SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — Some members of the Sioux Falls sustainability steering committee are feeling blindsided by a new draft released by Mayor Paul TenHaken’s office.

The process to update the city’s sustainability plan began in 2021 but 2022 is where the action really began. Last year, the steering committee was expanded to include more representatives from local businesses in addition to stakeholders from gas and energy cooperatives and community partners. That included SoDak 350, a nonpartisan climate action group.

The group is now joined by five other organizations, including Dakota Rural Action who also had a representative on the steering committee, in calling out a revised draft of the sustainability plan released in February.

The plan removes many of the actionable items, according to SoDak 350’s communications coordinator Kara Hoving.

“I think the new plan took out like, over a third of the goals that were included in the original plan that the sustainability committee agreed to, they completely took out a whole section of one of the focus areas,” Hoving said Wednesday.

The draft created last winter had 71 actionable goals created by the steering committee. The plan, which was organized by the six focus areas (natural systems, energy in buildings, transportation, materials management and waste, community vitality and sustainable living) was a collaboration that involved a lot of compromise, but the steering committee was happy with what was created, according to Hoving.

On March 2, the steering committee was invited by the mayor’s office to see revisions made to the plan which was lacking in the eyes of SoDak 305.

“They just cut a bunch of it out, and they changed any definitive language to, you know, we’re going to evaluate doing something, or we’re going to consider or we’re going to think about, instead of actually having SMART goals: specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and time based,” Hoving said.

Holly Meier, sustainability coordinator for the city, said in a statement to KELOLAND News that Sustainable Sioux Falls is a collaborative process between the city, the public and the steering committee.

“The framework is still being drafted but at this point sets expectations that are realistic, measurable, and actionable. When the framework is ready, it will be shared for public input for a couple of months before city council will consider its approval,” Meier said.

TenHaken’s communications officer Vanessa Gomez also told KELOLAND News that the city is currently working to make the city more sustainable through water conservation, buffering the river, green infrastructure and converting the streetlights to LED.

‘All that hard work has been in vain’

For SoDak 350, the mayor’s framework is more than revising some parts of the plan.

“This is a fundamentally different document from the one that the sustainability committee agreed to, and that some of the folks on the sustainability committee feel like that all their hard work over the last year was a waste,” Hoving said.

Hoving feels that the language in the mayor’s document is more passive than the plan created in 2022. She’s also upset by the removal of several goals and key phrases such as “greenhouse emissions” and “climate change.”

“I know climate change is kind of seen as a contentious issue. But you know, folks in Sioux Falls, we had two derechos last year, you know, we have been experiencing drought conditions for, you know, a few years now, climate change is happening, and it’s happening here,” Hoving said.

Some of the changes made in the mayor’s plan can be viewed below.

Increase green infrastructure on city-owned properties.Include green infrastructure strategies and sustainable, drought tolerant landscaping on City properties where practical
Develop and implement a sustainable procurement policy.Continue exploring additional opportunities for sustainable procurement
and incorporating sustainability practices into capital and budget planning.
Increase green infrastructure and low-impact development
by providing education and technical assistance, encouraging and incentivizing
practices, and developing supportive policies.
Provide education on best
practices for low-impact development and sustainable landscaping that reduces
irrigation, chemical application, and stormwater runoff.
Develop and implement a sustainable procurement policy.Continue exploring additional opportunities for sustainable procurement
and incorporating sustainability practices into capital and budget planning.
SoDak 350’s comparison of the two plans

On Tuesday, SoDak 350 and five other organizations sent an open letter to TenHaken imploring him to revert to the steering committee’s December draft and release additional input used to create the 2023 revision.

“We’re trying to let the mayor know that it’s not too late to make this right. Sustainability matters to a lot of people in this community. And so, you know, a lot of people want to see Sioux Falls take real leadership and take action,” Hoving said.

“We don’t need to reinvent the wheel on sustainability.

Kara Hoving, SoDak 350

The letter comes on the heels of a visit from Gro Harlem Brundtland, former prime minister of Norway and the “Mother of Sustainability.”

“She said that we can’t take the risk of only thinking in the short term, there’s a real need for leadership at all levels, you know, at the global level, the federal level and the local level and businesses, universities, everybody needs to play a role,” Hoving said of the talk at Augustana University. “And right now, we’re just seeing a real lack of leadership, a lack of willingness to meaningfully act on a very important issue.”

Hoving added that the city doesn’t need to continue to evaluate the ideas behind a more sustainable Sioux Falls and instead should take action like other cities across the region.

“Rochester, Minnesota, Des Moines, Missoula, Montana, Fort Collins; There are a lot of cities in our region that have not only made actionable sustainability plans, but they’ve committed to 100% reductions in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050,” Hoving said. “We don’t need to reinvent the wheel on sustainability… we can look to the examples that are being said by these other cities and implement those.”