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Overcoming Barriers, Celebrating Successes, Municipal Sustainability Efforts in Northwest Minnesota.

Welle, Luke N.

The focus of this assessment was to learn about sustainable initiatives from communities in Northwest Minnesota. The communities involved in this assessment were Bagley, Bemidji, and Park Rapids. The goal of this assessment was to gain perspective from key stakeholders in Northwest Minnesota, including city staff and local champions on sustainability issues. This assessment included identifying the current practices, current and future opportunities, and barriers pertaining to sustainability in these communities. In addition to identifying and assessing these current practices, barriers, and opportunities, this assessment also provided the chance to educate on sustainability. The stakeholder interviews presented great opportunities to learn from community members, specifically city staff and local champions.

Partnering on this assessment was Clean Energy Resource Teams (CERTs). CERTs advances the adoption of renewable energy and energy efficiency projects in communities across Minnesota by helping people learn, connect, and act. The framework used for the assessment was GreenStep Cities. GreenStep Cities is a voluntary challenge, assistance and recognition program to help cities achieve their sustainability goals through implementation of 28 best practices. Each best practice can be implemented by completing one or more specific actions from a list of four to eight actions. These actions are tailored to all Minnesota cities, focus on cost savings and energy use reduction, and encourage innovation. The program is administered by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA).

There are a wide variety of sustainable practices being implemented within the communities of Bagley, Bemidji, and Park Rapids. The city of Bagley has promoted sustainability in many areas including protection of lakeshore and water quality, and requiring energy efficient streetlights in future projects. Bemidji has promoted sustainability in many areas including ongoing efforts to upgrade bike trails and bike lanes, and expansion of local food production in partnership with Bemidji Schools. Park Rapids has promoted sustainability by organizing community tree planting initiatives and implementing a set of Shoreland Overlay District zoning ordinances. The most common practices between these cities focused on development of parks and trails, and protection of water quality.

There were several themes that emerged from stakeholder interviews. One of the themes was centered on budget constraints as a significant barrier to implementing sustainable practices. All the communities are very open to implementing sustainable practices, but many times the financial challenges are overwhelming. Moreover city staffs have numerous responsibilities, and environmental sustainability is not always at the forefront of those responsibilities. Another theme across several interviews was the strong sense of independence by these communities. The main barrier to sustainability in Northwest Minnesota is that rural communities in this region lack staff capacity and financial resources to implement additional sustainable practices. Those factors have led to a self-reliant approach among rural Minnesota cities.

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Prepared in partnership with Clean Energy Resource Teams (CERTs) by the Community Assistantship Program (CAP), which is administered by the Center for Urban and Regional Affairs (CURA) at the University of Minnesota.
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