Another City public meeting/open house, why you should care, and a rant

If you’re concerned about the Cannon River watershed, Spring and Heath Creeks, the health of the Jordan aquifer, and the quality of your drinking water, then you should care about what’s happening with the Surface Water Management Ordinance updates, which will be presented in their draft form this coming Wednesday, June, 9, from 6:30-8:00p in the Community Resource Bank Conference Room. Details after the jump.

Water trail photo slide show. This slideshow requires the latest version of

Adobe Flash Player

(slideshow courtesy of the Minnesota DNR)

The good news is that the City of Northfield engineering department has obviously worked very hard to ensure that a wealth of information about the project is available, including maps of the Cannon River watershed and a report on the cold water trout streams. Helpful shortcut to relevant information here.

The federally-mandated program requires the city not only to look at regulation in response to land use changes, it requires other regulations be put in place that address enforcement, operation and maintenance. . . In 2009 the City updated the stormwater code by adopting a new erosion and sediment control ordinance in compliance with current day practices and the City’s NPDES MS4 permit. The next step in the process is to work with consultant Barr Engineering Co. to draft regulations and policies to address a number of other stormwater concerns including:


  • Life cycle regulation of low impact development stormwater techniques that could include plan design and review, installation, ongoing maintenance and inspections, property rights, etc.
  • Update the shore land protection section to be in compliance with the draft update of the DNR model ordinance and consider community desires for shore land protection.
  • Consider and address the recommendations of the Rice Creek Concerned Citizens Group.

The bad news is, it’s still WAY too difficult for citizens to find out what they need (or want) to know.

For example, we’ll start at the top with the City website home page and make the GINORMOUS ASSUMPTION that we know the Surface Water Management Plan would be under “Projects”.

(Chances are that people don’t know that; if one uses the Search box at the top of the web page and to search for the more common but still fairly dweeby word “stormwater”, which is also making quite an assumption, the first few results do list the upcoming meeting notices… but there’s no link to the project information the meetings are connected to, so you can’t tell what the meetings are about. They’re just a disembodied calendar item.)

Back to our major assumptions.  Assuming you know it’s a “Project”, you can look on the City “Projects” page. The Projects page has an RSS feed, but the feed is updated only when a new ITEM is added to the Projects page, not when individual project pages have updates. (Each project should have its own RSS feed. )

The Projects page link for the engineering department’s 2010 Surface Water Management Ordinance Project sends you to the Development of Surface Water Management Ordinance (2010) page. Why this second page can’t be the first project page is a mystery to me. The real project page has a notice of the public meeting (a/k/a “community meeting“) in the right sidebar, but it’s in PDF form so you have to click once again to open the document, and PDF contents aren’t linkable.

The main Surface Water Management Ordinance (2010) page has a ton of information and is kept updated, but you’d have to check back daily to see if anything is new or has been added, and it would not be obvious which things are new or changed items. When I clicked on “Public Process” and tried to read the Policy Questions and Responses information, I got an error message (broken link).

On the plus side – the engineering department deserves kudos for the both the quantity and the quality of information they’ve provided, and their commitment to keeping the information current and updated.  They would have reason to be frustrated if citizens complain that information about this project is not available.

On the other hand, due to the non-intuitive, circuitous, and rather Luddite navigation, this information is not easy to find, unless you already know where it is. I have a possible solution that’s quick, dirty, and FREE. I’ll leave that for my next rant about the June 15 public meeting about the City budget.

One Comment

  1. Jane McWilliams said:

    Tracy – the same daunting process stands between the curious citizen and information about the city’s facilities projects (safety and library). You need to know that the information about the safety facilities is two or three clicks beyond “Public Services.” You also need to know that instead of with the Public Services area, you must go to “Library Board” (also under projects ??) to find out about the library expansion planning.

    Information about these two facilities projects is important for anyone intending to attend the hearing on June 15 to guide the council about how to fund them. According to the city administrator’s May 28, word of the hearing was posted in the public notices section of the News. Moreover, so far, only a reader of the public notices or of Mr. Walinski’s memo would likely know about the hearing. Short of mention in council minutes (which I have not explored), I can find no other notice on the city’s web site (including the calendar).

    It is a shame that city’s web site design, rather than being an invaluable tool for citizen involvement, may service as a source of frustration. A lot of useful information is buried there . . .

    At least the Wednesday hearing is on the calendar!

    June 6, 2010

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