Action Plans

Planning for sustainability and resiliency in Southeast Minnesota communities

Faribault, Rochester, Red Wing & Northfield

Grounded in
Sustainability

 

Sustainability is not just about protecting the environment. It is about providing a quality of life for future generations that equally considers economic viability and social equity, along with the environment. Resiliency is the ability to absorb stresses and maintain functions, in addition improving sustainability in the face of those stresses.

Increasingly, communities in Southeast Minnesota are discussing sustainability and resiliency to incorporate both into their planning efforts. Planning is the process of engaging and collecting citizen feedback to create a vision for the future. It incorporates values to provide long-range goals that will guide future activities of local government.

This article explores various approaches taken by Faribault, Rochester, Red Wing, and Northfield to incorporate sustainability and resiliency in some of their recent planning work.  You can also see the recording and slides from a workshop with city staff from each community.

 
faribault

Sustainability and resiliency are woven in throughout the Comprehensive Plan as an overarching theme, not just a separate chapter in a final document. Principles of sustainability guided these planning efforts holistically.

David Wanberg, Faribault City Planner

David Wanberg is Faribault’s City Planner and staff liaison to the City’s recently created Environmental Commission. Faribault just completed a two-year public input process for Faribault’s Journey to 2040: Comprehensive Plan, with a goal of reaching a wide range of diverse citizens. Leading up to and during this process Faribault has proactively included sustainability into a myriad of planning efforts. In this way Wanberg says, “Sustainability and resiliency are woven in throughout the Comprehensive Plan as an overarching theme, not just a separate chapter in a final document.”

Some steps taken in the years leading up to the comprehensive planning include a 2015 Minnesota GreenStep Cities grant, which was used to connect the GreenStep goals with the City’s Main Street program. This resulted in a workshop for local businesses and a video promoting energy efficiency in the City’s many historic buildings. In 2016, Faribault became a participant in Xcel Energy’s Partners in Energy Program. They adopted an Energy Action Plan in 2017, and with Xcel’s help made impressive progress in helping low-income residents save energy. Faribault received a 2018 CERTs Seed Grant that was used to develop a solar readiness plan for local governments and schools. Also in 2018, the City participated in the Solar Possible program led by CERTs to advance procurement of solar PV for public entities. In addition, following participation in the Cities Charging Ahead program, Faribault held an electric vehicle (EV) ride and drive event and replaced two of its fleet vehicles with EVs.

A Sustainable Industries Cohort formed in 2018. Roughly 25-50 business leaders meet periodically to discuss how Faribault’s industries can continue to move toward sustainability in a way that is integrated with economic development. Their input was included in the comprehensive planning process as was input from populations that are less often included, such as low-income residents of manufactured home parks, Somali new Americans, and members of a pollinator protection group. 

Faribault recently completed work on Journey to 2040 updating the City’s Comprehensive Plan and creating a Downtown Master Plan, and a Parks, Trails, and Open Space Plan. Wanberg indicated that “principles of sustainability guided these planning efforts holistically.” The community wanted a plan that was simple and visionary not a document with hundreds of complex policies. Thus, strategic planning will follow and will identify specific action items for the future. With the recent creation of the City’s Environmental Commission, Faribault intends to strengthen its commitment to move toward sustainability.

carport

The Red Wing 2040 Community Plan is for making the community a better place to live for everyone over the next 20 years and beyond. One of the key differences in this planning cycle was that the City went into the community, especially to reach those who historically had been under-represented.

Melissa Baartman, Red Wing Community and Economic Development Coordinator

The Red Wing 2040 Community Plan is a comprehensive plan “for making the community a better place to live for everyone over the next 20 years and beyond.” The city won a 2019 Minnesota Chapter Award from the American Planning Association for their community engagement during the planning process. Melissa Baartman, the Red Wing Community and Economic Development Coordinator indicated that one of the key differences in this planning cycle was that the City went “into the community, especially to reach those who historically had been under-represented.” Rather than just holding input sessions for folks to come to council chambers, staff went to the United Way free school supply night, dollar night at the local water park, River City Days, and even tabled at Guns & Hoses Softball events to gather input.

Baartman shared that “Red Wing has a strong history of sustainability.” They have had an official city-appointed Sustainability Commission since 2008. They became a Minnesota GreenStep City in 2011 and have been at the highest step level for two years. Input to the recent comprehensive plan indicated that “86% of respondents think that global warming should be recognized by the City in its actions and policies,” while “92% encourage the use of renewable energy,” and “90% support efforts to become more sustainable.” Baartman says this input funneled down to development goals, including a reduction of Carbon emissions and other toxic gasses by 80% by 2040, as approved by City Council in their 2019 Strategic Plan.

Out of this process, Red Wing is now working on a Climate Action Plan that has just a 5-year time-frame. This is different than some communities that plan for action to full decarbonization, which can be decades away. Baartman says money was one of the determinants of the short-term strategy. The comprehensive planning process costs tens of thousands of dollars and a full-blown Climate Action Plan can have a $40,000 to $70,000 price tag. This approach does have some benefits, Baartmann noted, as “you don’t have to theorize about actions you might be taking 20 years from now, given that you don’t know what technologies will even be available.” Red Wing has hired Great Plains Institute, one of the CERTs partner organizations, to help them, as they lacked in-house expertise. Baartman hopes the plan, which will “be geared toward actions building momentum for incremental change”, will be done and approved later in 2020.

rochester

At the end of the day, we are working to ensure cleaner air and water, less waste, a dependable and robust mass transit system, and a community where all feel welcomed and are given opportunities to thrive. I think given its scope, the concept of sustainability provides anyone an opportunity to engage and for alignment.

Kevin Bright, Destination Medical Center and Rochester Sustainability Director

In the three years since a Sustainability Office was established in the City of Rochester, the community has initiated an impressive number of building blocks toward sustainability. Rochester is one of the first cities in the country to achieve Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Gold Community Status. This LEED certification is based on rankings around energy, water, waste, transportation, and the human experience. Rochester’s highest scores are in the energy category where they have reduced their per capita carbon emissions by 16% and energy use by 21.5% over 2007 levels. 

The movement began several years before Kevin Bright was hired as Sustainability Director for Destination Medical Center and Rochester, with development of the 2015 Energy Action Plan, partly funded by a CERTs Seed Grant. Bright, with extensive sustainability experience at Harvard University and Colby College, has accelerated the process helping the city forge a path to its long- and short-term sustainability goals. Using energy-use wedge planning tools available through participation in the Minnesota GreenStep Cities program, Bright modelled and then proposed needed carbon and energy reductions in buildings, transportation and electricity generation sectors.

Over the last several years these goals have translated into specific actions in Rochester’s various plans. For example, the Energy Action Plan, approved in 2016, and the Transportation Plan, approved in 2019, call for electrifying public transit and city fleets, building electric vehicle infrastructure, encouraging biking and walking, creating a ride sharing tool, and growing transit-oriented development. As a municipal electric utility, Rochester Public Utilities is currently mapping out a plan to move toward 100% renewable energy by 2030. Planning efforts around the built environment include incentives for building energy efficiency, a Tax Increment Financing Sustainable Building Policy, and evaluations of multiple District Energy System possibilities. 

The City and DMC have also worked toward a sustainability-focused culture change. A monthly sustainability series has been created, where local firms such as MEP Associates, a nationally recognized expert in district energy, share information. The monthly presentations are followed by open discussion about sustainability with community and business leaders. The Rochester Energy Commission initiated a project to perform weatherization for low-income residents. This has evolved into Minnesota Energy Resources, Rochester’s Natural Gas utility, offering these same programs across the city and region. The city is part of Minnesota’s Sustainable Building Collaborative with 90 buildings, representing 11% of the city’s energy use, participating in building benchmarking. Energy use is published publicly, bringing what are currently “externalities” into the market. Air monitors are being sited throughout the city and data will inform possible new transportation decisions, such as idling policies. This year Rochester has formed a Green Team to look after city building operations and a Community Sustainability and Resiliency Task Force to determine waste, water, materials, and transportation mode shift goals.

Why make sustainability a priority? “At the end of the day, we are working to ensure cleaner air and water, less waste, a dependable and robust mass transit system, and a community where all feel welcomed and are given opportunities to thrive,” shared Kevin Bright. “I think given its scope, the concept of sustainability provides anyone an opportunity to engage and for alignment.”

Northfield

High levels of volunteerism from passionate community members has greatly contributed to the current momentum on implementing the Climate Action Plan.

Beth Kallestad, Northfield Program Coordinator

Northfield city council adopted the Northfield Climate Action Plan: Carbon Free 2040 in November of 2019, but it was over a decade in the making. A plan was proposed back in 2008 and not adopted. It was followed by a climate summit in 2013 and the formation of The Greater Northfield Sustainability Collaborative, supported by a CERTs Seed Grant. Community members continued to meet and advocate, leading to inclusion of “mitigation of climate change impacts in the 2017 strategic plan,” shared Beth Kallestad, Program Coordinator for Northfield. Subsequently, a mayor’s Climate Action Plan Advisory Board was created. 

Kallestad was hired in April of 2019 with the mission of “moving the climate action plan forward, working on equity, and to track progress on the strategic plan as a whole.” Her position is currently funded for two years with a mix of support from the City and McKnight Foundation. 

At over 200 pages, the plan is comprehensive. It offers slightly under 100 recommended actions categorized under four strategies and build around six core areas to mitigate carbon emissions and increase the city’s resiliency. It is based partly on planning using carbon emissions wedge tools made available through the Minnesota GreenStep Cities program. The tool allows for future projections by sector, for example transportation, energy generation, waste, and renewable energy, to reach emission targets. Northfield was assisted by CERTs partner Great Plains Institute in creation of the plan.

When asked about her greatest challenges, Kallestad felt that building a culture of sustainability was a factor. “Having a strategic plan that says sustainability is a priority is different than having that plan embraced by staff and the public,” said Kallestad. She shared that public support, commitment to funding, staff time, and even perceptions that government is hard to work with get in the way. On the flip side, Kallestad shared that high levels of volunteerism from passionate community members has greatly contributed to the current momentum on implementing the Climate Action Plan.

To assist in advancing the plan, Kallestad has worked with CERTs on solar procurement, Xcel Energy’s Partners in Energy Program, received no-cost help from CERTs to plan a business energy efficiency blitz, and CERTs assistance with an upcoming residential renewable energy event. Northfield also recently partnered with Xcel Energy and community partners to get LED light bulbs distributed through the food shelf and other programs.

If you missed it or want to look back, check out the presentations and webinar recording below to learn about how these four cities in Southeast Minnesota tackled sustainability and resilience planning through comprehensive plans, energy action plans, community engagement, and more.

Presenters:

  • David Wanberg, Faribault City Planner (presentation)
  • Melissa Baartman, Red Wing Community and Economic Development Coordinator (presentation)
  • Beth Kallestad, Program Coordinator for the City of Northfield (no slides)
  • Kevin Bright, Sustainability Director for Destination Medical Center and the City of Rochester (presentation)

Small Group Discussions: 

  • How to achieve culture change and/or educate about sustainability (David Wanberg)
  • The role of equity in sustainability and resiliency planning (Keving Bright)
  • The importance of a green team or environmental commission in planning (CERTs staff)
  • Why and how to develop a climate action plan (Melissa Baartman)
  • Which is better a short or long-term climate action plan (Beth Kallestad)
  • How has GSC helped with sustainability planning and how could it be more helpful (Kristin Mroz)

Download Presentations

David Wanberg, Faribault
Melissa Bartman, Red Wing
Kevin Bright, Rochester
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