Category archives
Environment

The MPCA has opened the Draft Impaired Waters list for comment. Every two years, the MPCA updates this list which identifies the waters that do not meet Minnesota’s water quality standards. The list guides where the MPCA will be developing Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) plans. If your wastewater facility discharges upstream of an impaired water, this increases the likelihood that a limit that addresses the impairment could be placed in your permit.

You can find the draft list and instructions on how to comment here. We encourage all cities to work with your wastewater operators and engineers to review the list and determine whether you are discharging into an impaired water. If you believe the impairment listing is erroneous, you may want to work with your engineer or operator to submit comments. Because these determinations are unique to each water body, the CGMC will not be submitting comments on this list.

If you have any questions on this issue, please contact Elizabeth Wefel at eawefel@flaherty-hood.com.

Thank you to everyone who attended the CGMC Fall Conference last week at Arrowwood Resort & Conference Center. More than 100 city leaders representing 50 cities attended the conference — a record attendance!

The conference kicked off Thursday afternoon with a presentation by Marnie Werner, acting director of the Center for Rural Policy, on their study titled “A Quiet Crisis: Minnesota’s Child Care Shortage.” You can watch video of her presentation here and read her Power Point presentation here.

After Werner’s presentation, we delved further into the issues surrounding Greater Minnesota’s child care shortage with a panel discussion featuring Nancy Jost, early childhood coordinator for West Central Initiative; Tim Penny, president and CEO of the Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation; Jessica Beyer, business development specialist for First Children’s Finance; and Amanda Benda, director of Little Huskies Daycare Center & Preschool in Jackson, Minn. The discussion was moderated by Dan Dorman, executive director of the Greater Minnesota Partnership. Each panelist provided a unique perspective on the issue and offered suggestions on ways city leaders can be more involved in developing solutions. You can watch the panel discussion here.

Broadband was also an important topic at the conference. Bill Coleman, president of Community Technology Advisors and a consultant for the Blandin Foundation, informed attendees about where broadband access stands in Greater Minnesota and outlined the economic impact of world-class broadband infrastructure. You can watch Coleman’s presentation here and read his Power Point Presentation here.
After Coleman’s presentation, CGMC Executive Director Bradley Peterson moderated a legislative panel discussion featuring Sen. Bill Ingebrigtsen (R-Alexandria), Rep. Ben Lien (DFL-Moorhead) and Rep. Jeff Howe (R-Rockville). The panelists discussed the impact of the 2017 legislative session and plans for 2018. The conversation touched on issues such as transportation, bonding and the ongoing lawsuit between the Legislature and Gov. Dayton.

The afternoon was capped by another panel discussion, this one on the role of elected officials in labor and employee relations. Brandon Fitzsimmons, an attorney with Flaherty & Hood, moderated a discussion featuring Waite Park City Administrator Shaunna Johnson, Alexandria City Administrator Marty Schultz and Moorhead City Manager Chris Volkers in which they talked about the “productive” and “unproductive” involvement of elected officials in dealing with unions and personnel issues.

In the evening, attendees enjoyed a cocktail reception and dinner followed by an entertaining and informative quiz show led by the award-winning Theater of Public Policy. During the show, three teams squared off against each other in a battle to see who knew the most about random Greater Minnesota trivia, the history of LGA and other various topics. To the audience’s surprise, Team Lobbyist (Flaherty & Hood lobbyists Tim Flaherty and Marty Seifert) ultimately bested Team Mayor (Granite Falls Mayor Dave Smiglewski and Alexandria Mayor Sara Carlson) and Team Administrator (Slayton City Administrator Josh Malchow and Virginia City Administration Britt See-Benes) to take the quiz show crown.

In addition to speakers and presentations, the conference also included a membership meeting on Friday morning during which members discussed and adopted the CGMC’s 2018 legislative policy positions. To review the adopted positions, click on the following subject areas: Annexation & Land Use, Economic Development, Environment & Energy, LGA & Property Taxes and Transportation. You can also read more about the top priorities for the upcoming legislative in this CGMC Press Release that was sent to the media at the conclusion of the conference.

Thanks again to everyone who attended our 2017 Fall Conference! Please check out the photo gallery on our Facebook page to see pictures from the conference.

The MPCA began hearings this week on the sulfate water quality standard which will apply to facilities that discharge into “wild rice waters.” Cities located within 25-60 miles upstream of such waters will be evaluated first by the MPCA to determine whether a limit is required. CGMC members on the list include Alexandria, Babbitt, Bagley, Bemidji, Biwabik, Brainerd, Detroit Lakes, Ely, Foley, Hinckley, Hoyt Lakes, Le Sueur (Minnesota River Valley Public Utilities Commission), Plainview, Princeton, Red Wing, Rushford, Sandstone, Staples, Wabasha, Wadena and Winona.
 
Our preliminary analysis demonstrates that future compliance with the sulfate standard could require expensive treatment upgrades such as reverse osmosis, membrane filtration, and/or crystallization and evaporation. These upgrades could cost individual cities $10-$20 million or more, depending upon site-specific information. 
 
We recommend that affected cities participate in the rulemaking process by submitting comments and/or attending a public hearing. Hearings began Oct. 23 in St. Paul, and will be held around the state over the next few weeks. You can find a complete list of hearings here.
 
We are in the process of finalizing our talking points for affected cities and will be circulating those soon. If you would like a copy or have other questions, please email Elizabeth Wefel at eawefel@flaherty-hood.com.

The Legislative-Citizens Commission on Minnesota Resources (LCCMR) is responsible for recommending how $45.7 million from the Environmental Trust Fund should be spent. The LCCMR received a total of 217 proposals requesting approximately $183 million in funding, and narrowed it down to 101 projects requesting $120.4 million for proposals to present over the next two weeks.

A number of the projects in the running for funding could benefit Greater Minnesota. Proposal 201-G would provide $3 million for local parks, trails and natural areas grants. These grant programs provide funding to projects that do not qualify for Legacy funds and they are a top priority for the Greater Minnesota Parks and Trails organization to which many CGMC cities belong. 

In another proposal, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) is seeking funding for a wastewater treatment plant optimization pilot program (proposal 035-B) that would seek ways to help facilities perform better and meet stricter standards without costly facility upgrades. CGMC cities would be eligible to apply for the pilot if it is funded.

You can review these projects and others selected here (the projects that will present to the LCCMR are marked with an X).

Please consider reaching out to LCCMR members and ask them to support projects that benefit Greater Minnesota, particularly the two mentioned above. You can find the members’ contact information here.

The Environmental Quality Board (EQB) is public body composed of several agency heads, as well as members of the public appointed by the Governor. The EQB provides leadership and coordination on statewide environmental issues including environmental review, state water planning and coordination, and strategic energy and environmental planning. This year, the Legislature expanded the number of citizen slots and specifically designated four for Greater Minnesota, one from each of the rural congressional districts 1,2, 7 and 8.

The posting for these positions will remain open until filled, but the first review of applications will take place Aug. 25. You can learn more here.

With mere hours to go until tonight’s midnight deadline, the Minnesota Legislature is hard at work trying to negotiate and pass a state budget and other key pieces of legislation. At this point it appears we are likely headed for a short special session to complete the state budget.

Legislators were holed up in St. Paul over the weekend and managed to pass a few budget bills out of the House and Senate, including the environment and jobs bills. A number of bills are still on the agenda for today including taxes, transportation and bonding.

Since most of the negotiations have been going on behind closed doors – leaving the public, the media and lobbyists out of the legislative process — we have little indication of what will be included in the final bills.

If you have not done so already, now would be an excellent time to respond to this CGMC Action Alert by contacting your legislators and Gov. Dayton to urge them to include a significant increase in Local Government Aid in the final tax bill.

The environmental bill is one of the few bills that passed on Sunday and is now expected to be signed into law by the Governor. Unfortunately, due to continuing opposition from the Governor and the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, many of the significant environmental reforms sought by the CGMC were stripped from the final bill, including our call for independent peer review of proposed rules and a prohibition against the enforcement of unadopted rules. On the plus side, the bill includes our request to extend the public comment period for new city permits to 60 days (up from 30 days) and also includes some policy changes regarding the Impaired Waters List.

As for the jobs bills, which passed early this morning and is also expected to be signed by the Governor, it contains several priorities that are important to rural communities:

  • The Job Training Incentive Program is funded at $2.7 million per biennium for 218-19 and 2020-21
  • The Border-to-Border Broadband Broadband Development Grant Program is funded at $20 million
  • A workforce housing grant program within the Minnesota Housing Finance Authority will receive $4 million per biennium for 2018-19 and 2020-21
  • The Greater Minnesota Business Development Public Infrastructure program (BDPI) gets $1 million for the 2018-19 biennium (excluding a $1.6 million earmark in FY 18) and approximately $3.6 million for the 2020-21 biennium. The BDPI program is funded in the proposed bonding bill as well.
  • The Minnesota Investment Fund is funded at $25 million per biennium for 2018-19 and 2020-21
  • The Job Creation Fund receives $17 million for the 2018-19 biennium and $16 million for the 2020-21 biennium

For updates as this final day of session proceeds, please follow us on Twitter (@greatermncities), Facebook and our website (greatermncities.org.)

Below is a guest column by Moorhead Mayor Del Rae Williams and Mankato City Manager Pat Hentges, who also serve as co-chairs of the CGMC Environment Committee. As of April 28, it is has been published in the Fargo Forum and the Owatonna People’s Press.

Let us be clear: It’s possible to support regulatory reform and the environment at the same time.

Some interest groups, lawmakers and government officials have tried to paint municipal groups seeking to reform Minnesota’s regulatory process as anti-environment and anti-science, greedy penny-pinchers bought and sold by corporate interests. That picture couldn’t be further from the truth.

In actuality, we are city leaders who represent our communities, as well as dozens of others in Greater Minnesota, and are dedicated to protecting our state’s precious waters. Greater Minnesota cities have invested billions in clean water efforts in the last 30 years, and as practical environmentalists we are deeply troubled by some of the recent actions by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA).

We are advocating for reasonable regulatory reform not because we want to ignore science — to the contrary, we are doing so because we strongly believe that sound science and public input is vital to an effective clean water regulatory framework.

While numerous environmental reform proposals have been introduced this legislative session, the Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities (CGMC) has determined three top priorities that will help improve the wastewater permitting process and ensure that our limited financial resources are spent wisely to implement regulations that will provide measurable benefits to water quality.

The first reform local government officials are seeking is the ability to request an independent scientific review of MPCA’s application of science through wastewater regulations. When new regulations will require cities to spend billions of dollars to upgrade infrastructure, our citizens and businesses deserve an independent second opinion.

There is currently no meaningful way for cities to obtain an independent scientific review of MPCA’s regulations. In recent years, cities have been forced to enter into litigation when the MPCA has ignored legitimate concerns about the underlying science and its application.

The MPCA should welcome independent peer review of their science because it will confirm that water-quality rules are scientifically sound, help to avoid costly litigation and ultimately improve environmental outcomes.

City leaders also have serious qualms about the MPCA’s habit of imposing water-quality restrictions — under the guise of “policies” or “guidance documents” — that are more stringent than adopted during rulemaking. To address this concern, the CGMC is pursuing legislation that prevents the MPCA from imposing regulations that were not properly adopted through the rulemaking process.

By forcing cities to comply with unadopted rules, the MPCA imposes requirements that have not gone through the proper vetting process and ignores the due process rights of the public. Not only does this practice make it very difficult for cities to strategize and plan for how to adhere to regulations, it also breaks down trust between the MPCA, cities and the public.

The CGMC’s third regulatory reform proposal would extend the public comment period for new city permits to 60 days. This minor change is especially important to small cities where city councils meet less frequently and there are fewer staff members. The current 30-day comment period does not allow enough time for cities to adequately analyze and make decisions about MPCA requirements that could have multi-million effects on their communities.

All three of the CGMC’s top environmental regulatory reform proposals — independent peer review of MPCA science, prohibiting the enforcement of unadopted rules and extending the public comment period — remain in play at the Legislature. The House and Senate deserve credit for putting these provisions in their omnibus environment bill, which is currently being reviewed in conference committee.

We want our legislators and Gov. Dayton to know that we are looking out for the best interests of the constituents we represent and the environment, just like they are. Greater Minnesota city leaders — from along the Red River in the north to the Minnesota River in the south and everywhere in between — are willing to continue to invest money and work with the state to clean and protect our waters. However, recent overreach by the MPCA has resulted in an onslaught of regulations that will be extremely costly to implement and have dubious environmental benefit.

We are hopeful that these common-sense reform measures, which aim to protect our communities’ natural and financial resources, will be signed into law this session.

 

The Legislature’s Easter/Passover break begins this weekend and lasts until April 18. Since many legislators head back to their home districts during the break, it is an ideal time to touch in with them and make your voices heard!

As the House and Senate prepare for conference committees and negotiations during the final seven weeks of the legislative session, it is critical that Greater Minnesota city leaders continue to speak up. Let your legislators know that CGMC priorities are important to your community and that you expect them to fight for these priorities to be included in the final deals.

Please take the following actions as soon as you can:

1. Pass a resolution urging the Legislature and Governor to return LGA to its 2002 level. See this sample resolution that you can customize to your own city’s circumstances. In addition to the decision-makers named at the bottom of the resolution, also send a copy to CGMC staff member Shane Zahrt at sazahrt@flaherty-hood.com. We will keep a running list of cities that pass a resolution.

2. Meet with your legislators. Call your senator’s and representative’s office this week to set up a meeting with them during the legislative break. If you are unable to meet in person, schedule a phone meeting instead. You can find contact info for your legislators here.  Please address the following topics during the meeting:

  • The Legislature and Governor must pass a tax bill this year that includes an LGA increase of $45.5 million. Despite significant growth in the state’s budget since 2002, LGA still lags behind. LGA plays an important role in restraining property taxes and helping cities provide important services to residents and businesses.
  • The Legislature and Governor must agree on a bonding bill that funds critical infrastructure across the state. With the failure to agree on a bonding bill last year, work on critical infrastructure has been stalled. The CGMC strongly supports $167 million for clean water infrastructure grant and loan programs, as well as $15 million for the Greater Minnesota Business Development Public Infrastructure (BDPI) Grant Program that helps pay for the public infrastructure needed for private business growth.
  • Fund city streets. The CGMC strongly supports $50 million in funding for city streets, with $25 million for cities with populations under 5,000 and $25 million for cities with populations over 5,000.
  • Pass at least $200 million a year in funding for the Corridors of Commerce program with cash as well as bond proceeds. Corridors of Commerce helps fund expansion of critical interregional corridors whose bottlenecks inhibit the flow of goods and services important to the economy of the whole state.

If you have any questions about these action items, CGMC priorities or the legislative session, please contact CGMC Executive Director Bradley Peterson at bmpeterson@flaherty-hood.com or 651-259-1911. 

The CGMC-supported environmental regulatory reform bill, SF 695 (authored by Sen. Scott Newman, R-Hutchinson), was heard Monday in the Senate Environment and Natural Resources Policy and Legacy Finance Committee. The bill addresses concerns that current law that gives too much deference to the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) without allowing for valid objections to water quality rules and the MPCA’s practice of relying on unadopted rules. 

CGMC lobbyist Marty Seifert, Flaherty & Hood environmental attorney Daniel Marx and Mankato Public Utilities Director Mary Fralish testified in support of the bill at the hearing. Several environmental groups spoke against the bill, but their comments did not really address the substance of the proposed legislation. Due to the complex nature of this bill, it will need to pass through several committees. The committee voted to pass it along to its next stop, the State Government Finance Committee.

Please be aware that were has been some misleading information distributed about SF 695. If you hear opposition to this bill from your residents, please contact Tim Flaherty at 651-224-8840 or tpflaherty@flaherty-hood.com to receive more information about the bill. We also encourage you to read this informational handout that describes in more detail what the bill does and its purpose.

A second bill CGMC-supported bill, SF 672, was also scheduled to be heard on Monday, but the meeting ran out of time. It will likely be heard next week.

Below is statement from CGMC President and Alexandria Mayor Sara Carlson regarding Gov. Dayton’s $1.5 billion bonding proposal, which was unveiled this morning. A PDF version of Carlson’s statement is available here.

“We absolutely agree with the Governor that there should be a robust bonding bill this session. Our cities cannot wait until 2018 to make these critical investments.

“We are particularly glad that the Governor’s bonding proposal includes $167 million for grant and loan programs that help cities pay for necessary repairs and upgrades to their water treatment facilities. Clean water is an essential part of a healthy community and we are pleased the Governor recognizes that cities need more financial assistance from the state to ensure that all Minnesotans continue to have access to this fundamental need.

“Another positive inclusion in the Governor’s bonding plan is $21 million for the Greater Minnesota Business Development Public Infrastructure (BDPI) Grant Program. With the help of BDPI grants, more than 100 cities in Greater Minnesota have been able to welcome new businesses and see others expand, all while adding new jobs and increasing the tax base.

“The clean water infrastructure grant and loan programs and the BDPI program have received strong bipartisan support in the past and were included in last year’s final bonding bills. We hope this support continues and that the Legislature makes passing a bonding bill this year a top priority.”

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