Category Archives: Townships

Bridgewater, Greenvale, Northfield, Waterford and more!

The Mill Towns Trail between Northfield and Dundas is navigable, if you’re not a pussy

Armstrong Road between Northfield and Dundas is still closed from the July 13 flooding (Flooding wipes out Mill Towns Trail bridge, slices Armstrong Road, undermines railroad bed) and it could be months before it reopens.  Likewise, the Mill Towns Trail.

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But there’s a way around, as I discovered last night. From Northfield, just ride your bike through the compost facility

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all the way to the back till you arrive at the big rocks by the reconstructed railroad tracks. Then…

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you can ride on the tracks a few yards till you get past Spring Creek. The small rocks in between the rails make it pretty level. Alternately, if you’ve got good balance like Danny MacAskill, you can just ride on one of the rails like he does here. Smooooooooth. Then…

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ride down the larger rocks (pick your line carefully) and you’ll see the trail a few yards away. Piece ‘o cake.

[Footnote: Does my blog title offend you?  It shouldn’t. Remember when the word ‘sucks’ was offensive? If not, read this. Then see this Atlantic Wire article: Free Pussy Riot: When ‘Vulgar’ Words Become Acceptable.]

Trout stream feedback session

Rice Creek Trout SurveyOn June 4, Bridgewater Township invites the public to a feedback session on next steps to improve and protect Rice Creek (Spring Brook). The session will take place from 7:00 to 9:00 p.m. at the Town Hall, 500 Railway Street South, Dundas.

Rice Creek is the only trout stream in Rice County, but its health is threatened. The session will give you an opportunity to learn about the stream and provide input on plans to improve it. To spark your ideas, researchers will share findings from a two-year study of local brook trout, their habits and habitat.

How healthy is the trout population? Does their habitat need improvement? Where and when are pollutant levels highest? What is the source of cold water that trout prefer? What actions should we take and in what order? We will discuss these questions and more.

The Rice Creek Assessment Project is sponsored by Bridgewater Township, Cannon River Watershed Partnership, Saint Olaf College, Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, and Trout Unlimited.  The project received a Clean Water Partnership grant from the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency.  The Rice Creek Concerned Citizens Group, Rice County, and other groups and volunteers are participating.

The pros and cons of forming a regional bicycle council

I was in St. Paul yesterday morning for the Parks and Trails Council of Minnesota’s Day on the Hill which their web site described as:

Parks and Trails Council of Minnesota… a great opportunity to network with other park and trail supporters from around the state, learn about the issues, and hear from park leaders and legislators. Whether you come as a member of a Friends group, a concerned citizen or a student looking to learn about the process, you’ll leave informed and your involvement strengthens our efforts to preserve and enhance Minnesota’s special places! The morning will equip you with the necessary tools to meet with your legislators.

MN Parks & Trails Executive Director Brett Feldman Parks and Trails Council of Minnesota's Day on the Hill 2013 Northfield area Mill Towns Trail delegation
I went primarily because of their involvement with mountain biking (see my post about that on my Mountain Bike Geezer blog) but there was so much more that caught my interest, especially the delegation of Mill Towns Trail supporters from Faribault, Northfield, and Cannon Falls. I’m kicking myself for not getting a good photo of them because Peggy Prowe had them all wearing Mill Towns Trail t-shirts (right photo above).

MN Parks & Trails Executive Director Brett Feldman, Northfield Councilor Suzie Nakasian I briefly met Parks and Trails Council of Minnesota Executive Director Brett Feldman who asked me to send him some of my photos.  When he thanked me via email on Friday, he mentioned that he was coming through Northfield later in the day as he had a meeting at Nerstrand Big-Woods State Park. He accepted my offer to meet for lunch at Chapati and since I’d already had a late-morning meeting scheduled with First Ward Councilor Suzie Nakasian, I invited her to join us.

At the end of my blog post last month (Bemidji has earned ‘Bicycle Friendly Community’ status. Why not Northfield?) after attending the Bicycle Alliance of Minnesota‘s (BikeMN) third annual Minnesota Bicycle Summit on Capitol Hill, I wrote:

What’s not clear to me is what city board or commission would be best to consider taking this on. The City of Northfield created a Non Motorized Transportation Task Force (NMTTF) back in 2007 that I think sun-setted a couple years later. Might it be time to create something similar but specifically for bicycling?

Since then, it’s become apparent to me that there a number of other bicycle-related issues that need attention, some that are Northfield-specific but others that are regional.

And so the bulk of our conversation with Brett Feldman was related to whether the creation of a regional bicycle council (Northfield, Dundas, Waterford, Rice County, and surrounding townships)  would have significant advantages over a City of Northfield bicycle commission or task force. I was initially leaning towards the latter but came away from the lunch leaning towards the former.

Northfield’s intra-city trails and on-street bike routes are a big focus. But the importance of their connectivity to the Mill Towns Trail and the surrounding streets and county roads is increasingly important for bike-related recreation of area residents, recreational tourism, company wellness on the part of local employers, and the overall economic benefits of the establishment of the greater Northfield area as a  northern recreational hub for southern Minnesota. (We already have a good reputation with Northfield Rotary’s Jesse James Bike Tour, Milltown Cycles’ 4th of July Criterium, and the Saturday Morning Rides book by Bill Metz.)

There are other projects and developments that have a bicycle-component: the Northfield Depot; the East Cannon River Trail segment; the TIGER Trail (aka the Northfield Modal integration project); Safe Routes to School; the Gateway Corridor Improvement Plan; Northfield Roundtable’s Framework Plan; and the Cannon River Corridor recreational concept (May 1, 2012 PRAB meeting packet link).

As Suzie wrote in a subsequent email:

With so many related projects… and with so many people in town who “get” what bikes and trails mean for the community well-being including economic well-being, it does seem that all the spokes are coming together in a perfect way.

So let’s discuss the pros and cons of forming a regional bicycle council.

More of my photos of Parks and Trails Council of Minnesota’s Day on the Hill:

Parks and Trails Council Executive Director Brett Feldman Luke Skinner, Deputy Director of MnDNR Parks and Trails Division Erika Rivers, Assistant Commissioner of MnDNR
Brett Feldman, Parks and Trails Council Executive Director; Luke Skinner, Deputy Director of MnDNR Parks and Trails Division; Erika Rivers, Assistant Commissioner of MnDNR

Greg Mack, Director of Ramsey County Parks and Recreation Tom Ryan, Superintendent of Olmsted County Parks Greg Mack, Erika Rivers, Tom Ryan Rep. Alice Hausman, Chair of House Capital Investment Committee
Greg Mack, Director of Ramsey County Parks and Recreation; Tom Ryan, Superintendent of Olmsted County Parks; Rep. Alice Hausman, Chair of House Capital Investment Committee;

Rep. Leon Lillie, Assistant Majority Leader, Vice-Chair Legacy Committee Rep. Jean Wagenius, Chair of House Environment, Natural Resources, and Agriculture Finance Committee Jean Wagenius, Alice Hausman Sen. David Tomassoni, Chair of Senate Environment, Economic Development and Agriculture Division
Rep. Leon Lillie, Assistant Majority Leader, Vice-Chair Legacy Committee; Rep. Jean Wagenius, Chair of House Environment, Natural Resources, and Agriculture Finance Committee; Sen. David Tomassoni, Chair of Senate Environment, Economic Development and Agriculture Division.

Sen. Dan Sparks, member, Environment, Economic Development and Agriculture Division Rep. Phyllis Kahn, Chair of House Legacy Committee Rep. Denny McNamara, member, Environment, Natural Resources, and Agriculture Finance Committee Joe Bagnoli, Government Relations Consultant for Parks & Trails Council of Minnesota
Sen. Dan Sparks, member, Environment, Economic Development and Agriculture Division; Rep. Phyllis Kahn, Chair of House Legacy Committee; Rep. Denny McNamara, member, Environment, Natural Resources, and Agriculture Finance Committee; Joe Bagnoli, Government Relations Consultant for Parks & Trails Council of Minnesota.

Change the Open Meeting Law to allow our public officials to discuss some issues online without fear

I’ve been digging deeper into the Minnesota Open Meeting Law (OML) lately, because A) my citizen engagement work with the City of Northfield (parking) and the Northfield Public Schools (technology); and B) my presentations (example here) to public officials on blogging and social media on behalf of the League of MN Cities (LMC).

It seems generally accepted under the current OML that there’s no problem with an elected official having a blog, a Facebook page, or a Twitter account when used for one-way communications.   When used as publishing platforms, these tools are no different than having an opinion column or letter to the editor published in a newspaper.

Rather, the concerns are when the interactive features of these online platforms are used: a discussion thread attached to a blog post; comments on a Facebook wall post; conversational tweets; a live web conference with audio and/or text exchanges; a live online chat. In these instances, the possibility exists that a quorum of a public body could end up participating, that this could be interpreted as a serial meeting under the OML, and if not handled properly, could be a violation.

Last week I spoke by phone with Susan Naughton, LMC staff attorney.  And yesterday, she was the main presenter for the LMC webinar: Shedding Light on the Minnesota Open Meeting Law that I attended. That page has the entire Powerpoint presentation, plus a video archive of the webinar.

Here’s slide #38 from the Powerpoint.

LMC OML slide 38

I think this is overly cautious. In her remarks to me by phone, Susan indicated that two areas of concern under the OML for the interactive use of these online platforms are A) whether they can be included in the definition of what constitutes a ‘meeting’; and B) whether they can be consider ‘open to the public.’

The good news is that since the OML places considerable emphasis on the ‘intention’ of the parties involved when a meeting is held, a local unit of government can get an opinion ahead of time from its own attorney and from the State of Minnesota’s Information Policy Analysis Department (IPAD) on the type of meeting it wishes to hold.  Doing so would show that its intention was to not circumvent the law.

After getting these supporting opinions, I think the best way to conduct an online discussion with elected/appointed officials would be to A) announce it as a ‘special meeting’ as defined by the law; B) use time constraints on the meeting, for example, 8-9 pm for a live event or two weeks for a blog discussion thread; C) conduct the meeting like a Council Work Session, avoiding decisions, votes, or expressions of intention on how one plans to vote; and D) avoid any discussion of quasi-official business such around land use, property, licenses, etc.

I’ve found Northfield City Council work sessions to generally be more engaging and enlightening because of the open discussion among the councilors.  You’re more likely to hear what they’re thinking, wondering, questioning.  Opening up that type of exchange to a wider audience via online tools would be a genuinely helpful contribution to public involvement and engagement.

More good news: during the webinar, Susan announced that a bill to amend the OML was to be introduced in the legislature this week with the involvement of the MN Association of Townships. As soon as I find out more, I’ll post it here.

Wind turbines, phase 2

Bridgewater Township supervisor Bruce Morlan has a column in this week’s Northfield News titled Turbulance over wind turbines.

Bruce MorlanBridgewater will be holding public hearings about changes in the wind turbine portions of the zoning codes. That process includes engaging interested citizens in a dialogue as we educate each other on this issue. The three things I think will drive the discussion include how high we can build these turbines, how noisy and how distracting will they be.

I expect to hear engineering evidence showing that the efficiency of the turbine is improved by making it taller, that there is no medical evidence suggesting that the low frequency sound emitted by the blades causes health problems, and that the flicker from the blades is an issue mostly for road traffic. But more, I also expect to hear that people in the country are fiercely protective of their property rights and their right to install these turbines.

Earlier this week, the Strib reprinted this article from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Walker bill puts $500 million in wind turbine investment at risk; 1,800-foot setback requirement would halt most projects.

About $500 million in investment in renewable energy over the next two years could be at risk if lawmakers approve Gov. Scott Walker’s wind turbine siting bill… Walker’s bill, proposed as part of a regulatory reform package, would mandate minimum setbacks of 1,800 feet between a wind turbine and the nearest property line. That compares with a setback of 1,250 feet from a neighboring residence approved by the Public Service Commission in a rule adopted last year and set to take effect this year.

The fight over wind turbine siting moves from Greenvale Township to Rice County

"Township Wind Turbine Discussion" is agenda item #6 at tonight’s work session after the Northfield City Council meeting.

Dr. Gary Carlson, a physician at Allina, has a commentary in today’s Strib titled Wind energy’s ripple effects.

Gary CarlsonI just returned from a meeting of my county planning committee, where we debated the pros and cons of our neighbor’s proposal to put up two 400-foot wind turbines, with the closest about 1,300 feet from our property line. My family lives on a bluff on the edge of Northfield…

Getting up to speed on the science of sound and the medical research related to wind turbines has been exhausting, and in the process I have discovered the dark medical underbelly of industrial-sized turbines. They produce a lot of infrasonic and low-frequency noise.

See:

Scattered across four Rice County townships and capable of producing as much as one megawatt of power each, the six turbines that received preliminary approval would be constructed by Gro Wind LLC. — a company presided over by Leone Medin.  Medin was a co-owner of Medin Renewable Energy, which attempted to construct the 11-turbine Greenvale Township wind farm in Dakota County along with another company, Sparks Energy.

The companies’ plans failed last year after the wind farm ran into heavy opposition from township residents. According to permit applications submitted by the companies to Rice County, the two turbines that did not receive preliminary approval from the Planning Commission would be developed by Spring Creek Wind LLC., co-owned by Anna Schmalzbauer, Medin’s daughter.

City Administrator’s weekly Friday Memo of July 23

Joel-WalinskiThe “Friday Memo,” written by Northfield City Administrator Joel Walinski, department heads, and other City staff, summarizes the staff activities for the week. The Friday memos are published and archived in PDF form at the bottom of the City Administrator’s web page.

The Friday Memo information from the Library, Streets & Parks, and Recreation departments would be of interest to most citizens. This week’s memo (PDF) also includes

  • draft agenda items for August City Council sessions
  • first notice of Public Forum on Budget – August 23, 2010 (check it out!)
  • details on annual water testing

There is a City Council meeting on Tuesday.  You can view all upcoming City meetings on the City Calendar.