Asset Management For City Sustainability and Resiliency Goals

By Shannon McGrath, Director of Asset Management and Jack Woolery, Asset Management Specialist, WSB
July 15, 2024

Cities exploring ways to maintain and improve infrastructure sustainably cannot overlook asset management. Thorough data collection and a thoughtful asset management plan can provide the necessary recommendations needed to mitigate weather-based risk, as well as ensure communities are reaching climate goals through green infrastructure strategies.

How can asset management further sustainability and resiliency goals for your community’s infrastructure? Here are some things to consider.

Data and Technology

Good data is the key to asset management. Data collection can be done through visual field inspections or using technology such as Light Detection and Ranging (LIDAR). In visual inspections, expert(s) travel to each individual asset to collect data and provide more detailed information than could be acquired through inspecting photos and maps.

Conversely, LIDAR is a remote sensing technique that uses light to make measurements and collect geographic locations for all above-ground infrastructure. The light pulses create a three-dimensional image that models the infrastructure with useful measurement data.

Using an Asset Management System (AMS) integrated with a Geographic Information System (GIS), any data collection can be combined with information like a site’s physical condition, soil quality, traffic volumes and an asset’s vulnerability to extreme weather events like flooding for better risk-based planning and prioritization. Additionally, water and wastewater assets may implement a Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) system, so system monitoring is further automated which reduces the number of in-person trips required while also providing asset stakeholders or elected officials ease of access to the information they need. To further that point, an AMS paired with 3D modeling provides an easier means of communication between internal stakeholders (e.g. planning, design, construction and asset management) and external stakeholders (e.g. elected officials and the public). The combination of expert analysis and technologies provides the information necessary to optimize an asset’s longevity.

Risk Assessment and Management

Identifying risk and risk mitigation strategies greatly improves asset resilience against risks such as extreme weather events and premature deterioration. This risk assessment can be broken down in two ways – an enterprise risk assessment and an asset level risk assessment.

With an enterprise risk assessment, locations with heightened risk of extreme weather events are subjected to an enterprise assessment which is larger in scale and can cover a sizable geographic area like a whole community, region or state. For example, communities prone to flooding may have a flood vulnerability model developed as part of an enterprise risk assessment with recommendations for new projects and upgrading current assets.

On a smaller scale, an asset level risk assessment inspects an individual asset rather than a larger location. Through an asset level risk assessment, for example, a roadway is examined to identify underground utilities, asset condition and impact of failure such as impacting a critical healthcare facility or a residence. Factors such as soil type and its impact on pipe corrosion could also be considered.

Risk assessment is tailored to fit both qualitative and quantitative approaches like climate modeling for a region or coordinating with long tenured staff and agencies with institutional knowledge on what best practices have worked for a particular asset. Risk assessments and asset management plans provide ways to improve resiliency and sustainability, prioritize mitigation strategies and costs in financial planning and prevent the loss of institutional knowledge, cutting down on unnecessary work repetition.

Incentivizing and Financing

A growing trend in states like Michigan and Minnesota is the development of state government task forces and advisory councils focused on asset management. These groups incentivize owners to have asset management plans in place to improve resiliency and sustainability. By having a management plan, asset owners and communities can properly identify at-risk areas that require updating and meet evolving state and federal climate goals. With a plan in place, communities can take advantage of the substantial federal investments for sustainable infrastructure from programs like the Infrastructure and Jobs Act (IIJA) or state infrastructure grants and legislation.

For example, the IIJA has provided upwards of $7.5 billion for the purpose of updating outdated infrastructure to improve climate friendliness and the ability to withstand climate-related disasters. Without a quality asset management team and plan in place, communities could easily miss out on these opportunities.

How WSB Can Help

WSB’s multidisciplinary team includes experts in asset management who understand sustainability practices and policies, as well as how infrastructure is impacted by natural environments and climate-related issues. By staying at the forefront of techniques and technologies like the use of 3D modeling and automated data collection systems, asset stakeholders, elected officials and the public will have all the information necessary to make the most informed decisions. We work with communities to create a holistic, comprehensive asset management approach that brings real value and is customized for your community or project.

Shannon has spent over a decade advancing asset management at local, state, and national levels by serving on asset management committees, advisory panels, and project management teams. While working at MnDOT, Shannon directed the agency-wide asset management planning including projects, research, policy, innovation, strategic planning, and implementation in collaboration with internal and external stakeholders.

[email protected] | 651.492.9291

Shannon McGrath Director of Asset Management

Jack is a survey technician working on projects for civil engineering, land development, and planning by collecting field data and completing documentation via use of survey equipment and land record maps. He helps facilitate the connection between field and office by reading and comprehending engineering plans, developing processes to efficiently meet all required criteria in plan sets, and transferring field data back to various design software while maintaining data integrity.

[email protected] | 612.518.4263

Strategic Advice for Attracting Renewable Energy Developers

By Ameer Kian, Sr Project Manager, WSB
July 15, 2024

As the global shift towards sustainable energy gains momentum, cities have a unique opportunity to position themselves at the forefront of the renewable energy movement. Attracting renewable energy developers not only contributes to environmental sustainability but also brings significant economic and social benefits. Learn strategies that cities can use to attract renewable energy developers and capitalize on the growing green economy.

Benefits of Attracting Renewable Energy Developers

Cities stand to gain immensely by attracting renewable energy developers.

  • These projects often lead to direct economic benefits such as job creation in construction, maintenance, and operations of energy facilities.
  • Renewable energy projects contribute to a cleaner local environment by reducing dependence on fossil fuels and lowering greenhouse gas emissions.
  • They enhance the city’s appeal to environmentally conscious businesses and residents, positioning the city as a leader in sustainability and innovation.
  • Having local renewable energy sources can improve energy security and stability, reducing vulnerability to external energy price shocks and supply disruptions.

Creating an Inviting Regulatory Environment

The foundation for attracting renewable energy investment is a supportive regulatory framework. Cities can streamline permitting processes, offer tax incentives and establish clear guidelines for renewable activity projects. These measures reduce hurdles and make the city more attractive to developers looking for efficient project approval timelines.

Leveraging Public-Private Partnerships and offering Financial Support

Public-private partnerships (PPPs) are a powerful tool for cities aiming to attract renewable energy projects. By partnering with private firms, cities can share financial risks while benefiting from the expertise and innovation of the private sector. These collaborations can lead to the development of state-of-the-art renewable energy facilities that might not be feasible through public funding alone. Additionally, cities can provide tax incentives or low interest loans to further reduce the financial burden on developers.

Investing in Infrastructure

Adequate infrastructure is crucial for the development and distribution of renewable energy. Cities that invest in upgrading their electrical grids, improving connectivity and ensuring the availability of suitable land for large-scale projects will be more appealing to energy developers. Furthermore, developing clear interconnection standards can help reduce the complexity and timing needed for the connection of renewable energy systems to the grid

Fostering Community Engagement and Support

Gaining the support of the local community is essential for the success of renewable energy projects. Cities can facilitate community engagement through educational programs that highlight the benefits of renewable energy, such as reduced carbon emissions and stable energy prices. Public forums and workshops can also be used to address any concerns and gather valuable feedback from citizens.

How WSB Can Help

Embracing renewable energy is a strategic decision that can lead to substantial rewards for cities. By creating a favorable business environment, investing in necessary infrastructure and engaging with the community, cities can attract top-tier renewable energy developers. WSB is uniquely qualified to assist cities in navigating this transition, having both renewable and municipal advisory experience. With our expertise in planning, environmental consulting, renewable energy, public engagement and city engineering, we can help you develop strategies that align with your goals and maximize the benefits of renewable energy projects.

Ameer leads and executes complex renewable energy projects, with a demonstrated expertise in managing teams, optimizing project lifecycles, and delivering innovative solutions. His project management experience includes planning, scheduling, budgeting, risk assessment and stakeholder management. He is passionate about renewable energy technologies, such as solar, battery storage and EV charging.

[email protected] | 763.388.3493

Earmarks: Congressional Funding For Your Project

By Morgan Dawley, Sr Director of Municipal, WSB
July 15, 2024

While the timeline for fiscal year 2025 earmark requests have passed, smart planning now can prepare your project for success in future funding years. Through advocating, coalition building and coordinating with your congressional elected officials, your project can obtain the funding it needs. Now is the time to educate yourself on earmarks and what you must do to gain congressional funding to support your project.

What Are Earmarks?

An earmark, also referred to as “Congressionally Directed Spending” or “community project funding,” is a funding allocation presented by an elected Member of Congress. It is written into a spending appropriations bill that directly funds a specific project. Earmarks fund a variety of projects across multiple disciplines such as transportation, structural projects, water treatment plants, civic centers and other local projects that enhance community priorities, expand economic development and provide job opportunities.  

It is most common to receive project funding by applying for a grant through an agency, but this comes with limitations and requirements that must be met while also competing with other projects for funds. These requirements can be hard to obtain due to lack of financials or requirements that are not applicable to your project.

What differentiates earmarks from the typical grant application process is the targeted approach to funding a specific project rather than an agency receiving a large amount to distribute. With earmarks, project funding is still competitively awarded, and you must convince your Member of Congress of the positive impact your project will have on the community to receive funding. A successful earmark request is extremely beneficial because it demonstrates public support from your Member of Congress.

Do Your Preparation

It can be helpful to research similar projects that have received earmark funding in the past. The House and Senate appropriations committee web pages provide full lists of past projects that have received funding along with the amount received. This can help you prepare your submission.

Staying up to date on political trends will benefit your request as well. If your project aligns with the current views of the House or Senate— your project will have a greater chance at receiving funding. For example, if your Congressional Member strongly supports environmental sustainability, an application prioritizing this is set up for success. Alternatively, submissions may be denied for various reasons like limiting spending, conflicting policies, etc. Being well-versed in today’s politics provides valuable information as you request earmark funding.

In addition to researching past projects and current political trends, your project must have some level of study to help define the need for the project before the first meeting with your Congressional Member and their staff. Within this study, be sure to include the anticipated scope and estimated costs. Consider creating a project “one-pager” that helps summarize the information, costs and the funding request into a simple, visually compelling format that you can leave behind and they can use for briefings.

Requesting Earmark Funding and Coalition Building

When it comes to requesting earmark funding— where do you start? The first step is engaging with your elected officials and explaining why your project deserves to be funded.

Earmark funding request forms are found on the websites of your Representative or Senator. Through a submission, they gain insight to valuable information like your project’s purpose, location and the amount of funding requested.

Once the application is submitted, the best path to receiving funding is through meeting with your elected official’s staff through coalition building. Meeting in-person provides the opportunity to explain in greater detail the need for funding and the benefit your project provides.

If your project benefits multiple communities or groups, it is in the best interest of the earmark request to present a coalition of support. By directly advocating for earmark funding and showing the project’s wide-reaching benefits, the potential your elected official will provide their support increases. For example, if a county is presenting the earmark request and has the support of multiple cities and communities, the project will provide a more convincing argument.

How WSB Can Help?

Earmarks are an incredible way for projects to receive congressional funding and support. WSB’s team of experts will support you with your earmark funding request. Our team helps determine your project’s scope, estimate overall costs and help facilitate and manage the process for acquiring the desired earmark funding for your project.

Morgan brings over 20 years of experience in municipal, transportation and civil engineering projects. He has been providing consultant city engineering services, including strategic planning, preliminary design, project development, and public engagement. He is passionate about finding solutions that are right for the client and that help neighborhoods and communities achieve their goals and vision for the future.

[email protected] | 763.287.7173

Morgan Dawley

Leveraging Federal Funds to Revitalize Underutilized Land

June 17, 2024
By Ryan Spencer, Director of Environmental Investigation & Remediation, WSB

With so much additional federal funding coming from legislation like the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA), there are plenty of opportunities for communities to address brownfields and revitalize land. Communities with underutilized land, especially those with documented contamination, must possess a detailed understanding of the grant filing process to efficiently rectify this issue. Grant applications can be a complicated process. However, it is beneficial for communities to pursue grants to not only clean up pollutants and health hazards, but also further benefit residents with projects like affordable housing.

But where to start? Here are some ways your community can leverage federal funding to revitalize and develop underutilized lands.

Funding Sources

Regarding federal funding opportunities, the primary source when it comes to underutilized contaminated land is the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Often projects requiring land revitalization stem from brownfield sites where contamination (known or perceived) is preventing the area from being redeveloped. The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act provided a huge influx of funding specifically for cleanup and redevelopment projects, and the EPA announced in early 2024 that over $1 billion in funding was available for new and continued cleanup projects. That provides a huge opportunity for communities across the country.

Other funding opportunities are available at the state and county levels from economic development agencies or pollution protection agencies.

It’s also important to note that most grants are on a schedule and the time of year heavily impacts available funding.  Further, most grants are competitive and only the projects that best fit the grant agency’s goals will be awarded funding in each cycle. Depending on the time of year and how many grants have already been granted, communities may be required to wait until the following cycle before applying. To best leverage federal funding, knowing the goals of the agency, the stated goals of the grants and the funding timelines is imperative for communities with revitalization projects.

The Right Grant for the Right Project

When looking at federal grants, it is important to identify how your project aligns with grant application requirements. Not every grant may be the right fit for your project.

Land use projects that have the most potential for receiving funding are those targeting contaminated brownfield areas, those benefiting environmental justice areas and those that increase tax base, jobs, and affordable housing availability. Federal agencies give grants to the projects that score the highest by need and when communities clearly communicate how a project aligns with a grant’s overall mission. Before applying, interested applicants must understand if their project fits within the parameters of the grants. For example, private developments are typically excluded from grants while cleanup projects that lead to the construction of newer affordable housing have greater potential.

How WSB Can Help

Brownfield assessment, cleanup, and revitalization involves many steps, but WSB works with communities and can help navigate the process. That assistance can include environmental assessment services, assistance with grant applications and securing funding sources, community engagement, helping with project readiness, brownfield revitalization planning and design, and more. Revitalizing underutilized land is an investment that can pay off in big ways for communities. Federal grant funding provided by the Federal Infrastructure Bill can assist with jump starting, assessing, and cleaning up sites across the country. With extensive knowledge and experience, the professionals at WSB are here to help communities identify, apply for, and best leverage federal funding to clean up contaminated land and improve quality of life for residents.

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

engineer with hardhat using tablet pc computer inspecting

SUE: What Your City Needs To Avert Disaster

June 17, 2024
By Tony Terrell, Director of Utilities Management, WSB

If your city has an upcoming construction project, using subsurface utility engineering (SUE) can provide numerous benefits, while helping avoid potential catastrophe. In any community, but especially in heavily developed cities, not knowing the exact location of subsurface utilities puts projects at risk and could mean unnecessary delays, unexpected costs, and even harm to communities by temporarily depriving it of water, electricity or gas.

With that in mind, let’s review what SUE is and why your city should think twice about forgoing it.

What Is SUE?

SUE is a service that uses pipe & cable locators, electromagnetic hand-held utility locators, ground penetrating radar, and vacuum excavation to locate and identify utility lines buried beneath the ground. The vacuum excavation process is unique and entails the use of a high-pressure sprayer and a 100-to-200-gallon tank that turns the soil into mud. That mud is then vacuumed out to receive a physical line of sight on utilities buried as much as ten feet below the ground surface. Through vacuum excavation, the exact horizontal and vertical coordinate and the depth of a utility can be measured. The ground penetrating radar is a geophysical method that uses radar pulses to image the subsurface. The GPR can identify different material types underground and is used to locate utilities that are difficult to find, and where the electromagnetic locators had issues. What’s more, SUE uses a quality ranking system that helps construction projects have the right data and a clear understanding of how to avoid colliding with utility lines.

Utility Quality Levels

Using SUE equipment as described above, a utility quality level can then be applied which denotes how precise the location data is. These quality levels fall into four levels of A, B, C and D. Through this quality level scale, design teams and construction teams are better equipped to ensure utilities are not impacted by any excavation work.

The Risk of Forgoing SUE

Forgoing the use of SUE creates the risk of damaging or destroying utility lines. This disruption would not only delay the ongoing project but would also create substantial cost of repairing the utility line and potentially cutting off services to the surrounding community. This is especially critical when working in heavily developed cities with large, condensed populations, and where damaging a utility has the potential of cutting off electrical, water or gas utilities to a large population. Additionally, studies have shown that forgoing SUE services can lead to problems and potential utility damage that will incur costs beyond the initial cost of performing SUE services for a project. On average there is a nearly 5 to 1 cost difference between risking utilities and using SUE to prevent these issues from occurring.

Why is SUE important

  • Provides valuable information from which to make valuable decisions for roadway/bridge projects.
  • Unnecessary utility relocations are avoided
  • Eliminate unexpected utility conflicts typically encountered on transportation projects
  • Improved safety
  • Reduce project delays, saving time and money
  • SUE is a viable technological practice that reduces project costs

How WSB Can Help?

To avert potentially damaging or destroying a utility during construction, cities should reach out to the experienced and talented team at WSB to discuss how SUE will keep costs low and protect not only your project, but the surrounding community. By staying at the forefront of technology and techniques, WSB provides the information and peace of mind cities need to complete their project safely.

Tony has over 30 years of roadway design experience including time at the Oklahoma DOT in the Roadway Design Division. He has worked in bridge design, right-of-way plans, railroad plans, and traffic/traffic signal plans. His work in utility relocation work involved with for all phases of the design, writing right-of-way easements, drawing final utility relocation plans, coordinating the utility relocation, verifying that all utility relocation work has been done and finalized.

[email protected] | 405.808.4127

Recap of the 2024 Minnesota Legislative Session

June 14, 2024
By Jacob Ringstad, Graduate Engineer, WSB

The end of the 2024 Minnesota legislative session in St. Paul brought opportunities for communities across Minnesota. With changes to regulations and new grant investment opportunities, now is the time for communities to dive into better understanding of what happened this session and what changes and opportunities resulted from this year’s session. I was able to discuss with Anne Finn, Director of the League of Minnesota Cities’ Intergovernmental Relations, about the impact on cities for this session.

Budgets and Bonding

This year, lawmakers did not pass a capital investment bill. Many communities see a lack of a bonding bill as detrimental to asset preservation and local infrastructure. This failed bonding bill contained building asset preservation, money to remove lead and PFAs from local water systems, and $40 million dedicated to local communities. Additionally, the bonding bill failing to pass this year likely means there will be a large appetite for a bill in the 2025 legislative session. Communities with future construction projects and bonding needs must stay up-to-date and plan for what is to come in 2025. Anne encourages these cities to continue meeting with their representatives about the importance of these funds in your communities.

Efforts to Improve our Transportation

The 2024 session saw an additional $11.35 million investment in the Small Cities Assistance Program. These funds will be evenly distributed to cities with populations under 5,000 starting July 1st. These funds can be used to improve city assets and even include an option to use the money to pay debt service on bonds. One new policy opportunity Anne mentioned was state guidelines were enacted for establishing pedestrian malls. This new law will help to guide communities looking to expand pedestrian transportation and safety in high density areas.

A Focus on Environment

The 2024 legislative session saw massive investment from the Environment and Natural Resources Budget and Policy bill. An additional $46 million will be invested into programs dedicated to protecting Minnesota’s water, air, soil and wildlife. Anne specifically mentioned, “New grant programs created for community tree planting with $8 million for statewide use and another $3 million dedicated to the seven-county metro area.” To maximize use of this new funding, construction projects that can highlight sustainability should keep a close watch on these new investments and be ready as soon as the grants become available.

Expanding Housing Infrastructure Grant Program

Alongside new funding, counties are now able to take advantage of opportunities previously limited to cities. Under the 2024 legislative session, the Greater Minnesota Housing Infrastructure Grant Program was expanded to include county-managed construction projects, creating new opportunities, such as the development of housing, streets, water supply systems, sewers, utilities and more.

How WSB Can Help?

The 2024 session included several new state investments and policy changes that impact communities. With WSB, communities can feel secure with a talented team of experts who will help walk you through finding funding, applying for grants and ensuring every opportunity is on the table for your projects.

Jacob Ringstad has 2 years of experience in the city engineering. He has worked with city and township clients out of our Minneapolis and Saint Cloud offices to assist in improvement planning, design, and construction. Alongside his engineering work, Jacob has joined professional associations that involve the legislative affairs of the industry.

[email protected] | 6120.214.0962

Achieving Safer Roadways Through ADA Compliance

May 13, 2024
By Gus Perron, Project Manager, WSB

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is an incredibly important civil rights law that also provides a standard for which engineers can create safer roadways and communities. In 2010, the ADA Standards for Accessible Design provided a clearer minimum for what needs to be achieved for access friendly design. In August of 2023, the US Access Board improved upon those standards by issuing their Final Rule on the Public Right of Way Accessibility Guidelines (PROWAG). Meeting these standards not only provides greater access for people with disabilities, but also improves designs that better the entire community.

Benefits for All Community Members

ADA standards on walkways and street crossings do not just provide improved accessibility for people with disabilities. Rather, all community members benefit from inclusive designs, such as parents pushing children in strollers or children riding a scooter. By improving pedestrian crossings, like placing curb ramps in locations that shorten crosswalks, communities can both meet ADA compliance requirements and improve safety. When pedestrian travel is easier and safer for people with disabilities it is easier and safer for all pedestrians.

Beyond safety and mobility concerns, properly following ADA guidelines when installing curb ramps makes maintenance far easier. For instance, antiquated pedestrian curb ramps that do not fulfill ADA compliance standards are not always wide enough or aligned to accommodate snow removal vehicles. With accessibility, safety, and maintenance in mind, heightened attention to detail is required to ensure all community members are affected for the better.

Understanding Project Needs First-Hand

To best understand the needs of a project and how to ensure it aligns with ADA standards, looking at top-down maps only goes so far. A pre-design field walk grants a closer look at the work needing to be done, what design options are feasible, what are the impacts, and much more. This pre-design effort provides a deeper understanding of how to properly link project needs to ADA standards while mitigating risks in project delivery. Procuring first-hand knowledge of every crossing, curb ramp, neighboring utility, property line, and every other inch of a project will allow greater ease in matching the various guidelines and standards like PROWAG. Having a deep understanding of ADA guidelines with first-hand knowledge of a project can ensure accessibility, lower costs and mitigate risks.

What WSB Can Do To Help

WSB provides a knowledgeable team with experience analyzing and working on hundreds of projects to meet the requirements set out by the Americans with Disabilities Act. Through this experienced team, our clients, stakeholders and communities achieve safer and more accessible living. Thoughtful designs will also improve safety and maintenance operations for communities. The design of pedestrian infrastructure for ADA needs can have a sweeping, positive impact on community and WSB can help execute strategic accessible designs that work for everyone.

Gus is WSB’s expert in accessible pedestrian and bicycle facilities, with a traffic engineering background which allows him to blend pedestrian accessibility with safety and mobility. He uses best practices to achieve constructable and usable pedestrian facilities for a variety of project scopes across different environments.

[email protected] | 612.360.1296

Solar plant at an industrial area

Sustainable City Energy: Creating A Pathway for Success

May 13, 2024
By Behnaz Beladi, Director of Renewable Energy, WSB

Escalating environmental concerns and urbanization are driving a paradigm shift in city energy priorities, encouraging them to invest in sustainable solutions. Renewable energy offers a plethora of benefits including reduced greenhouse gas emissions, improved air quality and enhanced energy security. Transitioning to renewables presents an opportunity for cities to assert their commitment to sustainability while simultaneously reaping economic advantages through job creation and investment in clean technologies.

Key to this transition is the development of comprehensive renewable energy strategies tailored to the unique characteristics and needs of each city. These strategies encompass a multifaceted approach, incorporating policy initiatives, technological innovations, funding opportunities and community engagement.

Targeting Local Policy and Embracing Innovation

At the policy level, cities must enact ambitious targets and regulations to incentivize the adoption of renewable energy solutions. This may involve setting renewable energy mandates, implementing carbon pricing mechanisms and phasing out subsidies for fossil fuels. Additionally, cities can leverage their purchasing power to procure renewable energy for municipal operations and encourage private sector investment in clean city energy projects.

Technological advancements play a pivotal role in facilitating the integration of renewable energy into urban infrastructure as well. From solar panels and wind turbines to energy-efficient buildings and smart grids, cities have a myriad of options at their disposal to harness clean energy sources. Embracing innovative technologies not only reduces carbon emissions but also enhances energy efficiency and promotes a more resilient urban infrastructure.

Using Federal Investment Opportunities

Recent investments from legislation like the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) and the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) grant cities new opportunities and room to maneuver. Some of these investments include $16.5 billion for the deployment of new transmission lines, $21.5 billion towards clean energy demonstration projects that are directed towards large projects that drive local and regional economies and $40 billion in loan authority for clean energy projects. These programs create new opportunities for cities to not only develop renewable and sustainable energy solutions, but also economic drivers for their communities.

However, these types of investments will not fund the entirety of any one project, and each grant will include a variety of requirements that first need to be met. Cities that incentivize the adoption of renewable energy solutions will set the groundwork necessary for the types of investments made available by federal legislation like the IIJA and IRA or from state agencies. Federal and state investments can be a boon to a city’s energy development plans.

Collaborating and Cooperating Across Communities and Industries

As cities transition to renewable energy, local community engagement is also incredibly important. Empowering residents through education, outreach and participation in decision-making processes fosters a sense of ownership and collective responsibility for sustainability initiatives. Community-led initiatives, such as neighborhood solar cooperatives and energy efficiency programs, can significantly contribute to the widespread adoption of renewable energy at the grassroots level.

Moreover, transitioning city energy towards renewable energy requires collaboration and cooperation across multiple stakeholders, including government agencies, businesses, academia and civil society organizations. By fostering partnerships and knowledge-sharing platforms, cities can leverage collective expertise and resources to overcome barriers and accelerate progress towards sustainability goals.

Challenges and How WSB Can Help Overcome Barriers

While there are numerous benefits in clean energy transitions for cities, there are also challenges. From policy barriers and technological limitations to financial constraints and community resistance, the path to achieving sustainable urban transformation is fraught with obstacles. However, WSB is uniquely positioned to help cities overcome these challenges and navigate the complexities of transitioning to clean energy.

For municipalities struggling to develop and implement policies that incentivize the adoption of renewables, WSB can provide invaluable expertise in policy analysis and development, helping cities design and enact robust regulatory frameworks that promote renewable energy deployment.

Technological barriers may also pose significant challenges to the widespread adoption of renewable energy in urban environments. WSB specializes in innovative engineering solutions, and we can work with cities to design and implement cutting-edge renewable energy technologies tailored to address the unique needs and constraints of urban infrastructure.

For cities exploring what renewable energy investments fit financially for their community, WSB can help by conducting feasibility studies, identifying funding sources and developing business models that maximize return on investment.

Finally, for those working to garner support and build community consensus for renewable energy projects, WSB specializes in stakeholder engagement, facilitating dialogue between local communities, government agencies and other stakeholders.

Overall, federal and state funding for renewable energy projects is spurring many cities toward exploring and investing in renewable energy. For cities unsure of where to start or for cities who need help navigating the complex nature of renewable energy projects, WSB brings together multidisciplinary experts with diverse skill sets and backgrounds to help cities address their unique challenges and chart a course toward a cleaner, greener and more prosperous future.

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

Melissa Road

Construction Project Volatility: Avoid Frustration & Achieve Success

May 13, 2024
By Chris Kester, Director of Project Controls, WSB

Economic instability, rising inflation, and labor and supply chain issues have created price fluctuations and instability in the construction industry in recent years. Now you are seeing prices level out and projects coming in within budget and everything is back to normal, right? Wrong. Costs and supply availability are still hard to predict, adding undue complications to those planning and executing construction projects. 

Every construction project, every client, and every contractor is different, but many are facing similar challenges. While there are no quick and easy solutions to completely predict and overcome rising costs and swift market changes, there are some things to consider that can help mitigate risk and help you overcome obstacles. 

  1. Consider alternate materials. There are still some lingering supply chain issues from major events of the last few years. It can be difficult for suppliers to provide certain building materials to contractors at certain times, and short summer construction seasons in colder climates squeeze supplies even more. It’s typically good practice to have alternative materials and design options and these are best entertained early. If you must substitute a material post-letting, it could be your best option at the time, but those scenarios are usually best when they are avoided by foreseeing them ahead of time.
  2. Plan ahead. It is important to plan out projects ahead of time as much as possible and stick to your timeline. Suppliers often cannot commit materials until contracts are signed, but that doesn’t mean you don’t have options. You might entertain the idea of pre-procuring those materials that pose the most risk or you could estimate the lead times and work that into the planned construction schedule.
  3. Be flexible and work in stages. Projects are continuing to increase in complexity and we have very little influence over things like traffic, utilities, and limited ROW. However, you do have the ability to decide what is being built and to anticipate the best possible way that it can be built efficiently. Cost can be impacted significantly if the design is not properly staged to work around those things we cannot change.
  4. Understand risk and how developers predict cost. Trying to predict project costs has become more difficult, from the price of materials to the cost of labor, and everyone is working to keep their financial risk at a minimum. Often, there is a sizable imbalance between the price it takes a contractor to complete a project and the price the contractor bids for the work. Dramatic price fluctuations have caused a great deal of frustration for owners who are confused as to why a project might be so expensive compared to the price of the same project a few months earlier. Different types of projects like design-build and construction management/general contractor, for example, come with different amounts of risk, so it’s important to think through what works best for your project. 

While there’s no crystal ball in the construction industry, common sense planning and following these tips can help mitigate risk, provide confidence to all parties involved, and set your cosntruction project up for success. 

How WSB Can Help

A review from the experienced estimators at WSB can help identify areas of potential risk, allow you to anticipate problems and provide alternative plans to keep your projects on budget and schedule. Contact us to learn more about mitigating possible project roadblocks.

Chris spent most of his career with a regional construction company where he prepared production-based estimates in excess of $300 million annually, many of those being DOT or State-Aid. He provides the ability to analyze from the perspective of a contractor and assemble a contractor-style estimate while identifying, analyzing, and mitigating risks.

[email protected] | 651.492.3853

Chris Kester

What Do the New PFAS Standards Mean for You

April 29, 2024
By Steve Nelson, Director of Water/Wastewater and Ryan Stempski, Sr Project Manager, WSB

This year, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) implemented new drinking water standards to limit exposure to the ‘forever chemicals’ Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS). The EPA’s new PFAS standards are four parts per trillion as the maximum contaminant level in drinking water. Communities whose water used to be compliant may no longer meet the EPA’s standards and now must comply with these new requirements within the next five years. By setting these new standards, the EPA started a compliance timer for communities across the United States, with much to be done including public notification, analyzing contaminants, grant applications, and designing and planning.

So how can communities prepare, plan and produce results? Here are some places to start.

Communication is Key

One of the first tasks for communities struggling with PFAS is preparing a proper communication plan. This includes coordinating with state agencies as well as relaying details to the public and those directly affected by the work that will need to be done. To ensure transparency, municipal water suppliers are required to notify the public within 30 days and cities are required to publish a consumer confidence report onto their websites by July. A well mapped out communications plan is imperative to informing the public, stakeholders and agencies about the issues, identifiable solutions and how to implement those solutions.

Finding Solutions Through Feasibility Studies

To best identify PFAS related issues and plan the necessary solutions, a city must implement a feasibility study. Through this study potential solutions to water contamination are identified and the suitability of these solutions are noted. For instance, is it possible for a city to develop a new source of water? This could mean looking for wells from different uncontaminated aquifers or reconnecting pipes to neighboring water systems. If it is determined that alternative solutions like these are not suitable for your community, treatment for the removal of PFAS may be the only solution.

The most widely used process for removing PFAS is granular activated carbon (GAC). GAC media is loaded into filtration vessels, when water is passed through the GAC filter bed where PFAS molecules attach to open adsorption sites in the granules. However, this GAC media requires expensive disposal and replacement every few years.

The other common treatment method uses ion exchange resins. Ion exchange resins are tiny beads that can capture PFAS molecules. This method can require more pre-treatment and disposal costs than GAC. Additional methods are being piloted and studied with the hope of making PFAS removal even more cost effective through processes that include on-site destruction of PFAS molecules – thereby avoiding the expensive disposal of granules and resins.

The Race for Funding

Just as cities must meet the standards in time, so too must they keep up with grant funding deadlines. A plan can be great but without the funding, it might not perform well. Applying for agency grants and monitoring funding legislation moving through state legislatures are necessary to both identify and secure funding to meet PFAS standards. A variety of funding opportunities can be utilized for administering studies, designing treatments and constructing projects. Five years may seem like a long time, but with the time spent seeking out and applying for funding on top of studies, designs and construction phases, cities need to start planning today.

How WSB Can Help

Communities now facing the impending deadline need to have an experienced team to help develop a communications plan, perform studies, apply for funding and provide design solutions. A great deal needs to be accomplished in only a few years. WSB’s team has decades of experience and knowledge on every aspect of PFAS removal. We can help execute solutions that improve water quality for the health and safety of the public and ensure cities can meet the EPA’s new standards.

Currently WSB is offering to provide cities with a PFAS Assessment and Response Strategy that includes a discovery interview with the water system operator, water system data review and analysis, and options for the city to consider as next steps. Contact us to learn more.

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

Ryan has more than 18 years of experience working on engineering solutions related to PFAS. This includes coordinating with agencies, public communications, funding, planning and design of PFAS removal, and O&M of those solutions. He has worked with various municipalities to bring accurate and confident communication to the public on this legacy contamination.

[email protected] | 612.670.8071