A group of central Maine residents met in Waterville in January 2009 to discuss what they could do to help improve the quality of life for the people of our communities.

Some were concerned about our nation’s dependence on foreign oil; others about the lack of job opportunities in the area; and still others about the looming problem of climate change. For three days, we put our heads together, shared our diverse views, and listened to one another. As a result of these discussions, the grassroots organization Sustain Mid Maine Coalition was created.

At that first gathering, we listed our concerns for the area and developed a vision for the year 2020. This vision recognized that our survival depends on a healthy, safe environment, and we realize that we are part of an interdependent world of natural resources, human communities and economic systems.

We decided on a mission statement for Sustain Mid Maine Coalition that says, “We promote energy conservation and alternative energy use for residents, businesses and municipal operations, thereby reducing energy costs for taxpayers while also cutting harmful greenhouse gas emissions.”

The goals of the coalition are:

* To reflect the collective values, priorities and aspirations of central Maine residents by involving as many of them as possible in decisions that affect us all.

* To establish a mechanism to implement change in the collective values, priorities and aspirations of residents.

* To help guide the decisions of our policymakers, communities and individuals to create a sustainable, healthy and prosperous Maine.

By grouping our concerns, we formed teams working in five areas: education; energy; local foods; rethink, reduce, reuse, recycle; and transportation. Team leaders were chosen, and individuals decided to join certain teams based on their interests.

Because of our concern about climate change, SMMC added a Climate Change Policy Team in 2012. This team studies bills presented to the Legislature for their impact on the environment.

Sustain Mid Maine Coalition recently partnered with Running Start Institute to plan a briefing about climate adaptation. This informational meeting will be held at Kennebec Valley Community College on Nov. 2 and is open to the public.

Sustain Mid Maine Coalition is active in Waterville, Winslow, Fairfield, Oakland and Vassalboro

The Energy Team is the coalition’s top priority because we believe it is essential that we reduce our reliance on fossil fuels. The Energy Team received an Energy Efficiency Collumnity Block Grant of $150,000 that was used to assist 145 Waterville and Winslow residents with energy audits. As a result, those residents saved about $169,000 in energy costs. The Energy Team was rewarded for its efforts by winning the Hastings Award from Efficiency Maine.

People who attended The Taste of Waterville might have met some of the volunteers assisting the Rethink, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle Team in its efforts to compost.

As result of these volunteers’ efforts, about 700 pounds of pre- and post-consumer waste was kept from the waste stream by being composted at the Bragg Farm in Sidney.

The Transportation Team has enhanced public transportation through the Kennebec Explorer buses, which run daily around Waterville and between Fairfield and Augusta. They now are working to improve bicycle and pedestrian access in the area.

The Education Team has hosted numerous educational programs about green initiatives.

Because of the efforts of the Local Foods Team, community gardens have grown at North Street and Moor Street in Waterville, on Dallaire Street in Winslow, and in Oakland. Youth gardens were started at the Hall School in Waterville and at the Alfond Youth Center.

Over the next months, Sustain Mid Maine Coalition volunteers will use this column to highlight areas of environmental concern. Each month a coalition writer will provide information about the ways we all can be better stewards of the environment. We invite people to check out our website at www.sustainmidmaine.org. Those who are interested in joining Sustain Mid Maine Coalition may contact Linda Woods at lwoods@waterville-me.gov or 680-4208.

Linda Woods is a lifelong environmentalist and the coordinator of Sustain Mid Maine Coalition, a grassroots organization dedicated to improving the quality of life for the people of central Maine.