Four Ways to Build a Resilient City Through Zoning and Urban Development

March 11, 2024
By Nate Sparks, Sr Professional Community Planner, WSB

In the last several years, the federal government has passed many programs that provide funding for projects and communities who incorporate sustainability and resiliency. Cities across the country are looking for ways to integrate these concepts into their community planning, not only because they are important and meaningful ideas, but doing so can open their community up to additional funding. Here are some tips to get started for community leaders that are interested in becoming a more sustainable community.

Establish Community Goals in the Comprehensive Plan

What does being a sustainable community mean? Do your residents want to encourage alternative energy sources? Are they concerned about stormwater management? There are many different forms that this can take.  It is important that you have an established community vision. Adding a chapter into your city’s Comprehensive Plan is the ideal approach to take. Setting a big picture vision helps to establish what ordinance changes you pursue.

Prioritize Stormwater Management

The intrusion of improper elements into a city’s stormwater system can be very detrimental. To mitigate against such impacts, it is important to incorporate stormwater management techniques into your zoning ordinance. Setting an impervious surface maximum per building site in lieu of a lot coverage standard is a key first step. Establishing creative ways to allow exceptions for non-conforming lots or protecting sensitive areas with further limits in can be an ideal way to establish proper protections. Both options require careful consideration and proper ordinance writing.

Zoning For Alternative Energy Sources

Reduced energy demand may improve the reliability of the electricity grid. However, a city’s zoning ordinance may prohibit certain alternative energy systems. Solar panels and wind energy conversion systems that residents wish to use may not be allowed. Setting reasonable standards around such uses is a good way to encourage alternative energy solutions. Solar farms are not always appropriate for all areas and creating a thoughtful framework around this concept is of the utmost importance to a community. Finding solutions to resolve conflicts between competing community goals and proper management is ideal.

Subdivision Ordinance Innovation

Subdivision ordinances establish regulations necessary to allow the division of property for additional development rights. Establishing a framework for environmental protection in your subdivision ordinance will allow for a reasonable balance between development rights and environmental protection. For example, many communities explore concepts where population density can be increased if, in exchange, additional protections are offered to ensure long-term management of protected areas.

How we can help

The professionals at WSB can provide guidance and expertise in improving your regulatory systems to achieve your sustainable community goals in relation to sustainability. We have expertise in comprehensive planning, grant writing, and the preparation of ordinances that can help your organization achieve their goals related to sustainability.

Nate has been a community development professional for over 20 years. He has worked with a wide variety of communities providing guidance to municipalities of various sizes and types on a broad array of topics. He has significant experience working in townships and smaller cities which often face unique issues. His work includes writing comprehensive plans and zoning ordinances for several area communities, as well as serving the community point person for planning and zoning issues for 10 area cities and townships.

[email protected] | 952.221.0540

What Does the Mild Winter Mean for Spring

March 11, 2024
By Jake Newhall, Director of Water Resources, Mary Newman, Sr Environmental Scientist, and Emily Ball, Forestry Program Manager, WSB

As Midwesterners, we always expect Mother Nature to throw us some curveballs when it comes to weather. The winter of 2023-2024 has been no exception. El Nino weather patterns created unusually mild weather this winter and less snowfall. While cities may have benefited from things like fewer snow emergencies, what do these weather patterns mean as we head into spring?

Here are a few things to consider.

Stormwater Runoff

The lack of snowfall and warmer temperatures means that the ground is warmer than normal and contains less frost since there is not a layer of snow insulate the ground. The lack of precipitation and snowmelt could lead to drought this spring and into summer. Alternatively, if we do end up with significant snowfall in March and April, the thawed ground will allow water to absorb straight into the ground, resulting in less runoff and replenished groundwater sources.

If we don’t receive significant precipitation this spring, pond and lake levels are also expected to be lower than normal. While drought is a concern, the good news is that lower water levels provide an excellent opportunity for stormwater inspections. Other good news from a mild winter is that we are likely to see fewer environmental impacts this year from sanding, salting and runoff than in years with heavier snowfalls.

Lakes, Rivers and Streams

When thinking about water quality, it’s also important to think about what this mild winter will mean for lakes, rivers and streams.

Lack of snow cover and ice means that aquatic vegetation will have an early start this spring and likely result in an abundance, especially with invasive curly leaf pondweed. The increased abundance will have an impact on phosphorus levels in the water as these plants die back in the late summer. If the warm weather and low precipitation levels continue, this could mean a higher likelihood of harmful algal blooms which can put pets and animals when they drink the water. However, the increased cover may benefit the aquatic community in the meantime for those that depend on its cover for survival.

Many water managers have a plan for invasive curly leaf pondweed management. This year, harvest may have to occur earlier and more often to combat a late season phosphorus rise. As in most years, it will also be important to monitor algal blooms and inform lake users if sampling indicates harmful bacteria levels that would have an impact to human and animal health.

Trees and Invasive Species Management

For communities managing tree health, it’s also critical to explore how this year’s mild winter will impact trees. With many places in dry or moderate drought conditions, more trees will experience drought stress. If precipitation patterns continue, it’s important to build out a plan for regular watering throughout the summer to protect trees. Furthermore, drought stress and lack of adequate watering can make trees more susceptible to secondary pests.

The lack of subzero temperatures this winter also means that the invasive species Emerald Ash Borer (EAB) larva largely survived the winter. It takes 24-48 hours of temperatures of -30 degrees Fahrenheit to kill EAB larva. EAB is a serious concern to ash trees across the United States, occurring in 30 states including Minnesota, Colorado, and Texas.

Oak wilt disease is another concern. The normal oak pruning season is typically from November through early April to prevent oak wilt transmission. For 2024, it will end earlier, oak tree pruning should be stopped immediately to protect tree health and limit the spread of oak wilt. The University of Minnesota Extension provides an oak wilt status page on their website that should be monitored closely each spring to ensure you aren’t pruning during high-risk oak wilt season.

How WSB Can Help

This unusually warm and dry winter is creating both problems and opportunities for communities – from managing water quality to protecting wildlife and native tree populations. WSB has a team of experts who can help plan and execute sustainable solutions that protect ecosystems, enhance water quality, restore habitats, and meet the unique needs of your community.

Jake has more than 15 years of engineering experience designing and managing many types of water resources projects, including modeling, planning, design, maintenance programs, and construction. Jake has worked with various municipalities, counties and state agencies to solve challenging water quality and water quantity problems.

[email protected] | 763.231.4861

Jake Newhall

Mary works as an environmental scientist where she provides reliable field data collection and reporting that includes: boat electrofishing fish surveys, water quality sampling, in stream fish sampling, physical stream barrier observations and maintenance, various techniques for rough fish removal, fish tagging and tracking, and aquatic habitat improvement recommendations.

[email protected] | 763.762.2858

Emily is a ISA Certified Arborist, MN Tree Inspector that brings 20 years of experience, primarily in community forestry. She has extensive experience in contract administration, management of staff, AmeriCorps members and contractors, budget and grant management, plan review, tree health and condition inspections, outreach and education. She works closely with partner organizations, staff, and the community to educate, manage natural resources and provide excellent customer service.

[email protected] | 651.318.9945

The Value of Partnership to Secure Community Grant Funding

March 11, 2024
By Kim Lindquist, Director of Community Planning, WSB

Governments have a wide range of responsibilities when it comes to serving their communities. State and federal grant funding can be a boon, allowing local governments to get more value from their budgets and meet a variety of community needs.

However, the process required to receive grant funding can be complex and time intensive. For many county and municipal employees, finding, writing, filing and tracking grants may require the time and resources that staff just don’t have.

That’s where partnership with outside experts to help manage the grant process can give your community a competitive edge.

Currently, WSB is contracting with Otter Tail County in Minnesota to provide grant writing and administration services. Through WSB’s Community Planning team, Otter Tail County is able to relay priorities, receive up-to-date information on available grant options, have grants written and filed and receive administrative support after funding is received – freeing up critical time and resources for competing community priorities.

Here are some tips and ideas our experts bring to communities to help them compete and secure grant funding. .

Knowing How and When to File

Understanding when to apply and what grants best fit certain projects can be a bit of an art. For example, Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED) grants typically run on a July to July cycle where only a set amount of funding will be available each year. So what time during the cycle a community applies can have an effect on how much a project may receive. In addition, many state agency grant programs depend on funding from the Legislature where policy decisions directly impact what may be available in a fiscal year.

Through a regularly updated database of grant opportunities, counties and municipal staff are able to see what grants are available. Many communities use this database while also partnering with WSB’s subject matter experts to create a tailor-made grant strategy.

For instance, Otter Tail County is currently able to access a digital catalog of grant examples specifically crafted to fit their particular project focuses. This is on top of regular meetings with WSB’s team to dive into deeper specifics or adjust or expand their plans. If a client initially wants to focus on parks and trails, but then later wishes to include looking into housing projects they’ll have extensive information readily available with a trustworthy team ready to assist.

From Identification Through Administration

Just as identifying and writing grants can be a tall order, many communities can struggle with tracking funding and ensuring that all grant requirements are completed. For example, the partnership with Otter Tail County was generated from their staff understanding their own limits in time and manpower to manage the grants on top of their busy schedules. To meet that need, WSB provides support in the form of administering the grant throughout the entire process. Care and attention is paid to ensure that after funding is received, all grant requirements are adhered to – a unique service WSB provides to clients that helps provide peace of mind.

The Support Needed For Success

Counties and municipalities face hurdles – from staff time and limited resources to not knowing where to start with finding the right grant for a project. Digging through a multitude of agencies and grants and understanding the sometimes-complex requirements of each individual grant can be a tall order. That is why partnership and tapping into outside experts can make a big difference.

From initial meetings to discuss goals through receiving funding and providing administrative support, WSB works with communities from start to finish. If your county or municipality requires support maneuvering through the complex grant filing process, WSB is here to help and be a partner with your community.

Kim is a planning professional with over 30 years of experience overseeing a variety of complex planning projects. She has worked in high growth communities with developers and the public on entitlements for residential development and attracting business to the city.

[email protected] | 763.287.8303

Kim Lindquist

Developing Resilient Transportation Systems with Emergency Traffic Management Plans

February 12, 2024
By Saeed Sobhi, Regional Design Manager, WSB

Emergencies will happen. Disasters will happen. Communities must have thorough plans in place to prepare for and respond to a multitude of potential emergencies, ensuring public safety and preservation of property.

As communities face more extreme weather and other climate change related events such as fire, flooding, and mudslides, exploring resiliency and sustainability of assets and advance planning in emergency response and evacuation are critical. Will a road or a bridge need to be expanded? Are current facilities like local schools capable of providing shelter during an emergency? If tragedy strikes and thousands of vehicles need to go through one road to evacuate, can that path handle the strain? Are communication tools and protocols in place to effectively and efficiently notify residents to give them instructions? Do response agencies have the proper tools and resources? Properly developing emergency response traffic management plans is critical to safety.

Recent investments from the federal government like the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) have provided renewed opportunities for becoming more resilient to extreme weather events, but also to tackle sustainability goals. For example, the IIJA provided $110 billion for repairing and updating infrastructure. In the process of constructing an emergency response plan, roads and bridges and other key infrastructure that require updating can be noted allowing the city or county governments to apply for this newly accessible aid. The IIJA also provided an additional $50 billion with the explicit goal of making infrastructure more resilient to extreme weather events. The combination of these types of investments both in repairs and weatherizing updates provides ample opportunity for communities to take initiative in formulating emergency response/traffic management plans and ensuring their infrastructure will hold up in the face of disaster.

Here are some ways that communities can think about building robust emergency response plans that are smart and sustainable.

Think About Roadways

Just as the average student grows up learning where to go during a fire drill, a community needs a clear picture of how to respond in case of an emergency. This is where an emergency response plan comes in.

Using Colorado as an example, communities faced severe natural fires, flooding, and mudslide events that required extensive response work and evacuations. Communities in mountainous regions are especially susceptible as a severe mudslide can cut off road access. The size of these recent events and the damage caused has led more communities to recognize the need for sustainability and resiliency measures both to defend themselves from climate related disasters, but also to attempt to prevent future events. Proper design, routine inspection and systematic maintenance of roads and bridges is a key component of preparedness.

Preparedness also requires detailing clear evacuation routes and easily accessible paths for emergency responders. Making note of not only the best currently available paths, but also what areas may be improved or expanded. If a specific bridge is developed to include additional lanes for traffic, would it become a higher priority evacuation route? Also, are there roads where counterflow can be implemented to expedite evacuation? Having a detailed perspective of the roadway system and its capabilities is tantamount in emergency planning.

Navigate Available Facilities and Capabilities

Environmental threats can come in a wide variety of forms like power outages during freezing temperatures, wildfires that encroach on communities, or heavy rains that flood residential areas. These environmental hazards, among others, are affecting people and communities all over the country. One matter that all of these have in common is what happens once people have evacuated? These abnormal weather events like the recent freezing temperatures and power outages in Texas reveal a greater need for facilities that can handle the strain of housing evacuees and are designed with the goal in mind of weathering the storm.

Emergency plans need to include the capabilities for people to reach shelter, but also the ability for facilities to handle becoming a shelter. Event centers or schools are evaluated on how many people they can accommodate as an impromptu evacuation shelter. Do the facilities have enough capacity and the necessary amenities like cooling or heating systems? Knowing a facility can provide space and heating when a nearby residential area faces power outages in subzero temperatures will be a life saver.

Collaborate to Build Success

The resiliency of emergency planning requires collaboration across local governments. The different stakeholders in the development of an emergency plan include local city government, city emergency responders like police and fire rescue, the state’s department of transportation, neighboring municipalities that share the primary roads and bridges used during evacuations, and counties for when the plans extend beyond the reach of one individual community.

Collaborative efforts come in the forms of understanding what equipment is available for communicating during emergencies or for emergency responders to properly respond. On many occasions the local department of transportation holds jurisdiction over specific roadways or can aid in developing plans for parking and access to highways. These evacuation zones can be made digital so communication is fluid through the various agencies and the residents affected can be notified as soon as possible.

How WSB Can Help

With more attention being placed on sustainability and eco-friendly construction projects, attention should be given to maintaining and improving resiliency for the growing number of extreme weather events brought on by climate change. From designing sustainable infrastructure to helping communities create in-depth emergency management plans, WSB is here to help.

Our team has rich experience covering a variety of specialties that can help communities prepare. Our team has meaningful experience developing and supporting implementation of incident management plans and emergency traffic management response plans, as well as facilitating collaboration and consensus building among stakeholders.

Saeed has 25 years of experience with the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) where he worked on transportation planning, project design and delivery, transportation system management and operations, planning for operations, incident management, traffic engineering, and asset management and maintenance. He has special interest and focus on Transportation System Management and Operations (TSM&O), and application of technology in Transportation..

[email protected] | 720.512.2891

Partnership Rewarded by Federal Funding for Sustainable Solutions

January 15, 2024
By Amy Fredregill, Sr Director of Sustainability, WSB

Sustainability can be looked at as a three-legged stool, supported by environmental, economic, and social components. As the federal government provides resources for communities to drive sustainable solutions across the country, they are balancing those three pillars and building a more resilient future. The flow of federal dollars to community projects not only modernizes infrastructure and helps meet local needs, but it also can support priorities that address important issues like sustainability and climate change. The business case for sustainability could not have been stronger, by reducing cost and risk, meeting evolving needs of stakeholders, providing new services, staying competitive, growing workforce development opportunities and advancing public health and prosperity for all communities.

Looking to the future of infrastructure across the country, ensuring it is environmentally resilient, equitable and drives collaboration are three key priorities for federal policymakers. Partnerships are key to formulating solutions to some of society’s most complex challenges by advancing comprehensive, sustainable investments across systems such as water, energy, transportation, buildings and land use.

Passing Historic Federal Funding Packages

The Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) and the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) were signed into law in the past few years with the goal of delivering significant economic investment in infrastructure projects across the country by providing funding for sustainable solutions, while creating a more resilient and equitable future. These programs opened the door to help communities tackle systemic issues and include a diverse array of investments that will reshape our nation in the long-term. Here are just a few of the groundbreaking investments:

Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act

  • $55 billion for water and wastewater infrastructure including replacing lead pipes
  • $1 billion to reconnect communities that have been divided by past infrastructure projects which primarily affected people of color
  • $110 billion for roads and bridges
  • $39 billion for public transportation

Inflation Reduction Act

  • 40% of climate and energy spending benefitting disadvantaged communities
  • $3 billion in environmental justice grants for community-based organizations
  • $225 million for tribal climate resilience
  • $3.2 billion in grants to support projects that improve walkability, safety and affordable transportation.

Fostering Regional Collaboration

This infusion of federal funding for sustainable solutions nurtures greater collaboration and partnerships to strengthen the ability respond to challenges. Regional collaboration means those dollars have a bigger impact on sustainability and long-term change. These partnerships break down the walls across systems and sectors to prevent silos and open the door for strategic community investments.

Championing Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

Another way that the federal government is driving sustainability is through environmental justice, equity and inclusion. With increased funding for traditionally underserved communities comes a renewed focus by the federal government to provide investments for low-income and Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) communities that have faced systemic challenges. For instance, 40% of funding from the IRA law is dedicated to environmental justice communities, ensuring community infrastructure investments are not only more sustainable, but more equitable as well.

Combating Climate Change & Building a Sustainable Future

Climate change is a significant threat to the American people, national security, the economy and communities are exploring how to adapt, invest and ensure projects will foster a sustainable future for the long-term. The building projects being funded by IRA and IIJA have created a new opportunity to strengthen our nation’s climate resiliency.

In particular, a few examples include green infrastructure that mimics nature, biological wastewater treatment that uses less chemicals, renewable energy, and electrification. These investments support the needs of local communities while also creating durable investments. These projects provide more tools in the toolbox for resiliency across different systems.

How WSB Can Help

With the recent influx of federal funding for sustainable solutions, the opportunity for cities to obtain meaningful investments in sustainable, resilient infrastructure projects is better than ever. But where do cities start and how can they build towards this future? WSB is here to help. Our experienced team can help communities develop a strategy and pursue success. From securing grant funding, cultivating meaningful partnerships, developing multi-year plans, crafting policy and designing clean technology, we are helping communities across the country navigate the best path forward for sustainable futures that meet the needs of residents, businesses and their broader communities’ long-term goals.

Amy has nearly 25 years of experience across many industries, particularly energy and agriculture, in the public, private and nonprofit sectors. This experience has provided Amy with a broad background that enables her to meet community and business needs based on the business case for sustainability. By working across interesting systems to simultaneously advance environmental, economic and social goals, she is able to uncover creative solutions. Through her relationship-based approach, Amy meets the unique needs of communities and businesses by working with all areas of the firm to provide comprehensive solutions.

[email protected] | 612.965.1489

Learn About 2024 MnDNR Funding for Recreation and Trails

January 15, 2024
By Mary Gute, Sr. Transportation Planner, WSB

As we move into 2024, there are many funding opportunities available to cities and counties in Minnesota. Here we provide the details, requirements and crucial dates for Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (MnDNR) funding programs that support recreation and trails. We have also created a compact summary of all the programs we discuss here.

Scroll down to review all of the programs or click below to jump to a specific program.

Minnesota Local Trail Connections Program
Minnesota Regional Trail Grant Program
Minnesota Federal Recreational Trail Program
Minnesota Outdoor Recreation Grant Program
Minnesota Natural and Scenic Area Grants Program

Minnesota Local Trail Connections Program

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (MnDNR) Local Trail Connections Program solicitation is now open and accepting applications until Friday, March 29, 2024.

Program Purpose: This program provides grants to local government units to promote relatively short trail connections between where people live and desirable locations – not to develop significant new trails.

Overview:
• Funding available will be a portion of $1.1 million from lottery proceeds
• Reimbursement of up to 75% of total eligible costs, with a 25% match of non-state funds required from the applicant
• Minimum grant award of $5,000 and a maximum grant award of $250,000
• Funds are provided on a reimbursement basis
• Acquisition projects require a perpetual easement for recreational purposes
• All facilities funded require a commitment that the trail will be open and available for use, as well as maintained for no less than 20 years

Eligible agencies: Cities, counties and townships

Eligible projects:
• Land acquisition from willing sellers in conjunction with trail development
• Construction of trail bridges or trails on public or private lands where a 20-year easement for the project can be obtained
• Development of trail linkages near homes and workplaces
• Development of permanent trailside improvements and trailhead facilities
• Features that facilitate access and use of trails by people with disabilities
• Restoration of existing trail facilities and trail bridges
• Contracted maintenance of existing recreational trails

Non-eligible projects:
• Projects within state park boundaries, state recreational areas, on state trails and elements of the Metropolitan Open Space System
• Construction of trails within federally designated wilderness areas
• Construction of ordinary sidewalks
• Planning projects that are preliminary to the construction of any trail project
• Improvements on highways or roadways
• Trails less than 10 feet in width

Funding priorities:
• Projects that provide connectivity, such as trails connecting where people live to significant public resources (e.g., historical areas, open space, parks or other trails)
• Projects expected to have relatively high usage or will meet the needs and interests of future generations and diverse communities
• Projects that provide a unique and interesting connection to the outdoors, such as trails with scenic views, unique natural and cultural features and wildlife/nature viewing

Grant timeline
December 2023 – Grant application materials available on the DNR website
Friday, March 29, 2024 – Grant application deadline
Spring 2024 – Application review and selection process
Summer 2024 – Applicants notified of results
June 30, 2026 – All awarded project work must be completed


Minnesota Regional Trail Grant Program

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (MnDNR) Regional Trail Grant Program FY 2024 solicitation is now open and accepting applications until Friday, March 29, 2024.

Program Purpose: This program provides grants to local government units to promote the development of regionally significant trails outside the seven-county Twin Cities metropolitan area.

Overview:
• FY 2024 funding is approximately $1.1 million
• The minimum grant request is $5,000; the maximum grant award is $300,000
• Reimbursement up to 75% of total eligible project costs; Recipients must provide a non-state, 25% match (other state funds or grants cannot be used)
• Acquisition projects require a 20-year easement for recreational trail purposes attached to the deed
• All facilities funded through this program require a commitment that the trail will be open and available for use and maintained for no less than 20 years

Eligible applicants: Township, city and county government

Eligible projects:
• Must be outside the seven-county metropolitan area that is considered of regional or statewide significance
• Acquisition of trail facilities
• Development of trail linkages near homes and workplaces or permanent trailside improvements and trailhead facilities
• Provision of features that facilitate and use of trails for persons with disabilities
• Restoration or contracted maintenance of existing trail facilities
• Construction or restoration of trail bridges

Non-Eligible projects:
• Projects within state park boundaries, state recreational areas, on state trails and elements of the Metropolitan Open Space System
• Construction of trails within federally designated wilderness areas
• Construction of ordinary sidewalks
• Planning projects that are preliminary to the construction of any trail project
• Improvements to highways or roadways
• Trails less than 10 feet in width

Funding Priorities: Projects that develop trails of significant length, provide connectivity between homes and significant public sources, are expected to have relatively high usage and/or meet the needs and interests of future generations and diverse populations and provide unique and interesting connections to the outdoors (scenic views, cultural feature, and wildlife viewing).

Criteria for Regional or Statewide Significance (* = requirement)
Parks
• *Provide a natural setting, offer outdoor recreation facilities and primarily natural resource-based activities. The range of activities included in the park should likely attract a regional clientele.
• *Provide evidence that the park serves a regional clientele (i.e., multiple communities).
• Show that the park is significant in size. In southern Minnesota, 100 acres is significant. In northern MN, the acreage should be larger.
• Provides unique or unusual landscape features such as historic sites or other characteristics.
• Provides public natural resource-based recreational opportunities that are not available within a reasonable distance.

Trails
• *Located in a regionally desirable setting that features attractive, unusual and/or representative landscapes, important destinations or high-quality natural areas.
• *Serves as a destination, providing high-quality recreational opportunities, attracts a regional clientele (i.e., multiple communities) and generates an economic impact from outside the local area. Additionally, it is developed and maintained to include easy access, secure parking, access to drinking water and design to avoid user conflict.
• Provides at least one hour of outdoor recreation or connects to facilities that can provide one hour of recreation in total.
• Currently provides a link or will link to an existing trail of regional or statewide significance.
• Provides high-quality recreational opportunities not otherwise available within a reasonable distance.

Grant Timeline
December 2023 – Grant application materials available on the DNR website
March 8, 2024 – Draft application due if the applicant seeks comments by Grant Coordinator (not required)
Friday, March 29, 2024 – Grant application deadline
March – July 2024 – Application review and selection process
July 2024 – Applicant notified of results
June 30, 2026 – All awarded project work must be completed


Minnesota Federal Recreational Trail Program

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (MnDNR) Federal Regional Trail Program solicitation is open and accepting applications until Friday, February 29, 2024.

Program Purpose: encourage the maintenance and development of motorized, non-motorized and diversified trails by providing funding assistance for trails and trail equipment.

Overview:
• The minimum grant request is $2,500; the maximum award is $200,000
• The minimum grant request per piece of equipment is $2,500; the maximum grant award is $75,000
• Reimbursement of up to 75% of total eligible project costs; a local cash match of 25% is required – local government must pass a resolution
• Projects requiring acquisitions require a 20-year easement for recreational trail purposes attached to the deed
• All facilities funded through this program require a commitment that the trail will be open and available for use and maintained for no less than 20 years

Eligible agencies: All projects must be sponsored by a unit of government, preferably in cooperation with a local trail organization

Eligible projects:
• Construction of trails on federal (with limitations), state (with limitations), county, municipal or private lands where a 20-year easement can be obtained
• Development of urban trail linkages near homes and workplaces
• Contracted maintenance and restoration of existing recreational trails
• Development of permanent trailside and trailhead facilities (e.g., drainage, crossings, stabilization, parking, signage, controls, open-sided shelters, water and sanitary facilities)
• Features that facilitate access and use of trails by persons with disabilities
• Land acquisition from willing sellers, where value is established by a licensed and certified federal appraiser and only if twenty-year easements for recreation trail purposes are conveyed to the state
• Purchase of equipment (e.g., trail groomers)

Funding priorities:
• Accommodations for both motorized and non-motorized uses, including same-season access corridors
• Involvement of youth corps workers such as Conservation Corps Minnesota and Iowa
• For all-terrain vehicle, off-highway motorcycle, off-road 4×4 vehicle and snowmobile projects, priority will be given to trail acquisition and purchase of permanent easements, trail development and trail linkages to existing systems over equipment purchases
• Priority will be given to all horse, in-line skate, cross-country ski, hike and bicycle trail linkages and restoration to existing trail systems, necessary trail facilities, trail signage to improve safety and trail maintenance equipment
• Development of new single-track mountain bike trail system projects in areas of high user demand in partnership with the city, county and state land managers
• Projects that provide recreational opportunities in underserved areas

Non-Eligible projects:
• Condemnation of any kind
• Construction of trails in federally designated wilderness areas
• Upgrading, expanding or facilitating motorized use or access to trails used by non-motorized trail users where motorized use is prohibited or has not occurred
• Construction of ordinary sidewalks
• Planning projects that are preliminary to the construction of any trail projects
• Improvements on highways or other roadways

Grant Timeline
December 2023 – Grant application materials made available
February 3, 2023 – Draft application due if the applicant seeks comments by Grant Coordinator (not required)
Friday, February 29, 2024 – Grant application deadline
Spring 2024 – Application review and selection process
Summer 2024 – Applicant notified of results
June – November 2024 – Grantee must work on the required environmental documentation items
October/November 2024 – Grantees who have received final DNR approval of their required documentation will have their contract written after FHWA approval
June 30, 2026 – All awarded project work must be completed


Minnesota Outdoor Recreation Grant Program

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (MnDNR) Outdoor Recreation Grant FY 2024 solicitation is now open and accepting applications until Monday, April 1, 2024.

Program purpose: This program provides funds to assist local governments in acquiring parkland and developing or redeveloping outdoor recreation facilities in local and community parks throughout the state.

Overview:
All land acquired or improved with assistance from this grant program must be retained and operated solely for outdoor recreation into perpetuity. Parks and recreation areas must be operated and maintained for public outdoor recreation purposes into perpetuity.
• Reimbursement of up to 50% of total eligible costs, with a 50% match required
• Applicants providing a minimum of 20% match from their own resources and/or have the match committed at time of application will receive additional consideration
• Minimum grant award of $10,000 and a maximum grant award of $350,000
• Funds are provided on a reimbursement basis

Eligible applicants: Cities, counties, and townships may apply.

Eligible projects:
• Acquisition of parklands as well as developing or redeveloping outdoor recreation facilities in local and community parks throughout the state. NOTE: Metro Regional Parks and Greater MN Regional Parks are not eligible for funding under this program.

Non-eligible projects:
• Construction of a facility not owned by the applicant
• Acquisition of land already in public ownership
• Facilities unavailable for general public use
• Expenses occurring outside the dates of the grant contract
• Administrative expenses (indirect costs, contingency allowances, archeological surveys, legal fees)
• Design and engineering fees over 10% of the total construction cost
• Construction of indoor recreational facilities (ice arenas, enclosed swimming pools)
• Decorative fountains, statues, and plaques
• Sewer to individual campsites
• Historic signage

Funding priorities:
Most (60 percent) of the review and selection process will focus on priorities outlined in the 2020-2024 State Comprehensive Outdoor Recreation Plan (SCORP). Three strategic directions in SCORP 2020-2024 include:

– How does the project connect people to the outdoors
– Does the project acquire land and/or create opportunities?
– Does the project take care of what we have?

Additional review components will assess the design of the proposed project and the existing park, cost vs. benefit, health and safety, and environmental intrusions.

Grant timeline
December 2023 – Grant application materials available on the DNR website
Monday, April 1, 2024 – Grant application deadline
Spring 2024 – Application review and selection process
Summer 2024 – Applicant notified of results
Fall 2024 – Awarded projects must begin
June 30, 2026 – All awarded project work must be completed


Minnesota Natural and Scenic Area Grants Program

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (MnDNR) Natural and Scenic Area Program solicitation is now open and accepting applications until Monday, April 1, 2024.

Program Purpose: This program is to increase, protect and enhance natural scenic areas by assisting local governments and school districts in acquiring fee title acquisition and permanent easement acquisition.

Overview:
• There are two sources of funding: federal and states funds. Federal funding should be at least $2.5 million. State funding is not yet known
• Reimbursement of up to 50% of total eligible costs with a 50% match required
• Minimum grant award of $10,000 and a maximum grant award of $500,000 (for total project cost of $1M)
• Funds are provided on a reimbursement basis

Eligible agencies: Cities, counties, townships and school districts

Eligible projects:
• Fee title acquisition of natural or scenic areas
• Permanent easement acquisition of natural or scenic areas
• Minimal betterment activities are eligible as part of an acquisition project, including site surveying, boundary signage and immediate measures needed to stabilize the site and ensure the safety of users
• Active restoration efforts are eligible as part of an acquisition project that would significantly improve the site’s natural resource values

Funding priorities:
The proposed project is assessed for consistency with Minnesota’s 2020-2024 State Comprehensive Outdoor Recreation Plan (SCORP), as well as:
• Natural Resource Qualities – approximately 45%
• Scenic Qualities – approximately 25%
• Other Review Components – approximately 30%: “Other” includes adjacent lands, educational and scientific values, open space and historical/cultural values, cost vs. benefit, match and local government commitment.

Non-eligible projects:
• Acquisition of land already in public ownership
• Any expenditure that occurs outside the dates of the grant contract
• Administrative expenses, contingency allowances, archeological surveys and legal fees
• Incidental costs of land acquisition (e.g., appraisals, closing costs and legal fees)
• Recreational development
• Operations and maintenance

Grant timeline
December 2023 – Grant application materials available on the DNR website
Monday, April 1, 2024 – Grant application deadline
Spring 2024 – Application review and selection process
Summer 2024 – Applicant notified of results
June 30, 2026 – All awarded project work must be completed


WSB has many qualified experts on staff to support your organization during the application process and throughout the life cycle of your projects. If you are interested in learning more about any of the programs listed here or are looking for some expert assistance in submitting applications contact us to learn how we can help.

Mary has 20 years of progressively complex transportation planning and project management experience, gained from working on a variety of transportation projects for modes including roads/bridge, transit, and trails. Several these projects have included environmental documentation considerations – either pre-NEPA, or through NEPA and/or MEPA processes.

[email protected] | 612.741.7055

Tips to Help Small Cities Secure Funding

January 15, 2024
By Nate Sparks, Sr Community Planner, WSB

From new housing to industrial park expansions, building projects of various shapes and sizes provide meaningful investments in communities but need adequate funding to move forward. Especially for smaller and rural cities where budgets and resources are often not as big as their more urban counterparts, having a proper plan in place to receive needed funding is critical. Without a vision, local leaders may find themselves chasing results and finding few.

It can become too easy to view funding applications and grants as a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, but without a plan in place, applicants may not only miss out on funding in competitive grant processes, but also miss funding opportunities that will best serve a particular project or goal.

With all this in mind, here are some ways small cities can give themselves an advantage when attempting to find funding for important projects.

Starting with What’s In Your Control

Before seeking external grants, it’s important to start by exploring the tools currently at your disposal. Tax abatement and tax increment financing (TIF) are two methods that cities can use to help push past hurdles and ensure priority projects have adequate funding. Many cities also explore fee waivers and reductions to help make projects more affordable and attainable.  These methods are within your control and may provide enough of a spark to get a project started. Redevelopment and Housing TIF Districts have 25-year durations which can capture a significant amount of revenue.

When outside funding is being pursued, it’s important to accurately consider the requirements of a grant to ensure that your community can meet the minimum requirements and provide a compelling narrative for qualification.

For example, the Innovative Business Development Public Infrastructure (BDPI) grants require the applicant to pay 50% of the cost, so it’s important if a community is pursuing a grant that they are sure that any matching dollars can be met. Other grants may require the applicant to have a specific demographic makeup or to pay all workers involved in the project a certain wage. Smaller cities need to show caution and ensure they are pursuing the best funding sources for them, otherwise certain grants may become more of a financial burden than a smart investment.

Communicating a Clear Need

When seeking external funding, communities need a strategy to set themselves apart from other cities. Be able to articulate why a grant is being sought and why there is a need. Are you cleaning up and repurposing a brownfield? Are you expanding housing to meet a demand for workforce housing? Are you expanding an industrial park to meet a growth in population and to bring in more jobs? Are you in need of a new playground for the influx of younger residents in your community? Applicants need to understand and be able to communicate not only what the project is, but the value it brings to the community. 

Being able to demonstrate in your adopted community plans that what you are seeking is clearly meeting a goal of the city is an ideal and successful strategy. Therefore, it is important to ensure that your planning documents are up to date and reflect the current reality of the community. Having a handle on the community’s context and demographic factors are excellent ways to help demonstrate need and qualifications. These documents also help people from outside your community understand the importance of projects to your community.

Harnessing Regional Collaboration

No community, regardless of size, operates in a silo. Collaborating with surrounding communities, counties or other regional entities can be a great way to not only better your chances of receiving funding but increase the types of grants you can apply for. Grant applications at the county level, for example, can create a mass of multiple groups and voices and needs that can go a long way to help as it expresses a regional demand.

Being in communication with regional partners about your demonstrated needs will alert them to opportunities for collaboration.  Recently, a new playground in a low- to moderate-income city received the necessary funding to be built in part because the county was aware of the city’s goals. Grant funds were available to the county, which then contacted the city about the opportunity. WSB provided the knowledge and technical skill to help produce the plan, identify grants provided by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) where applicable and worked through the application process to make sure the city received the needed funding.

How WSB Can Help

WSB helps cities of all sizes through a comprehensive planning and visioning process which includes identifying priorities, providing demographic data, navigating TIF requirements, bringing in potential developer partners and even writing grant applications.

Whether for revitalizing downtown, constructing housing, expanding industrial parks, building a playground or any other project, WSB can work with cities from start to finish.

Nate has been a community development professional for over 20 years. He has worked with a wide variety of communities providing guidance to municipalities of various sizes and types on a broad array of topics. He has significant experience working in townships and smaller cities which often face unique issues. His work includes writing comprehensive plans and zoning ordinances for several area communities, as well as serving the community point person for planning and zoning issues for 10 area cities and townships.

[email protected] | 952.221.0540

Unlocking the Power of GIS for Small and Midsize Cities

November 13, 2023
By Bryan Pittman, GIS Lead, WSB

Geographic Information Systems, or GIS, have become indispensable tools for cities of all sizes in their quest for efficient data management, smart decision-making and improved civic engagement. GIS is a technology that allows for the capture, storage, analysis and presentation of spatial data. This system combines geographic information with other forms of data, offering a unique perspective on various aspects of a city. Insights from GIS can drive sustainability outcomes, advancing economic, social and environmental benefits, as well as many other benefits that help advance city goals.

Today, many communities are sitting on a vast amount of data, but unsure how to aggregate and access it all in one place. These communities tend to also have the software tools and licensing necessary to use this data in the correct manner, namely Esri’s ArcGIS Online. These communities then already have all the data and tools they need to be successful with their GIS data, they just need assistance in putting the pieces together. WSB recently worked with two cities in Minnesota – Hastings and Saint Michael – to audit and organize their data, ensuring they were able to unlock its full potential.

What Kind of Data are Cities Collecting?

Small to midsize cities stand to gain significantly by harnessing the power of GIS. When thinking about how to best utilize data, it’s important to understand what data is available. GIS data communities are collecting, include:

  • Public Utility Data: Efficiently managing utilities data, including sewer, water and gas pipelines is critical. GIS data can help cities maintain these systems effectively, while minimizing disruptions and enhancing public service.
  • Community Development Data: Understanding land use and zoning is crucial for urban planning. With GIS, cities can optimize land use, improving infrastructure and the allocation of resources.
  • City-Created Data: Cities can aggregate data for specific needs and uses. Collecting and analyzing data related to city services, demographics and infrastructure can lead to smarter decisions and resource allocation. Moreover, cities can extend the benefits of GIS to the community by increasing data accessibility and conducting community outreach. For instance, some cities are surveying residents to compile data on doorbell cameras which can help law enforcement solve crimes.

Who is Using the Data?

Just as important as understanding what data is available, it’s important to understand who should have access to the data. Public works and engineering staff should have access for maintenance, repairs, planning and asset management. Community development teams can utilize data to create story maps. And ultimately, a case can be made for every city department to have access to data in some form to help drive collaboration, communication and a shared understanding of city priorities.

Where Should Cities Start?

When WSB worked with Hasting and Saint Michael to organize data, this is how we effectively gathered and aggregated their data into one platform.

  1. Perform a data and software review. What programs are being used and does the city need additional licenses? Doing an audit of this information is a good place to start.
  2. Prepare data for ArcGIS Online. Standardizing the data across platforms ensures that when it is all moved to be housed within one program, data is understandable, accessible and usable.
  3. Publish all data to ArcGIS Online. Once the data is standardized, all information is uploaded to ArcGIS Online, Esri’s cloud infrastructure.
  4. Create web applications and web maps. Now that data is all in one place, creating applications is important so users can access the data they need. Not all licensed users will need access to every bit of information. Applications make the data more usable and ensures that if data is updated by one user, it is reflected across the cloud.
  5. Train staff to understand the program and use the applications. Data is only useful if it’s understandable. WSB works with cities to train staff on how to access, update and utilize data within the cloud and related applications.

When it comes to GIS services, WSB is the ideal partner for small to midsize cities. WSB offers the expertise of a team with decades of experience in GIS and related services, guaranteeing that your city’s data is in capable hands. Furthermore, WSB’s commitment to direct municipal collaboration means that they thoroughly work to understand the unique challenges and opportunities that cities face, ensuring that GIS solutions are tailored precisely to your specific needs.

Why Communities and Developers Should Take Advantage of MPCA Brownfield Assessment Grant Now

November 13, 2023
By Ryan Spencer, Director of Environmental Investigation and Remediation, WSB

Many communities and developers in Minnesota are sitting on brownfield properties that have the potential for redevelopment, but first need to be investigated for potential contamination. With approximately $2 million coming into our state from the federal government’s bipartisan infrastructure law, now is the time to take advantage and apply for the MPCA Brownfield Assessment Grant.

The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) offers grants to fund the investigation of brownfield properties to support redevelopment and reuse. Eligible sites in Minnesota can be publicly or privately owned with known or suspected contamination.

Who should apply?

According to the MPCA, there are many groups that can and should apply for these dollars. They include, but are not limited to:

  • Community organizations
  • Local units of government
  • BIPOC developers
  • Emerging developers (developers who have completed 5 or fewer projects)
  • Tribal entities

Environmental Justice Zones

MPCA Brownfield Assessment Grant funds are targeted at areas of environmental justice. That could include underserved communities, low-income neighborhoods or areas with a significant BIPOC population. It’s important to remember that environmental justice zones do not only fall in urban centers, but also in many rural communities.

The MPCA provides a map of environmental justice areas in Minnesota, so applicants can check their eligibility.

Eligibility for Brownfield Investigation Grants

This specific grant will fund either Phase I or Phase II environmental site assessments. Phase I relates to the standardized environmental assessment of a property, and Phase II is the physical sampling of soil and other properties to determine if contamination is present.

The brownfield grants may also be used for sampling and analysis work plans, hazardous materials building surveys to identify lead-based paint and asbestos-containing materials, preparation of cleanup response action plans, community engagement for reuse planning, and MPCA Brownfield Program fees.

When is the best time to apply?

The grant is an ongoing grant, with dollars available from 2022-2027, so it would be great to apply anytime. The application is relatively quick and those who are eligible should absolutely take advantage of this opportunity.

Moreover, because federal stimulus dollars are flowing into the state, the MPCA wants to take those dollars and put them to work. They are strongly encouraging interested applicants to apply.

How WSB Can Help

Do you have a brownfield site and are interested in applying for these grants? WSB can help.

WSB’s team of experts can assist with grant applications, clean up, response planning that ensures full alignment with all regulatory requirements and helping communities identify brownfield sites that would benefit from development.

Ryan Spencer is our director of Environmental Investigation and Remediation and has worked in the environmental consulting industry servicing both public and private sector clients. He is proficient in the planning, management, and completion of environmental due diligence, remediation, and brownfield grant writing. 

[email protected] | 612.723.3644

Updates Regarding the PFAS MDL (Multidistrict Litigation) Settlements

October 6, 2023
By Steve Nelson, Director of Water/Wastewater, WSB

The 3M and DuPont settlements have set the criteria for determining PFAS settlement amounts that will be offered to cities and public water systems grappling with PFAS contamination in their source waters.

The Settlements

Cities with detectable levels of PFOA and PFOS in their source waters will soon be hearing from claims administrators, if they haven’t already, regarding the 3M and DuPont settlements. The 3M settlement will be between $10.3 billion and $12.5 billion, depending on the number of claimants and the Dupont settlement is $1.185 billion for affected water systems. Money for capital investments (60 percent of the allocation) will be available as early as mid-2024 and dollars for operations and maintenance (40 percent of the allocation) will be distributed over the next several years.

3M Settlement amounts will be based on PFOA and PFOS levels and Adjusted Flow Rates as described in the following tool. Claim administrators will use a similar tool to determine DuPont settlements amounts (approximately one tenth of the larger 3M settlement amounts).

3M Public Water Provider Settlement Estimated Allocation Range Table

These 3M and Dupont settlement dollars are not expected to make communities with PFAS contamination whole (cover all the possible damages/costs). They do, however, offer the certainty of some financial relief for public water systems with PFOA or PFOS detected in their source water.

Opting In

Cities need to determine if opting in makes sense for their respective communities. Public water systems have a 90-day opt-out period to decide whether to participate in these settlements. The opt-out deadlines are as follows:

  • DuPont: December 4, 2023
  • 3M: December 11, 2023

Here are some key points cities should consider when deciding to opt-in or opt-out:

  • Time Value of Money: The settlements provide a source of immediate funding, allowing cities that opt-in to lock in PFAS-related settlement dollars promptly. If a water system opts-out, they waive their right to pursue future litigation against 3M and Dupont and move to the end of the line. There is not guarantee of the amount of timing of any future funding.
  • Legal Council Costs: Participating communities without counsel are likely to be assessed fees as a tax, while participating communities with counsel will not be charged this fee.

How WSB Can Help

Interested in additional help? Reach out to our experts to get started.

Steve designs treatment plants and renovations (for both groundwater and surface water plants) including treatment process technologies such as reverse osmosis, ozone, activated alumina, biological filtration, lime softening, radium reduction, plate settlers, plate and frame presses and solids handling. He has worked with the AWWA Office of Government Affairs and the AWWA Research Foundation on water studies.

[email protected] | 612.258.8152

Steve Nelson