By Sean Forbes Big Sky Weekly Contributor
BOZEMAN – Wendy Weaver doesn’t have a crystal ball full of answers.
She does, however, have a different perspective on urban growth and development in the Gallatin Valley and southwest Montana. Refusing to accept that characteristics like sprawl and waste and long commutes are just part of the deal, Weaver is putting her engineering talents to the test in trying to unite the area’s various efforts aimed at responsible, sustainable expansion.
“I started to get burnt out on engineering, and I started to realize the importance of sustainability,” said Weaver, a civil engineer who graduated from Montana State University in Bozeman. “So, long story short, I started to move into the field of sustainability and started looking at it through the lens of an engineer.”
As a result, in May of 2008 Weaver created Gallatin Growth Solutions, a collaborating network of area engineers, builders, planners and other professionals looking to provide answers to the inevitable issues that accompany a large influx of people.
“I’ve traveled the world enough to know that we have a really special place here,” Weaver said. “And so that’s part of what drives me to want to protect it.”
Prior to the recent recession, Gallatin County was one of the fastest growing in the United States – “exploding at the seams,” as Weaver described. That rate of development, in combination with an expectation that it will continue, poses some serious questions for city and county officials – for example, will there be enough water for everyone?
“I like to believe that we can be proactive on a lot of these things, but I’m not sure if we can,” Weaver said. “I think it’s human nature, s*** hits the fan and then we do something about it.”
To that proactive end, Gallatin Growth Solutions’ focus is divided between many of the big issues – clean air, clean water, preservation of natural and agricultural land, even going so far as to explore the possibility of the county growing its own food.
“It’s just to address how we’re going to grow in the future,” Weaver said. “We felt it would be more powerful if county commissioners, city commissioners heard from the people that these types of concepts were going to impact – engineers, architects, builders, developers, planners, people that were in the field working on these types of issues.”
Last year the group worked primarily on local water resource topics, putting on the Water-Energy Nexus panel discussion at the Bozeman Public Library and the Gallatin Valley’s Water Future forum on the campus of MSU. GGS also hosted several webinars on various related subjects.
More recently, Weaver and GGS – in partnership with John Lavey and members of the Sonoran Institute in Bozeman – have been working on a project dubbed Gallatin Valley 2050. The motion story accessible with the same title on YouTube will be shown at events in the area in the coming months to fuel the conversation about what needs to be done if projections of adding 175,000 residents within the next 40 years prove accurate.
“Getting people motivated to do something is tough,” said Weaver, who is also involved with U.S. Green Building Council. “I’ve been working on this for six years now, and I look at the progress we’ve made. We could easily be talking about the same exact issues in another 40 years.”
Yet, trusting strength in numbers, Weaver and GGS hope connecting the dots of the different and divergent efforts to find sustainable solutions to common problems will set this area’s future on less uncertain ground.
“This might all be in vain, but nevertheless, I like challenges so here I am,” Weaver said.
Sean Forbes is a freelance writer based in Bozeman, where chasing stories only occasionally gets in the way of playing outside.