Sustainability in Rye — Looking Back and Forward

Since Roman times, January has been known as the two-faced month: one looking back to how we got where we are and the other looking to the future to see where we will be in the coming months and years. 

Published January 22, 2016 8:01 PM
4 min read


Sustain-thSince Roman times, January has been known as the two-faced month: one looking back to how we got where we are and the other looking to the future to see where we will be in the coming months and years. 

By Bill Lawyer

A3-sustainSince Roman times, January has been known as the two-faced month: one looking back to how we got where we are and the other looking to the future to see where we will be in the coming months and years.  

Here in Rye, the concept of sustainability came to the forefront six years ago, when the City Council voted to establish a Sustainability Committee.  Now is a good time to look back to that time, and then look forward to what the future might bring for Rye’s environment.

The impetus for the Council’s action in 2010 stemmed from an environmental forum held in the winter of 2008. The two disastrous floods of 2007 were fresh on everyone’s minds, and the Rye library was filled with concerned residents the night of the forum.  

The program was co-sponsored by the Rye Conservation Commission Advisory Council, Friends of the Rye Nature Center, Wainwright House, and the School PTO Environmental Committee. Four topics were discussed: pesticides, recycling, motor vehicle idling, and leaf blowers.

The speakers included then Mayor Steve Otis, Edith Read Sanctuary Curator Jason Klein, Grassroots Outreach Coordinator Ellen Weininger, Westchester Commissioner of Environmental Facilities Tom Lauro, Chair of the Milton School Environmental Committee Mimi Bateman, and Wainwright co-president Annie Gaillard.

The meeting concluded with a call for action by Ashley Craig of the Environmental Advocacy Group, who said: “It’s all in our hands.”

The first step was a proposal to ban the use of leaf-blowers from May through September, and to limit leaf blower use to one at a time October through April. The law was passed in the spring of 2008.  

During the next year, major efforts were put forth to get Rye’s schools to ‘green’ their operations.  The Rye Nature Center put together a stormwater management video that showed property owners what they could do to keep stormwater from overwhelming the Blind Brook watershed.  

The City also advocated for action on the County, State, and Federal levels — particularly on flood problems. New procedures were enacted, and the old Bowman Avenue Dam was renovated.  

By 2009, Councilwoman Suzanna Keith and others realized that the best way to bring about change in Rye was from the inside. A new task force spent the next year conducting research, meeting with area environmental groups to learn best practices, and drafting a template plan. A workshop with the City Council was held in the fall, with the focus on creating a new, official body entitled the Rye Sustainability Committee (RSC).  

The goal was to develop a citywide sustainability plan. The Council agreed and the committee started work in 2011.

At the same time, members of the RSC worked to pick the low-hanging fruit and host a variety of educational programs. The banning of non-reusable checkout bags was passed by the Council at the end of 2011 and went into effect the following year.  

Rye joined with Mamaroneck and Larchmont environmental groups to hold a No Idling Day in 2012. With help from city and local contractors, the committee carried out an audit of all the City government’s energy use.  

Working in conjunction with Rye Country Day School, the committee sponsored two Green Screen documentary events — “Bag It” and “No Impact Man.”  

One of the few initiatives that has not gone forward is a revision of the City’s tree ordinance, to prevent cutting down of trees without cause.  

Most recently, Rye has become a member of Sustainable Westchester, the Energy Improvement Corporation, and the Climate Smart Community. And, the Council voted to limit the use of rock chipping to protect health and safety. They also voted to accept funds from Westchester County for stormwater management capital projects.  

Concurrent with working on these achievements, the RSC, led by Sara Goddard, completed the Sustainability Plan, which was adopted by the Council in December 2013.  

Topics in the document — available at — include conserving energy and lowering greenhouse gasses (tree planting), transportation (air pollution and safe streets), waste reduction, water/land use (pesticides/non-point pollutants), and community awareness.  

What’s next on RSC’s schedule? Two upcoming free programs: the third “green screen” documentary, entitled “Idle Fear,” will be shown at Rye Country Day School on Friday, January 29 from 6:30 to 9. And, at 10 on Wednesday, February 10 at Wainwright House, Taro Ietaka of the Rye Nature Center will lead a discussion on “What’s Under Your Lawn — The Secret of Healthy Soil.”  
Two broad areas for future RSC focus include land use and open space.  

RSC Chair Goddard stresses that the success will only come with more public awareness of the problems and solutions. “More people have to be involved. In many cases, it’s a matter of enforcing laws already in place.”

Goddard encourages people who want to help make Rye sustainable to contact her at


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