Three of Little Rock’s mayoral candidates attended an environment-focused forum on Wednesday night at the Hibernia Irish Tavern on Rodney Parham Road. Presented by the Sierra Club, Mayor Frank Scott Jr., Greg Henderson and Glen Schwarz talked about recycling, renewable energy and bike paths.
Mayoral candidate Steve Lander did not attend the discussion. On Tuesday afternoon, Landers told the Arkansas Times that he would not be at the forum because he had other duties to attend, although he did not specify where exactly he would be. Landers also transmitted a forum in southwest Little Rock on October 5, but he attended one five days later that the Central Arkansas Library System presented. Landers said no one from the Sierra Club contacted him about the forum.
wise george, the Arkansas Sierra Club group president and forum moderator, said each candidate’s campaign was emailed with an invitation. Wise said he sent four emails to Landers and received no response for his attendance. Landers told the Time that he does not check his e-mails and that someone from his team prints the e-mails he receives so that he can read them. He said he hadn’t seen an invitation for the forum. Wise said Wednesday that he finally contacted Landers by phone, but there was a scheduling conflict for the candidate.
The forum was cozy and many of the roughly two dozen attendees drank beers and ate small bites – the tavern smelled of hot, hearty soup. Wise said he sent the questions to candidates ahead of time because it is difficult to talk about environmental issues on the spot.
Scott focused his answers on the efforts his office is already making through collaborations with the city’s office of sustainability and with a renewable energy plan to transfer all of Little Rock’s electricity to 100% renewable sources. 2030.
He said he wants to increase recycling in the city by 10% by 2023 and work on both solar and wind power in central Arkansas if re-elected mayor. Scott said he supports President Joe Biden’s Green Deal and wants to mobilize federal funds for environmentally focused projects when possible. He also noted that infrastructure should consider environmental factors when planning bike lanes or sidewalks for transport, for example.
Scott said the mayor should play an advocacy and education role on making business operations carbon neutral. He again said it was important to take advantage of grants for these projects. He also mentioned his Green Restaurants initiative, which encourages environmental and sustainable practices.
On bike lanes and park developments, Scott said Little Rock is a city that “aspires to do more.” He said he supported the Southwest Trail and a comprehensive street pattern that would include more bike lanes. Scott spoke about his vision for War Memorial Park as a type of “central park” for Little Rock, which could include a sports complex that would keep residents in town on weekends rather than heading to North Little Rock or Benton and Bryant. Plus, an I-30 park “would add to the flavor of downtown,” Scott said.
Henderson said that as mayor he would like to lead by example on environmental issues. He said he would drive an electric vehicle and be an advocacy voice with state lawmakers and “be strong about it.” He said he would increase charging stations around the city, especially in libraries, which he says is a great place to install this infrastructure.
He noted that one thing the Scott administration has slacked off on is working with Metroplan, the regional planning agency, to act on the development of a greenway. Henderson said matching funds in a partnership could build new infrastructure for cyclists. Along the same lines, he said he wants to increase public transportation in the city so people don’t have to rely on their personal vehicles for everyday tasks like dropping kids off at school.
Solar and wind power were also two things Henderson said he supported. He added that it could be beneficial to look at hydro-eclectic options for the surrounding rivers as well. To create a carbon-neutral city, he said as mayor he would prioritize ‘progress over perfection’ and tackle some of the ‘low-hanging fruits’ while plans larger ones would be put in place. Providing education programs, building codes and incentives for private businesses should also help the city become carbon neutral.
Henderson said he fully supports the development of the Southwest Trail and wants to increase activity in War Memorial Park with ball diamonds and mixed-use playgrounds – he also said he wants more of involvement in the zoo. Henderson stressed that with the I-30 fleet, it’s important to have a strong voice from the city so the Arkansas Department of Transportation doesn’t “keep crushing us.”
When it was announced, this forum seemed perfect for Schwarz, who has focused his campaign on environmental action, including taking action on global warming. If elected, he said he would step up the city’s recycling program to extend it to apartments and condos, and introduce thorium nuclear power. He said he wanted to build a dense city, but didn’t think electric vehicles and solar or wind power were ways to stop climate change.
Schwarz said he was more supportive of bicycle transportation, though he would get rid of a downtown bike lane on the one-lane, one-way Louisiana Street road. At one point, Wise interrupted Schwarz and said the information he was sharing was incorrect.
In general, the forum was much less eventful than the previous ones. The audience had a few laughs and onstage bickering was at a minimum. KATV will host a forum on Thursday at 6:30 p.m. which will be broadcast.