‘Listen to us, please’: Youth help shape Gorge’s green future

Special Reports

On the heels of success in Hood River, climate activists push for action in Gorge 2020 management plan

WHITE SALMON, Wash. (KOIN) — Lottie Bromham isn’t old enough to vote, but she’s already helping shape public policy. She testified at the December meeting of the Columbia River Gorge Commission in White Salmon, urging commissioners to add more climate-focused objectives to the Gorge 2020 management plan.

“If we can push that through that would be really big because they’re in charge of the whole scenic area,” Bromham said.

This isn’t her first time advocating for policy change. Earlier this year, Bromham and a classmate spoke before the Hood River City Council, demanding they take action on climate change.

She said that speech was the most nerve wracking so far because she used “a lot of forceful language.”

Lottie Bromham, a senior at Hood River Valley High School, has testified in support of multiple climate resolutions in the Gorge (Hannah Ray Lambert)

“I told them that if they didn’t pass it, the children of Hood River would never forgive them,” she said. “So lots of like guilt tripping. But I think it’s effective and I think more kids need to speak up because, especially when we can’t vote, you just need to make sure your voice is heard.”

The council ended up declaring a climate crisis, and resolved to reach net-zero carbon emissions by the year 2035, 15 years earlier than initially planned. The declaration also followed a 2018 resolution to “increase energy independence and economic benefits related to energy use in Hood River County.”

Bromham’s mother, Heather Staten, is the executive director of Thrive Hood River, a land-use advocacy group. She says the city has “walked the walk” and been a leader in terms of climate action.

“They’ve put solar panels almost anyplace they can put a solar panel. They’re changing their police fleet to hybrid vehicles, they’re looking at using their city water supply for micro hydro to generate their own hydro power,” Staten said. “They’re a really innovative little city.”

The City of Hood River’s 2020 budget includes a possible in-line hydropower project. That’s a system that generates power from water pipelines (City of Hood River).

It’s not always cheap to go green. The City of Hood River declined to provide cost estimates and returns on some of its solar panel installments as of Monday evening. The panels can be found everywhere from the fire department, to Waterfront Park. The county Health Department’s solar system was made possible due to a nearly $70,000 grant from Pacific Power. That does not include funding for a backup battery system, so for now the building uses diesel-powered generators. However, the system does supply about 60% of the building’s power and is expected to save the Health Department about $3,000 a year, according to Marla Harvey, energy coordinator with the Mid-Columbia Economic Development District.

The Hood River County Health Department building gets about 60% of its energy from solar panels (Hannah Ray Lambert)

Harvey added that about 10 solar and battery feasibility studies are planned for critical facilities around the county. They will include buildings like libraries, fire stations and other government buildings. The goal is to also make county buildings more resilient, enabling the flow of energy during extended emergencies when other power sources may not be available.

According to Peter Cornelison, a field representative for Friends of the Columbia Gorge, other cities are implementing sustainability measures. For example, he said the City of Mosier is looking at passing a climate emergency resolution as well.

“I think people that live here really understand the beauty and the specialness of this landscape and so I think people want to protect it,” Cornelison said.

He guest lectures at Hood River Valley High School, where Bromham and other students have found an outlet in the Earth Action Club.

They participate in Earth Day events and Climate Strikes, and advocate for more solar panels at school and hand driers instead of paper towels. They’re inspired by politicians like Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and fellow youth-activists like Greta Thunberg.

“There’s like a general wave of young people being like, ‘Listen to us please,'” Bromham said.

The adults aren’t surprised so many young people are getting into the fight.

“I think adults have failed them in a lot of ways,” Staten said. “We’re not leaving our kids with as good of an environment as our parents left us and that’s kind of sad.”

The 2019 Climate Strike in Hood River (Peter Cornelison)

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