SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — A coalition of groups in South Dakota, led by sustainability group SoDak 350, will have an Earth Day rally on Saturday April 22, followed by a march to City Hall in Sioux Falls.

SoDak 350 administrative coordinator Arlene Brandt-Jenson spoke with KELOLAND News about the event and its purpose on Friday morning.

“We’re having a rally called ‘Sustainable Sioux Falls: We Must Act Now’,” said Brandt-Jenson. “This is to draw attention to the fact that there was a sustainability plan that was worked on for several months by a coalition of stakeholders from across many sectors — that committee came up with a plan — then on March 2, (2023) a representative from the mayor’s office presented a watered-down framework that removed all the concrete goals.”

“Instead of implementing things, it was ‘explore the feasibility to implement,’ and we’re basically kicking the can down the road,” said Brandt-Jenson.

Brandt-Jenson says that a coalition of six groups sent an open letter to TenHaken, addressing their concerns. “We have not heard anything from the Mayor as far as wanting to restore the plan as we asked for, and release the public input that went into this framework that was done behind closed doors,” she said.

The group, according to Brandt-Jenson, feels that TenHaken has gone back on his support for sustainability.

“What happened between March 1 of 2022 when he came out very strongly saying ‘we want Sioux Falls to be net-zero carbon emissions by 2050,’ — that was last year, but this is this year, and we’re asking what changed,” said Brandt-Jenson.

The city released a draft sustainability plan called Sustainability and Climate Action Plan on March 1, 2022 that included a goal for 45% emission reduction by 2030 and net zero emissions by 2050. A link to that 2022 draft plan appears to be dismantled.

The question of what’s changed since March 1, 2022 has spurred this Earth Day rally/march, explains Brandt-Jenson. “We will start at Fawick Park at 3:30 p.m., greet everyone and give them instructions — then we’ll walk carefully along a prescribed route to city hall,” she said.

Once arriving at city hall, there will be a handful of speakers addressing the crowd on the subject of sustainability, including former Sioux Falls Mayor Rick Knobe.

The weather will be chilly this weekend, but Brandt-Jenson still hopes for a good turnout, noting that attendees should bundle up, be prepared to walk, and be ready to stand for around half-an-hour to listen to speakers.

One subject Brandt-Jenson was eager to speak on was that of building codes.

“In the sustainability plan that was prepared by the steering committee — they agreed to raise the building codes to 2018 [standards],” Brandt-Jenson said. “Sioux Falls is still using the 2009 building code for energy efficiency.”

Brandt-Jenson says these codes are updated every three years, with the most recent coming in 2021, putting Sioux Falls 12 years out of date.

“It would pay for itself within five years,” Brandt-Jenson said of an increase to the 2018 standards.

The rally and march is sponsored by SoDak 350, Change Agents of SD, Citizens’ Climate Lobby Sioux Falls, Common Grounds Indivisible SD, Dakota Rural Action, Ironfox Farms, LEAD South Dakota, Sioux Falls League of Women Voters, The Mindfill SD and SoDak Compost.

On Monday, April 17, Mayor Paul TenHaken gave his annual State of the City address, when he spoke for a little over a minute on the subject of sustainability, discussing money spent on projects to preserve water quality in the Big Sioux River.

KELOLAND News reached out to TenHaken’s office for comment on the rally and the suggestion that he has backed away from commitments on sustainability, and received the following response via email.

“The City of Sioux Falls has been and will continue to be a leader in the state in conservation and sustainability. As I noted in my State of the City address earlier this week, I’m proud of the work we’ve achieved so far in this space, and we will continue to emphasize these important investments for future generations. Sustainability impacts many stakeholders, and despite the inaccuracies of some special interest groups, I’m glad the updated Sustainable Sioux Falls framework recognizes a broader set of perspectives. It lays out pragmatic and realistic goals that understand the varied voices.”

Mayor Paul TenHaken, Sioux Falls