Transportation and climate action discussed at BSRAD
By Jack Reaney STAFF WRITER
Discussions of Big Sky’s Climate Action Plan and Big Sky Transportation District highlighted a quicker-than-usual Big Sky Resort Area District meeting on Wednesday, March. 8.
Other topics included the capital improvement plan defining long-term investment strategy for public funds, fiscal year 2024 resort tax funding requests, improving BSRAD’s cash reserve investment strategy, and a brief update on the Big Sky Local Governance group that recently hit the brakes on its efforts to engage the public. The meeting was attended by Jennifer Boyer, recently elected to the Gallatin County Commission.
Big Sky Sustainability Network Organization’s director of community sustainability Lizzie Peyton and Big Sky Resort sustainability specialist Amy Fonte spoke about the recently unveiled Climate Action Plan. They summarized the plan’s four targeted improvement priorities: energy and buildings, natural environment, transportation, and consumption and waste.
On energy, they said are representing Big Sky in a collaboration between Bozeman, Missoula and Helena to negotiate renewable energy rates with Northwest Energy.
On natural environment, they plan to distribute guides for homeowners looking to implement fire-safe and habitat-friendly landscaping.
On waste and consumption, Peyton described Big Sky SNO’s process of “data driven dumpster diving,” in which the group studies large quantities of waste and separates it into 30 categories.
“Currently we’ve sorted through, I think, 8,000 pounds of trash,” Peyton said. “We have found the current data is just over 15% of what goes into the landfill is actually divertible with systems in place that we currently have.”
BSRAD board chair Sarah Blechta asked what percentage of edible food could be recovered. Peyton responded that 28% percent of food studied by Big Sky SNO was edible, and she agreed with the board’s suggestion that a better effort could be made to support the Big Sky Community Food Bank.
“Composting is fantastic, don’t want to diminish it,” Peyton said “[But] you should be trying to feed other humans with edible food first.”
One less car
On transportation, Fonte polled the boardroom on how people got to Big Sky. None rode the bus, none rode Big Sky Connect micro transit, and all drove their own cars.
“We have a lot of room for improvement in transportation,” Fonte said. “It [causes] one-third of our greenhouse gas emissions in our community.”
Big Sky One Less Car, the carpooling incentive which offers $30 gifts cards from participating businesses to commuters who logged shared rides or bus rides, had 62 participants in February.
To reach the CAP goal of net-zero emissions, “it takes literally every single person in this community, whether you’re a full-time resident, second homeowner, a visitor, a business owner—every single person needs to be a part of this solution.”
The CAP discussion on limiting individual cars reinforced an update from Big Sky Transportation District board chair Ennion Williams, who highlighted the early success of Big Sky Connect micro transit and the challenges of serving the entire resort area district. Williams also works for Outlaw Partners, the publisher of Explore Big Sky.
Big Sky Connect has served 10,000 passengers since launching on Jan. 2, Williams said. The service averages 150-200 rides per day.
The BSRAD board asked Williams questions, clarifying the physical boundaries of the service. They pointed out that as soon as possible, Big Sky Connect should be serving the entire resort area district to make fair use of taxpayer dollars.
“I think that at the end of the season, it’s my hope that we’re able to bring online Hidden Village and Powder Light,” Williams said. In past discussion with EBS, district executive director Darren Brugmann outlined plans to expand the current service area to those locations after collecting data in early months after implementation.
Board discussion also included deeper connection with Bozeman’s Streamline Bus. The Streamline may benefit from an upcoming ballot-item which would affirm urban transportation district, according to Commissioner Boyer. If it passes, the district would go online in September.
“That will allow Streamline to change its fiscal headquarters to that entity, so they can still receive federal funds,” Boyer said.
Four months after the board agreed to pursue a contractor to update Big Sky’s Capital Improvement Plan, Daniel Bierschwale, BSRAD executive director, said that TischlerBise is under contract and will begin their work soon.
Board member Kevin Germain spoke in support of an economic impact analysis.
“We felt [it] would be extremely beneficial to show other partners the dollars that are being generated in this community… I think it [would be] very wise dollars spent and something worth pulling together.”
Data could help improve applications for grants across nonprofits and government services.
The board approved a motion to pursue an economic impact analysis to be updated every two years, contracting with the Northern Rocky Mountain Economic Development District.
Board secretary and treasurer Steve Johnson provided an update on past board discussion on making better use of cash reserves, which rarely get below eight figures in the bank due to BSRAD’s conservative strategy.
“We have been given the go ahead to hire an attorney to consider the possibility of investing our pile of cash, which is significant,” Johnson said. “Expect a proposal from us relatively soon on that. This is a huge deal.”
Johnson said BSRAD is currently earning money market rates—he said that’s 1%—on cash, “which is rather pathetic. We can do better and we will.”
Later in the meeting, Bierschwale introduced the fiscal year 2024 overview. Funding requests were $11,094,535 in total, which exceeded the $7.9 million in BSRAD’s budget. In fiscal year 2023, Resort Tax distributed $7,998,179 to 66 projects.
“Another good reason to have a capital improvement plan. We can’t save for things in the process. This is not working, so we need this [CIP] in order to save our dollars in an effective way.”
The board briefly addressed the incorporation of Big Sky as a municipality.
“We are working with a few people who are a part of that group to try to sort out what next steps are,” Blechta said. “There were some changes in the group, so we are trying to help facilitate with all parties to make sure everybody can keep talking and moving things forward, openly and with everybody at the table. We’re hoping to have some good information here in the next few months, but no other real update at this point.”