by Dennis Dalman
Sartell is now a participant in the “GreenStep Cities” program, which assists cities throughout Minnesota to develop “Best Practices” methods to enhance energy efficiency, economic development and all-around healthier cities and residents.
At a recent meeting, the Sartell City Council voted 4-1 to join the program, at no cost to the city. Council member Sarah Jane Nicoll voted “no” because she said Sartell has already made great strides in “green” practices, Sartell would probably have to spend money to implement some GreenStep goals and even though the claim is no city money is involved, it would be unfair for Sartell to adopt a program it doesn’t need that would spend money from somewhere else.
Sarah Hayden outlined the GreenStep program for the council. Hayden is the central Minnesota region coordinator for what’s called a Clean Energy Resource Team. GreenStep, she said, is sponsored and supported by the League of Minnesota Cities, the Clean Energy Resource Teams, the Isaac Walton League, the Walmart Foundation and the McKnight Foundation. It’s led by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency.
Basically, GreenStep has a roster of several dozen “Best Practices” for cities to work toward – all practices that would enhance energy efficiencies, land use, business, daily life of residents and the environment.
The best-practices list includes five categories: efficient use of existing buildings and private buildings, land use, wise land use, transportation and environmental management. There are many subcategories under those five topics – such things as wastewater management, efficient city fleets, promotion of trails, development of a comprehensive city plan, construction of “green” buildings, policies that protect natural spaces and more.
Each member city can start by choosing eight best practices to work on, setting goals to achieve each one. Once a city has achieved those goals, it’s honored with a “Green Star.” Hayden said the program works through networking with other cities of similar size and through the help of 76 experts who can give cities free advice on any number of topics.
There are 56 Minnesota cities signed up so far as GreenStep members, including Sauk Rapids, St. Cloud, Willmar, Brainerd, Grand Rapids and Nisswa.
The only drawback to GreenStep, Hayden noted, is if a city doesn’t achieve its goals, it won’t be recognized officially as a GreenStep city. There is also no obligation to continue with the program if a city decides to drop out, she said. Hayden said recognition as a GreenStep city can enhance the city’s reputation among people and businesses thinking of relocating, it can help cities attain grants and other forms of funding and it can help harness the energy of a city’s staff, residents and businesses.
A GreenStep staff person will help coordinate the goals and work in each city.
As Nicoll pointed out, Sartell has made great strides in many of the best practices recommended by the GreenStep program, such as development of trails, working to create a comprehensive five-year city plan, requirements that protect green spaces, ambitious park developments and many energy-saving programs and policies.
Sartell City Planning Director Anita Rasmussen agreed Sartell has achieved at least 14 of the best practices, but she said it would be beneficial to examine the other best practices to find out, through networking and GreenStep assistance, how they, too, could be implemented.