition has also been put together by SoDak 350 to reverse the changes. Brandt-Jenson said he hopes that everyone can come back to the table and find a consensus moving forward. She said the organization believes that what’s on the table now will only set the community back in it’s goals to be sustainable.

“It’s almost worse than having no plan at all, because there are no hard goals and no deadlines.” Brandt-Jenson said.