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Burlington City Council reviews redistricting, energy goals and funding a long delayed road project

Burlington sign
Pat Bradley/WAMC
sign in downtown Burlington

The Burlington, Vermont City Council meeting this week included a work session on redistricting, a presentation on the city’s net zero energy progress and action on a decades-long road project.

The Burlington City Council appointed an ad hoc committee to determine priorities for and reconfiguration of city voting districts. Council members and City Attorney Daniel Richardson began the week’s meeting with a work session recapping the process and discussing priorities for redistricting. There are currently 12 councilors representing eight wards and four districts. Ward 1 Progressive Zoraya Hightower formally moved that revised maps be drafted.

“The council supports a ward only system with one or two councilors representing each ward and a council size of no less than 12 and no more than 16," Hightower said. "The council directs city staff to start by drafting maps that would divide the city into 7 wards and 8 wards.”

South District Democrat Joan Shannon did not support the motion and offered an amendment.

“This one reaches a conclusion about having a ward only system, having one or two councilors representing each ward and that goes further than I am prepared to go tonight without even having gotten to the mapping stage and without having the opportunity to have the public discussions that I think still need to be had," said Shannon.

Shannon’s amendment requesting city staff draft maps that would divide the city into 7, 8 and 12 wards while keeping the New North End distinct from the Old North End passed on a 9 to 1 vote.

Burlington has set a goal is to eliminate fossil fuel use in the electric, thermal and ground transportation sectors by 2030 through what it calls a Net Zero Energy Roadmap. Burlington Electric Department General Manager Darren Springer provided the annual update noting the pandemic curbed expected progress.

“In terms of fossil fuel use, we had a significant decline between 2018 and 2020," Springer explained. "We thought there was some risk of having some type of emissions rebound in 2021. That did occur but it was relatively mild. With natural gas use in buildings you can see we’ve had a trajectory that’s generally been downward but is not on the exact pace that the Roadmap would have us on.”

Also before the council was a request to authorize $40.9 million for an initial construction contract for Champlain Parkway Project. The new road would connect the downtown with the city’s south end.

City Council President Democrat Karen Paul marked the vote with brief comments.

“This is an important and rather historic milestone for a very long journey," said Paul.

East District Progressive Jack Hanson said he would support funding the project despite having reservations.

“We should be spending on decarbonizing transportation and in some ways it’s a missed opportunity from that perspective," Hanson said. "But that being said you know we are at a point with this where we can’t really just back out of it and reallocate that money elsewhere. If we try to back out the city is on the hook for a lot of money and so with that being the circumstance I’ll be voting yes and I’m glad that we have made it much more sustainable than it originally was.”

Democratic Mayor Miro Weinberger also weighed in on the move to approve funding for the new road.

“I think it’s been 35 years since this project has been in limbo and really a major unresolved issue in this community ever since," the mayor said. "It’s remarkable to me how long this takes and I do think we have to find a different way of building federal infrastructure.”

Councilors unanimously approved the contract.

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