Sewickley Valley groups collaborate on sustainable development

Tuesday, July 9, 2019 | 6:00 AM


Residents from the Sew­ickley Valley are assisting Re-Imagine BeaverCounty in its effort to facilitate a green economy.

Re-Imagine Beaver, a volunteer coalition of Beaver County residents formed in 2017, released a report in May that summarized ideas for sustainable community and economic development in the county. The report incorporated ideas from a two-year visioning process, during which community members identified goals and priorities for the county’s future.

Groups such as Communities First-Sewickley Valley, Breathe Project and Re-Imagine Butler County participated in the process. The League of Women Voters of Pennsylvania helped cover expenses associated with the report, according to Joanne Martin, co-founder of Re-Imagine Beaver County.

The organization is an initiative of Beaver County Marcellus Awareness Community, which started about 10 years ago in response to concerns about the petrochemical industry.

“The next step, which the report makes reference to, is to create a green economy task force. And that task force would identify potential growth opportunities in the sectors of development that exist in the report,” Martin said.

To make the task force a reality, she said, Re-Imagine will work on mobilizing allies from neighboring communities in Pennsylvania, and eventually from surrounding states. The group has partnered with Communities First-Sewickley Valley to help achieve this goal.

“What happens in Beaver County definitely impacts our quality of life in the Sew­ickley Valley, and that’s why Communities First has had public programs for the past two years to educate and make people aware of this,” said Gail Murray of Communities First-Sewickley Valley, a health and environmental advocacy group that also works with municipal leaders on zoning issues.

Communities First plans to further the goals of Re-Imagine Beaver by educating residents and local leaders about alternative investments that could benefit the region, according to Murray.

The Re-Imagine report identified four sectors of growth for Beaver County, including energy innovation, green chemistry, sustainable agriculture and riverfront recreation. It listed ideas like encouraging solar energy projects, facilitating incubator labs for materials research, promoting community gardens and agricultural projects and transforming riverfront areas into trails for biking and walking.

These sectors represent sustainable long-term investments that do not have the same “expiration date” as petrochemicals and plastics, Martin said.

“We should be thinking about our children’s future living in this area and their professional futures as well,” said Murray.

In addition to educating residents, Re-Imagine is also trying to identify business and political leaders that might support the sustainable goals mentioned in the report.

Residents of Sewickley and other regions “can join together and start to contribute their brain power, financial resources, business contacts and network to start to really create a movement here,” Martin said.

She also addressed addressed the common critique that environmental groups are against jobs, saying community leaders can work toward the goals of a healthy environment and a thriving economy at the same time.

Re-Imagine has taken steps to encourage discussion between community members with opposing viewpoints. The group has received a mini grant from the Beaver County nonprofit RiverWise to facilitate dialogue between proponents of the petrochemical industry eager for the economic benefits and clean-air advocates.

According to Murray, the goals of Re-Imagine Beaver County benefit both residents and the economy.

“This is about making this entire area thrive, maintaining our property values and our health and our natural resources,” she said.

For more information on Communities First-Sewickley Valley, visit communitiesfirst sewickleyvalley.org.