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

Biological Filtration Controls Corrosion & Creates Award Winning Taste

October 16, 2023
By Steve Nelson, Director of Water/Wastewater, WSB

The Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) and the Minnesota State Fair (MSF) are an unlikely duet, yet in 2023 they are singing the praises of Biological Filtration.

  • The Minnesota Department of Health – Acknowledged Biological Filtration’s ability to naturally achieve Optimal Corrosion Control Treatment (OCCT) and compliance with the Revised Lead and Copper Rule (LCR), in lieu of adding very expensive manmade chemicals like orthophosphate.
  • The Minnesota State Fair – Le Sueur Minnesota, a community which WSB’s director of Water and Wastewater helped convert to Biological Filtration in 2013, was awarded third place among communities with the best tasting water at the 2023 State Fair.

The Corrosion / Taste Connection:

Biological Filtration ensures that all nitrification (the conversion of ammonia to nitrate) occurs in the water treatment plant filters and not in the finished water distribution system; it also allows for the addition of chlorine after complete nitrification has occurred.

  • Avoiding nitrification in the distribution system is THE critical factor in the successful control of corrosion in Minnesota ground water systems.
  • Achieving complete nitrification prior to the addition of chlorine vastly improves the ability to achieve and maintain great natural tasting water in the distribution system and all the way to the consumer’s tap.

Current Studies Reveal Other Practical Benefits:

WSB is piloting biological filtration for several metro area communities. Some of these communities are considering harnessing biological filtration to reduce capital and chemical costs for their future water plant expansions. Orthophosphate would not need to be added if Biological Filtration is approved as the OCCT. The currently projected capital and chemical savings for one of these communities are as follows:

How WSB Has Helped and Can Help

For decades, Steve Nelson has been teaching about Corrosion Control, singing the praises of Biological Filtration and making the connection between the two. “It is now a joy to see our local communities harnessing nature to produce safe, sustainable, solutions that provide natural corrosion control, reduced capital costs, reduced chemical costs and improved taste at the consumer’s tap.” (Steve Nelson, WSB)

Interested in pursuing or exploring how biological filtration systems can improve your community’s water? Reach out to our team of 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
Wastewater treatment

Three Ways Smart Cities are Transforming Water Management

October 16, 2023
By Steve Nelson, Director of Water/Wastewater and Jon Christensen, Project Manager, WSB

Smart city technology has proven to be a game changer in water management, revolutionizing how cities handle their water resources. Smart cities are leveraging innovation to improve water management, leading to increased efficiency, cost savings and proactive decision-making. Technology adoption to gather data, enhance operations and plan improvements has become vital in progressing toward more streamlined and effective utility infrastructure.

How can your community benefit from smart water management? Here are three things to consider.

  1. Efficiency through Technological Solutions

    Smart cities optimize water management processes with accurate and real-time data, allowing for increased infrastructure efficiency, which reduces energy consumption and lowers costs. Integrating computer models, field data and Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) systems can streamline operations and identify areas for rehabilitation or improvement in a water system.

  2. Transforming the Water Management Lifecycle

    The impact of smart city technology is not limited to one phase of water management; it permeates the entire lifecycle. From the initial planning, design and construction stages to operation, maintenance and ongoing asset management, smart technology plays a vital role at every step. During design and construction, resources like 3D modeling create more accurate visual representations of supply, treatment, storage and distribution facilities and streamlines stakeholder and contractor communication, ultimately enhancing project outcomes.

    Once construction is complete, smart city technology continues to support asset management. 3D virtual models and Building Information Modeling (BIM) coupled with field data enables cities to monitor the condition of infrastructure, identify areas that require maintenance or rehabilitation and optimize around fluctuations in energy rates. By employing proactive strategies, cities can minimize disruptions, extend the lifespan of infrastructure and reduce operational and long-term costs.

  3. Proactive Decision-Making and Risk Management

    Smart cities’ ability to be proactive in their water management practices sets them apart. By continuously monitoring and analyzing data, cities can detect potential issues before they escalate and prioritize rehabilitation and replacement budgets. Predictive analytics allow municipalities to identify potential issues and replace aging water main lines in advance of breaks and failures. This proactive approach minimizes disruptions to residents, improves service reliability and reduces emergency repair costs.

How WSB Can Help Your Community Be Smart About Water Management

WSB adopts a strategic approach to water management in smart cities, from planning, design and construction to asset management and beyond. Using state of the art technology and data-driven insights, we enhance project execution and improve asset management. Our approach enables cities to leverage smart technology in delivering high-quality water service to their residents and businesses.

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

Jon’s experience in water and wastewater engineering include water supply systems, sanitary sewer collection systems and water and wastewater treatment facilities. Prior to joining WSB, Jon spent two years with an NGO in Honduras designing and constructing electricity-free sustainable drinking water treatment plants.

[email protected] | 612.437.7967

Building Smart and Sustainable Cities with Renewable Energy

September 18, 2023
By Behnaz Beladi, Director of Renewable Energy, WSB

WSB knows the importance of creating resilient and sustainable cities that prioritize the needs of its residents while preserving the environment. Smart cities that utilize technology to collect data and improve operations are crucial in advancing toward a more sustainable future. Renewable energy has emerged as a critical strategy in achieving this goal and is being implemented and managed in various ways across smart cities.

Here are several key benefits and challenges of implementing renewable energy in smart cities:

Reducing Emissions

An important benefit of using renewable energy in smart cities is that it helps reduce carbon emissions. By using distributed energy resources such as wind and solar power, smart cities work towards reducing their carbon footprint to zero. This helps the environment and makes the city a desirable place to live and work.

Economic Growth

One of the most significant benefits of renewable energy in smart cities is the potential for economic growth. Affordable and reliable renewable power can attract and retain companies, provide green jobs, and encourage entrepreneurship and innovation through renewable business incubators.

Quality of Life

Public health and safety can be improved through emission free cities. Renewable energy increases the quality of life for residents, particularly those in lower-income households. Inclusivity is promoted by providing access to renewable resources and grants to help cover the costs for low-income residents. Furthermore, residents can be paid to redistribute excess energy back into the grid, providing additional financial support to those needing it.


Despite these benefits, there are still challenges to implementing renewable energy in smart cities. To sufficiently leverage renewable sources, a great deal of new transmission infrastructure is required. Power transmission infrastructure was built with large fossil fuel plants and nuclear plants in mind. This raises issues for renewable energy sources not located near existing infrastructure. In fact, some areas with little or no infrastructure, such as off-shore wind farms, are some of the best hopes for sources of renewable energy. In some cities, it may be more difficult to build power plants due to geography, regulations and policies, or issues with constructability. However, through technology and innovation, WSB helps cities find ways to utilize existing infrastructure while being incredibly cost-effective in the long run. This includes incorporating smart EV chargers into commercial buildings and condominiums, helping with solar needs for residential or commercial buildings, and designing wind and solar power plants for cities and utilities.

How WSB Can Help

Renewable energy is an essential component of any smart city. By reducing carbon emissions, driving economic growth, and improving the quality of life for residents, renewable energy is helping to create cities of the future. As more communities adopt renewable energy practices, WSB is here to help design and build new infrastructure or incorporate renewable energy sources into existing infrastructure.

Behnaz manages the multi-disciplinary renewable energy team in project and program operations. She is an accomplished academic, with a PhD of Mechanical Engineering from the Technical University of Vienna, an associate of the North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners (NABCEP) and has served on the board of the Minnesota Solar Energy Industries Association, advocating for policy and regulatory initiative’s that strengthen the industry.

[email protected] | 612.468.8423

Behnaz Beladi

New Law Will Spur Community Solar Investments in Minnesota

By Andi Moffat, VP of Environmental and Eric Zweber, Sr Renewables Project Manager, WSB

Solar energy is on the rise, and it’s not just about cleaner power – it’s also about smarter land use. In Minnesota, a groundbreaking community solar law passed earlier this year is spurring action, allowing communities to turn underutilized land more easily, including brownfields and contaminated sites, into thriving community solar sites.

This innovative approach not only benefits the environment but also boosts local economies and creates job opportunities. With new legislation making it easier to establish solar gardens, the future looks brighter than ever.

Here is what this new law means and how communities across Minnesota can take advantage.

Legislation Paves the Way for Solar Garden Expansion

Recent legislation in Minnesota makes it easier to establish solar gardens. The 2023 law increases the allowed energy production on a site from one to five megawatts of power. On average, it takes about 35-40 acres of land to produce five megawatts of energy. The increase in allowed energy production makes solar more attractive for investors which will help spur overall solar growth. While the law applies to regions whose energy is covered by investor-owned utilities like Xcel Energy, distribution generation projects can be created in other utility service territories.

Moreover, the new law requires that the garden must benefit at least 25 subscribers. Of those subscribers, 55 percent must be public interest (i.e., local government, school districts, certain non-profit organizations, etc.), and 30 percent must serve subscribers with low to moderate incomes. Communities looking to identify subscribers that meet these requirements can work with organizations like Fresh Energy.

Finally, this law increases community solar opportunities across the state by removing county-specific restrictions for solar development. This change reduces barriers for communities and organizations who want to develop community solar sites. As a result of this law, solar initiatives are expected to flourish statewide, creating a ripple effect of positive environmental and economic impacts.

Transforming Underutilized Land & Providing Opportunities

Many large pieces of available property, including brownfields, often wait decades for redevelopment. Community solar offers an attractive interim use for these underutilized spaces. Putting community solar on these properties can accelerate the return on investment for landowners, while also providing an immediate positive impact to the community.

Beyond the financial incentives for landowners or subscribers, transforming spaces into solar gardens creates opportunities for local employment, fosters economic growth and contributes to the state’s clean energy and electrification goals.

How WSB Can Help

If you are a community or large commercial organization looking to utilize land and take advantage of this new opportunity, WSB is here to help. We are a full-service solar development firm and can provide site design, help identify land for community solar sites or make connections with contractors. Furthermore, we help your community examine and update local ordinances to align with the recent change in state statute.

Andi is a Vice President with more than two decades of experience leading people and projects that include planning, environmental, energy, highway, natural resources, construction and development. She oversees our Environmental services and approaches her work with passion and positivity.

[email protected]m | 763.287.7196

Eric has over 20 years experience with community planning, renewable energy and sustainability projects. He has worked cooperatively with a number renewable energies developers to develop both solar and wind resources and is a past board member of the Minnesota Solar Energy Industrial Association (MnSEIA). He has a passion for sustainable and resilient practices to address the needs of communities and larger public.

[email protected] | 612.581.0504

Transportation grants

New Transportation Grants: Tips on Getting Selected 

September 18, 2023
By Mary Gute, Sr Transportation Planner, WSB

Transportation grants are crucial to funding local city and county transportation-related projects. What can local governments do to stand out, score well and ensure they receive funding for their priority projects? Here is more information on the transportation grants and how to qualify. 

The Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) Local Road Improvement Program

MnDOT’s 2023 Local Road Improvement Program solicitation is designated for projects that will be constructed between 2024-2026. A total of $103 million is available during this round of funding. The maximum dollar amount that can be awarded is $1.5 million per project. Applications are due December 8, 2023, and award announcements are expected March 29, 2024. There is no match required for these funds.

What projects qualify?

Each project must fit within one of three buckets that correlate to these MnDOT accounts: trunk highway corridor, routes of regional significance or rural road safety. 

  • Trunk highway corridor projects must be on county, local, or township roads that are impacted by MnDOT trunk highway improvements. 
  • Projects in the routes of regional significance bucket are for roads classified as A-minor collector roads or higher. LRIP funds can be used for road construction, reconstruction or reconditioning projects. This fund is also intended to fund projects that would have regional significance, could help reduce congestion or spur economic development along corridors. 
  • Roads not classified as an A-minor collector or higher can also qualify for these funds by meeting a portion of the below criteria:
    • Classified as a farm to market route
    • Providing capacity or congestion relief to a parallel truck highway system or county road
    • Included in an economic development plan
    • Included as part of a 10-ton route or network
    • Connect to a tourist destination
    • Connect to the regional transportation system, trunk highway or county road
How can your locality increase its chances of receiving this funding?

If your project fits into one of these three buckets, how can you ensure your project receives funding? 

MnDOT looks at eligibility, operations and safety, regional significance, support by relevant local governments including availability of other funding sources, lack of controversy, expected useful life of at least a decade and high impact. Projects will be weighted on a variety of factors including 25 percent for project readiness and 5 percent for complete streets consideration which focuses on safety and accessibility. 

Furthermore, projects that stand out have a large positive impact on the community and are ready to begin construction. That means ensuring all planning documents are up to date and demonstrate how the project will contribute to the local economy, region and/or residents. 

For communities with less than five thousand residents, it’s also important to secure a resolution of support from the local county before applying for the grant. 

Finally, early coordination with MnDOT district staff, including the District State Aid Engineer and the District State Aid Assistant can be helpful to vetting potential projects and establishing projects to submit through the LRIP and other competitive funding programs. 

Metropolitan Council Regional Solicitation Grants

The Metropolitan Council Regional Solicitation Grants distribute federal funding for a wide range of transportation improvements, including roadways and bicycle/pedestrian projects. While the start date this program has not yet been announced, this is the perfect time to plan ahead and prepare. It is also the time to ensure communities can secure the 20 percent required match. 

What can I do to prepare before this program opens up?

Communities can determine if their projects qualify for the Regional Solicitation program and how competitive their project will be well in advance of the program opening up. This includes determining the application type that needs to be submitted and if the project is in alignment with the programs prioritizing criteria, which includes role in the transportation system and economy, equity, infrastructure condition, safety, project readiness and community engagement. These cross-cutting areas of emphasis are great opportunities for communities to augment their sustainability and resiliency efforts.

How can you increase your chances of receiving this funding?

Funding for eligible projects is very competitive so making sure your project stands out is critical. To increase the chances of receiving Regional Solicitation funding, projects should align with the Council’s planning documents. Projects that improve accessibility for low income or traditionally disadvantaged communities will also score better, like projects that focus on environmental justice (EJ) communities. To find out more, visit the state’s EJ mapping tool and other resources at Environmental justice | Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (state.mn.us).

Collaboration and partnership are also key to setting a project apart. All jurisdictions involved should be supportive of the project and working with partners now across levels of government will demonstrate project readiness. Moreover, being able to demonstrate stakeholder engagement like public meetings or resident input specific to the proposed project can also elevate your project to the top among applicants. 

It is notable that for the 2024 cycle, the Met Council has increased the weight placed on addressing fatalities on the transportation system, making this the highest valued criterion for many application categories.

How WSB Can Help

These grants provide amazing opportunities to help fund critical transportation projects. WSB’s experienced team knows how to make projects stand out and increase your chances of receiving funding. 

Contact us for guidance on everything from project competitiveness to assisting with transportation grant applications.

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

Updated Digital As-Built Requirements: What Energy Companies Need to Know & How They Can Benefit

August 14, 2023
By Nate Osterberg, Director of Strategic Growth and Garrett Deick, Professional Engineer, WSB

When the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) mandated new permitted utility installations meet Digital As-built Requirements (DAC), WSB adopted a workflow that allowed utilities to meet and exceed these new requirements. At the forefront of this change in Colorado, we helped utilities navigate the new law with cutting-edge technologies and mapping.

Now, many other states across the country are looking to implement similar laws, mandates and programs and there are things utilities should know. What are the rules, how can utility companies prepare and how do these new SUE requirements benefit energy companies and other entities in the long-term? 

What are the rules in Colorado?

Essentially, any entity installing utilities in a DOT right of way is required to use a digital as-built. All utility lines will need to be mapped digitally and submitted to CDOT, including plans and existing lines. Utility companies will be required to survey existing utility lines — commonly known as Subsurface Utility Engineering (SUE) — and submit them to the state using their chosen software. 

Another key factor is ensuring the utility lines are found to the highest accuracy quality levels using geophysical methods to locate and map them.

With more states adopting similar requirements, how can utilities prepare?

Utility companies need to plan SUE investigations for their new facility installations. In the recent Infrastructure and Jobs Act (IIJA), the federal government is providing grants to utility companies to complete the digital as-built mapping needed starting in 2024. These funds can be used for damage prevention and supporting SUE investigations and installation.

Utilities also must ensure that they are prepared to not only gather the data, but store and use the data too. Preparing teams to use SUE data in the design and construction process has many benefits. 

What are the benefits of SUE investigations?

For every dollar spent on a SUE investigation, as much as $22 can be saved in the construction phase. SUE allows utility companies to avoid damage to gas, water, electric and sewer lines that are costly to repair. It also reduces construction down time, which is also costly. In short, SUE helps prevent unexpected changes and expenses during construction. 

Preventing damage also helps avoid environmental consequences. If a gas line is hit, gas leaks into the ground and atmosphere, increasing greenhouse gas emissions. These leaks carry serious public safety concerns. By using SUE investigations, damage can be avoided. 

In the future, electric companies will benefit greatly from SUE investigations as well. In the Infrastructure and Jobs Act, electric companies will have large grants available to move overhead lines underground. With digital maps of utility lines provided by SUE investigations, electric companies will be able to plan and design around existing underground utilities and make the process more efficient and cost effective. 

For many of the same reasons, telecom companies will benefit from SUE investigations. As 5G expands across the country, installation is happening underground to protect lines from natural disasters. With digital maps from SUE investigations, these lines will be easier to install efficiently and prevent damage from future construction.

Lastly, cities will benefit from better mapping data. Much of the nation’s water infrastructure was built more than a century ago and GIS and other modern technologies were not used to comprehensively map water lines. In the next couple decades, many water lines are due to be replaced. With SUE investigations happening now, cities can plan around the current infrastructure when replacing and maintaining their water lines.

How can WSB help?

WSB’s team provides the knowledge and skill to help utilities and governments prepare for and implement new SUE requirements. Utilizing the latest technologies and processes, we helped utilities not only meet, but exceed new state requirements in Colorado. WSB also provides utility companies with all data in GIS/CAD format allowing them to use their data for planning and construction.

WSB’s team can assist with everything from the pre-engineering phase through construction phase. We help with understanding new regulations, securing grant funding, and more for utilities and local governments. 

Nate Osterberg has over 12 years of experience in the utility industry and specializes in utility inspection for WSB’s Pipeline group. Nate’s expertise lies in managing inspection staff technology implementation, scheduling and quality control in addition to CFR 192/195 inspection, damage prevention and GIS-based web mapping.

[email protected] | 612.202.2997

Nate Osterberg

Garrett specializes in utility coordination and has worked on a variety of projects including state aid, federal aid, cooperative agreement, trunk highway, and design build projects. He has extensive experience utilizing Microstation, GEOPAK, and Open Roads Designer for plan development, 3D modelling of utilities, and utility conflict analysis.

[email protected] | 612.289.1175

Unprecedented $16M in Urban and Community Forestry Grants

August 14, 2023
By Emily Ball, Forestry Program Manager, WSB

The Minnesota DNR has announced two forestry grants available for urban & community forestry activities. Neither grant requires a match, in fact you aren’t even encouraged to provide match information, which is new this year and a great time saver when it comes to reporting. Each grant is up to $500,000, with no minimum request and covers different activities.  

Eligible applicants include non-profit organizations with 501(c)(3) status and local units of government in Minnesota, including cities, counties, regional authorities, joint powers boards, towns and tribal. Parks and recreation boards in cities of the first class are also eligible to apply.  Unfortunately, funding is not available through these grants for school districts. Like previous grants, there is a list of five criteria that applicants will obtain extra points for meeting, such as using credentialed staff or consultants, benefiting underserved populations and areas of concern for environmental justice, communities with populations under 20,000, prioritizing EAB, and maintaining or increasing tree canopy cover.

The first grant is through ReLeaf funding. This grant covers a long list of activities. Injections and removal/replacement of ash trees is included, but also more activities than just EAB, such as maintenance pruning. Through this grant for the first time, cities can apply for funding to help their low-income residential property owners with tree work. Additionally, grant funding can cover staff time, which is a new feature.

The second grant is through Shade tree program bonding and the emphasis is primarily tree removal and stump grinding to make space for new trees to be planted. New this year, if you are removing infested ash in wooded areas, you will not be required to replant 1:1.

Here is a break down on each grant with examples of what they cover, and details on when applications are due. Both grants will go through 2027.

ReLeaf community forestry grants, 2023-2027 – $6.883 million in grants for local units of government and non-profit organizations in Minnesota that encourage and promote the inventory, planting, assessment, maintenance, treatment, improvement, protection and restoration of trees and forest resources to enhance community forest health and sustainability, reduce atmospheric carbon dioxide levels and promote energy conservation.
Deadline: September 18, 2023.

Shade tree program bonding grants, 2023-2027 – $10.063 million in grants for local units of government in Minnesota that are planning to replace trees lost to forest pests, disease, or storm; or to establish a more diverse community forest better able to withstand disease and forest pests.
Deadline: October 2, 2023.

DNR staff offered a webinar, and the recording is now online. There are still two opportunities to attend sessions to learn more on 8/15 in Marshall and one on 8/16 in St. Paul. For more about the grants, and to learn about the listening sessions:  Community forestry | Minnesota DNR (state.mn.us) If you would like assistance with formulating a grant project, acquiring estimates for work and writing a grant, please contact Emily Ball, Forestry Program Manager at [email protected] or 651-318-9945.  Emily is an ISA Certified Arborist (#4284A) and has had extensive experience applying for grants like these in her city forester roles with Minnetonka and Lakeville. She is already working with several cities to target their grant applications strategically.

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