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Minneapolis gathers feedback on goals

Posted by: Updated: February 10, 2015 - 6:04 PM

Minneapolis needs more trees, more support for businesses interested in sustainability and less enforcement of marijuana-related offenses.

Those were the top suggestions in a month-long survey by the city that drew more than 700 participants and generated more than 200 ideas about how Minneapolis can meet a slate of goals it approved last year.

Most contributors weighed in on the Community Indicators Project online, where they submitted ideas and voted on those posted by others. Some participated in smaller, in-person gatherings in cafes and other meeting places.

Nearly 8,000 votes were cast on the submitted ideas, which ranged from big-picture plans (eliminate homelessness, maintain an educated workforce) to more specific targets (add more heaters to transit stations, provide an online forum to comment on neighborhood meetings.)

Kim Keller, a business process and data analyst for the city, said officials weren’t sure what to expect because they’d never tried such a direct route to gathering feedback on city goals.

“This was the first time we used any kind of crowdsourcing technology, and the first time we put some of our most inclusive engagement strategies forward,” she said.

The three top suggestions each received more than 100 votes. Some ideas received more negative feedback than positive, including a suggestion that the city stop building protected bike lanes (51 “no” votes); stop spending on climate change work (46 “no” votes); and remove one skyway per year (34 “no” votes.)

Jay Stroebel, deputy city coordinator, said officials will now review all of the suggestions and group them into topic areas. Then, they’ll share the results with the heads of city departments or other organizations that have a direct role in planning or funding. 

Within the next few months, Stroebel said the City Council will get a more formalized list of recommendations for actual changes that could be made to help achieve the city’s goals: 

-Living Well (Minneapolis is safe and livable and has an active and connected way of life.)
-One Minneapolis (Disparities are eliminated so all Minneapolis residents can participate and prosper.)
-Hub of Economic Activity and Innovation (Businesses--big and small--start, move, stay and grow here.)
-Great Places (Natural and built spaces work together and our environment is protected.)
-A City that Works (City government runs well and connects to the community it serves.)

“There may be areas where we don’t have a very direct impact, but it might be where we need to work with our other community partners, to make progress in a particular area,” Stroebel said.

Bill would end funding break for North Side park

Posted by: Steve Brandt Updated: February 10, 2015 - 9:55 AM

A mostly suburban group of legislators has taken aim at a 30-year-old special funding stream that has diverted $14.3 million from the Metro Council to North Mississippi Regional Park.

The proposal introduced in the Senate on Monday would end an arrangement that has funded buying land for and developing the long skinny park lying east of Interstate 94 in Minneapolis and Brooklyn Center.

State Sen. Bev Scalze, DFL-Little Canada, said 30 years is enough to devote a special funding stream to one park.  She is the chief Senate sponsor. The money allocated to the park comes from interest the Metro Council earns on proceeds from selling park bonds before the money is spent.

Scalze, like some metro representatives to the Metro Council or its parks commission, said she wasn’t aware of the diversion engineered by area legislators in 1985 and 1987 until she read a September article about it in the Star Tribune.

However, Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board officials said this week they need the continuing stream of money to finish paying for a new natural-filtration swimming pool that’s scheduled to open in Webber Park next summer.  They said they got $1.22 million in interest earnings in 2013, and are awaiting an additional $1.1 million to help finance the $6.8 million pool. The boundaries of the regional park were expanded in 2013 to include Webber so that it qualified for the interest earnings. The Park Board said it wants to use $2.2 million more from the funding stream for trail and park improvements along the river.

They argue that the park deserves the special funding stream because it finances one of only four among 54 regional parks in the metro area that serves a significant number of minority visitors. But the most recent Metro Council survey finds that two-thirds of those using the park are white.

Scalze said that the same argument of serving minority residents could be made for using the money on the East Side of St. Paul. The other three regional parks where minorities make up more than one-quarter of visitors, Wirth in Minneapolis and Phalen and Keller in St. Paul, don’t benefit from the diversion and share in metro-wide parks funding.

The bill would split the interest earnings among all metro regional parks.  The Senate bill was sent to the State and Local Government Committee, on which Scalze sits.

She said that she discussed her proposal with former state Sen. Gene Merriam, who tried unsuccessfully in 1987 to block the removal of a $1.5 million cap on how much money could go to North Mississippi. The original diversion was engineered in 1985 by two influential now-former senators, Carl Kroening and Bill Luther. The park's interpretive center is named after Kroening.

The provision diverting the interest earnings to a single park was written by Brian Rice, an attorney who still lobbies for the Park Board.

The law initially limited the diversion to spending in the park boundaries.  But in 1989, the law was changed to extend a greenway a dozen blocks west of the park, and in 2013 to help finance the pool.                 

(Photo: Kendrick Sanders, then 7, tried his hand at log-rolling during an Aquatennial event at the park in 2005)

Feds reject hydroelectric plan on Upper St. Anthony Falls

Posted by: Updated: February 5, 2015 - 3:31 PM

Federal energy regulators on Thursday rejected a plan to install a hydroelectric generator in the Upper St. Anthony Falls Lock on the Mississippi River.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) denied the permit application of Symphony Hydro LLC to install twin generators in the lock. The boat passage through the upper falls will close by June 1 to halt the spread of invasive carp. The lock is upstream of the historic Stone Arch Bridge in Minneapolis.

The FERC order said the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which owns and operates the lock and dam, “explicitly finds the proposed project to be incompatible” with the lock and therefore “no purpose would be served by issuing a permit.”

The Minneapolis Park Board, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources and a citizen group called the Friends of the Riverfront also had raised concerns about the project.

Symphony Hydro may request a hearing. Company executives could not be reached immediately to comment.

The project is one of three hydro generators proposed on the upper falls. Xcel Energy, the Minneapolis-based electric utility, already operates a hydropower generator there.

Here is the order:

FERC Symphony Order

Hiring new Mpls bike-ped coordinator lags

Posted by: Steve Brandt Updated: February 5, 2015 - 9:27 AM

Even before Shaun Murphy left his job as the city’s first bike-pedestrian coordinator early last year, a city spokesman told the Southwest Journal that Murphy would be replaced “as quickly as we can.”

The city is coming up on the first anniversary of that commitment next week with the position still unfilled. Although Mayor Betsy Hodges said during her 2013 campaign that she was an “early and vocal advocate for filling the job,” it has been empty for all but the first three months of her 13-month administration.

Steve Kotke admits that he’d prefer to have filled the position faster. But he said that part of the delay was thinking about where the position fit within the Public Works department Kotke runs, and part was reorganizing the department to create a new division focused on transportation planning.

Part of that long process involved considering whether the position was classified properly.  Several bike and pedestrian groups have urged the city to give the next coordinator additional influence within Public Works. Kotke said he had a long conversation with Murphy about what worked and what didn’t with his position.

The job was originally conceived as the city’s point person on biking and pedestrian issues.  Besides supervising a staff of three, Murphy advised city engineers on best practices and safety issues relating to biking and walking as they planned city infrastructure.

Murphy was hired in 2012, when striping ordinary bike lanes was in vogue and so he was put in the traffic division of Public Works.  Now the city is moving to wider buffered bike lanes and those protected with a physical barrier. Kotke said that shifting the coordinator and his staff to the new transportation planning division means that input regarding bike and pedestrian needs will be built into road projects from the start.   
The desire for more authority for the coordinator comes from a sense among bike advocates that even when Murphy agreed with points they made about improving street projects, he couldn’t always sell their suggestions within the department. “I think that there are sort of some old-guard people and culture and philosophy in Public Works,’ said Amy Brugh, board president of the Minneapolis Bicycle Coalition. “I think that’s changing.”

One transportation engineer with considerable bike planning experience, Hennepin County’s Bob Byers, praised Murphy for his ability to serve as a communicator with council members for bike and foot traffic planning, and for heeding the concerns of engineers. “It would be nice to get someone like that in there again,” he said.

Kotke said he’s hoping to announce the new coordinator this month. Nick Mason, who chairs the city’s Bicycle Advisory Committee, sat in on the early round of interviews for the hiring of a coordinator, and said he’s excited by the people who were finalists for the position.  “Any of those folks would do a great job,” he said.   

Minneapolis taking steps to prevent trees from toppling

Posted by: Updated: February 3, 2015 - 4:36 PM

By Jessica Lee

Star Tribune

Minneapolis city officials are considering new steps to prevent trees from toppling during severe storms.

Members of the city’s Transportation and Public Works committee spent Tuesday morning reviewing  practices that could lead to tree collapses.

Trees that are large, next to recent sidewalk maintenance and construction, or on narrow boulevards are more likely to fall during severe wind storms, according to a study  reviewed on Tuesday. The study, partly commissioned by the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board, followed a June 2013 storm that downed or damaged thousands of Minneapolis trees.

For the five-month examination, Gary Johnson, the lead investigator and professor at the University of Minnesota, and his team, observed the fallen trees’ characteristics, tested soil and reviewed city records to determine if there was nearby sidewalk repair or other work that might have severed roots.

Since the study’s release, the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Department has created a new staff position, a forestry preservation coordinator, to help monitor underground excavation projects.

The public works department has increased its communication with entities like the park board’s forestry department in an effort to find less invasive excavation techniques to minimize the effect of sidewalk maintenance and construction.

Stakeholders are reviewing the city’s 2004 Urban Forest Policy report that outlines practices and policies related to protecting trees to determine if updates need to be made, said Mike Kennedy, with Minneapolis Public Works.

“Most of these solutions that are associated with this problem are not solutions that can happen tomorrow,” Johnson told the committee. “It’s planning.”

Committee members asked for another report on the increased collaboration and work of the Minneapolis Public Works and Park Board staff this summer.

“[This] gives us good ability to think differently about our practices and how they can affect tree strengths in the future,” City Council Member Elizabeth Glidden said.

Jessica Lee is a University of Minnesota student reporter on assignment for the Star Tribune.

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