View from Glen Hill: Should the Blue Zone get a green light?

Wanting to learn more about the Blue Zone initiative, I spoke for an hour last month at their invitation with Beverly Brokaw and Kara Ash, two advocates for Wilton’s adoption of the Blue Zone program.

I had already attended a portion of the public presentation at the Clune Center on this subject more than a month ago made by one of the national leaders of the program and left it far less than fully impressed. I also read a letter to the editor published shortly afterwards criticizing the program heavily. So I came to this meeting with Beverly and Kara a confirmed skeptic. I left less so, though certainly not completely convinced.

After Beverly and Kara recounted the benefits a town can gain from being one of the 47 municipalities around the country that have so far become Blue Zone certified, they represented the following in response to my pointed questions:

Item 1. Neither Beverly nor Kara has any financial interest nor has (or will) either receive any compensation in connection with Blue Zone work.

Item 2. A $50,000 fee is paid to the Blue Zone folks for their study of our town that takes about a month to complete. This study results in a document (the Study Document) delivered to Wilton that specifies exactly what Wilton must do to receive Blue Zone certification.

Item 3. Beverly and Kara will have lined up funding (I understood them to say that they actually already have the commitment) from a private source for the full $50,000 fee.

Item 4. The Study Document will contain a (lengthy) list of things that Wilton must do to achieve Blue Zone certification, but that list will include many options (sidewalk construction is just one of them and not a required component, they said) among which our town may choose, to fulfill the certification requirements.

Item 5. Having received the Study Document, Wilton will then be free to accept or reject proceeding with certification. If Wilton rejects proceeding, Wilton will have no obligation to the Blue Zone folks or the fee funder and simply walks away.

Item 6. If Wilton decides to proceed with certification, the Blue Zone folks will specify in writing the steps that need to be taken and the costs for doing so and contractually commit that if those steps are taken and costs paid, Wilton will receive certification.  Those costs may be as high as $3.5 million. I immediately replied that I was sure that would be a non-starter for our town. However, Beverly confirmed that funding will come in full from a private funding source. She said the Blue Zone folks have a lengthy (c. 50-page) contract confirming their and the municipality’s agreement and the duties of each and stating that certification will be granted upon accomplishment of the steps selected by the municipality from among the choices laid out in the Study Document.   

I replied that the funding sounds like a deal too good to be true which always makes me suspicious, but they reconfirmed their assurances. I replied that if Wilton were to consider proceeding first with item 2 and thereafter with item 6 — having judged, after receiving the item 2 Study Document, that it was worth obtaining Blue Zone certification in the hope of encouraging healthier lifestyles for all of us and attracting new residents and added traffic for our town businesses — I would want to see the following in place to protect our town:

  • For item 2: a short, focused agreement executed by the Blue Zone folks committing to do the survey and to produce the Study Document and committing also to a firm price of $50,000 for this work. Back-to-back with that agreement, I’d want to see a written agreement with the private funder guaranteeing the funder’s payment of the full $50,000.

  • For item 6: if our town chooses to proceed after reviewing the Study Document, I’d want to see a short (c. 3-5 pages, not 50 pages), crystal-clear agreement executed by the Blue Zone folks and committing to give Wilton Blue Zone certification that is non-revocable so long as Wilton does the items specifically laid out, with quantified (not subjective) measures of performance, at the price specified in the agreement. Again, back-to-back with that agreement, I would want to see a legally binding written commitment from the private funding source to pay the full price specified to fulfill the certification requirements, with that amount either placed in a trust maintained by the town or performance bonded.