Nancy Nylen of the Center for EcoTechology, right, talks about the work done by Penner.
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — With passion, persistence and patience, Wendy Penner long has been one of the leading environmental advocates in the town.
On Monday, Earth Day, she was publicly recognized for her engagement in the uphill battle to stem the tide of climate change.
"To me, leadership is the ability to engage people, to race a problematic reality and do some work," said Laura Dubester, a co-director of the Pittsfield-based Center for EcoTechnology for 30 years. "In this case, the problematic reality is climate change and its impact on people, businesses, communities and the planet.
"Wendy understands the science and why people want to avoid this issue — whether from fear, despair or hopelessness — and she's able to engage people.
"This requires many personal qualities, including understanding, patience, listening.Skills like working collaboratively and problem solving. Wendy has demonstrated all of those."
Dubester was at Town Hall along with CET Associate Director Nancy Nylen to recognize Penner with the Alan Silverstein and Laura Dubester Award for Community Environmental Leadership.
The award was created in 2015 to recognize volunteers in the community whose work complements that of the center. The 2016 honoree Lauren Stevens of Williamstown was in the audience on Monday when Penner received the award at a meeting of the town's Select Board.
"I'm blessed to have worked side by side with [Silverstein and Dubester] for almost three decades," Nylen said. "Laura and Alan were true pioneers. They practically invented the energy audit.
"They always cared so much about the local community and the people who lead by example. They realize how important it is to take practical steps, large and small. They know what dedication and hard work it takes but also that it is so rewarding. It all makes a difference.
"Change a light, begin to change the world."
Penner has been responsible for a lot of changed lightbulbs in the Village Beautiful through her work on Williamstown's Cool Committeee. Cool, which was founded in 2001, set goals like calling for each household in town to replace at least five bulbs with compact fluorescent bulbs.
"If every household in Williamstown were to switch five ordinary incandescent bulbs to CFLs, it is estimated that this would prevent nearly 3 million pounds of CO2 emissions each year," according to the committee's website.
Nylen told the Select Board she did not have time to list all of Penner's activities in support of environmental causes, but she highlighted her work with the local elementary and middle-high school to do outreach programs for students and families, the local talks she organized with internationally recognized environmentalists Bill McKibben and Elizabeth Kolbert and the Cool Committee's successful campaign with Solarize Mass that saw 80 homeowners install solar panels.
It was no accident that Penner was honored at one of the Select Board's twice-monthly meetings.
The honoree noted that the Cool Committee was created because Nylen and Hank Art went to the Select Board and asked for a resolution to recognize the civic group.
"I am so proud to be a resident of Williamstown and of the leadership Williamstown has shown on the issue of climate change and sustainability," Penner said. "Not only did the Select Boar support Nancy and Hank's request … [Select Board member] Jane Allen became chair of the Cool Committee.
"The town has been a true partner with the citizen's committee that the Cool Committee is. Thank you to [Town Manager] Jason [Hoch], to Peter Fohlin, your predecessor and to [Public Works Director] Tim Kaiser, who has been a very strong partner."
Penner also thanked the leadership of the CET, particularly the work of Dubester and Silverstein, who died in 2014.
"When I moved to Williamstown and thought I was going to be an academic and realized that that wasn't going to be my path, CET became a home to me," Penner said. "I was amazed and inspired by Laura and Alan. Thank you for all the ways you and CET have touched me over so many years."
After thanking Penner and the guests from CET for their efforts, the board continued with a relatively light agenda. The other highlight was the annual proclamation of Arbor Day, this year on April 26.
Chairwoman Anne O'Connor, herself a longtime environmental activist, delivered the proclamation, which continues a tradition started in Nebraska in 1872.
" ‘Whereas trees, wherever they are planted, are a source of joy and spiritual renewal,' " O'Connor read, pausing briefly from the written proclamation to interject that trees also contribute to air quality.
"The [Williamstown Board of Selectmen] … urges all citizens to plant trees to gladden the heart and promote the well being of this and future generations," the proclamation concludes.
In other business on Monday, the board approved a change of manager of the liquor license at the Clark Art Institute, where Kelly Turner has taken over for Dawn VanNess, and appointed Robert Mathews as an alternate to the Zoning Board of Appeals.
Hoch also gave the board a disappointing update on the status of a planned bike trail that is designed to start near the junction of Syndicate Road and North Street (Route 7), wend along the Hoosic River and ultimately take bikers, walkers and joggers through the former Spruces property on Main Street.
The town had hoped the Williamstown portion of what ultimately will be an expanded Ashuwillticook Rail Trail could proceed before North Adams settles the issue of how the trail will pick up in the Steeple City.
But in the last month, the town has confirmed that the Massachusetts Department of Transportation wants to "realign the timetables," Hoch told the board. That means the Williamstown portion will not be ready to go to bid until the North Adams segment is ready to be bid.
The town had been operating on the assumption that the project within its town line would be ready to go out to bid this September and the North Adams portion would "catch up," Hoch said.
"Right now, this would push to an ... end of the year preparation for advertising," Hoch said. "I think the concern is that at some point when you shift the DOT timetable out for advertising, you run the risk of losing another construction season."
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