Oakdale, Lake Elmo recognized for environmental sustainability practices

Going green isn’t just a fad in Oakdale and Lake Elmo -- it’s an ongoing effort.

Both cities were recognized at the June 20 League of Minnesota Cities annual conference for their implementation of a number of environmental sustainability practices. At the conference, both suburbs were designated as Step Two GreenStep cities as part of the Minnesota GreenStep Cities program.

The GreenStep Cities program is a voluntary challenge, assistance and recognition program that helps cities achieve sustainability goals by implementing certain practices -- there are 28 practices in all.

Oakdale was recognized as a Step One city in 2011, and Lake Elmo achieved its Step One designation last year. To reach Step Two designation, Oakdale has completed a total of 11 of the 28 practices outlined by the GreenStep Cities program, and Lake Elmo has completed seven of the 28.

On the right track

Oakdale Senior Community Development Specialist Jennifer Hassebroek and Lake Elmo City Planner Nick Johnson, who each coordinate participation in the GreenStep Cities program for their respective cities, say there are a number of reasons why the program is a valuable tool for communities.

Hassebroek and Johnson agreed that the educational resources the program provides are one of the most important benefits, since it gives cities guidelines as to what they should be doing rather than the cities having to figure it out all on their own.

Oakdale had already completed many environmental sustainability best practices before it began participating in the GreenStep Cities program two years ago, Hassebroek said, and has since then implemented other practices outlined by the program as well.

“We were doing it before it was cool,” Hassebroek noted, referring to the city’s efforts to “go green.”

Some of the most notable environmental sustainability projects completed by Oakdale have been the installation of a geothermal heating system at the city’s public works building, as well as the installation of solar panels at City Hall. The Oakdale City Council also recently approved the installation of solar panels at both the city’s fire stations, Hassebroek noted.

“Those are kinds of the big-ticket items,” Hassebroek said, adding that the city has made efforts to reduce energy consumption in smaller ways as well. Some of those included changing settings on city computers that allow them to shut down after they were left on for extended periods of time without being used, and reducing the number of lights in rooms in City Hall that already get plenty of natural lighting throughout the day.

Even though energy costs have been on the rise in recent years, Hassebroek explained that the energy-saving measures in city-owned buildings have reduced the city’s energy costs by about 27 percent and saved the city of Oakdale about $50,000 since 2007. “It’s definitely starting to show up in our bills,” she said.

Oakdale officials have also encouraged local businesses to “go green” not just by leading by example, but also by promoting the Trillion BTU program, offered by the St. Paul Port Authority, Hassebroek said. The program provides financing for businesses to make energy-efficient improvements at low-interest rates, Hassebroek said, and interested businesses can visit the St. Paul Port Authority’s website or call Hassebroek at 651-730-2723 to find out more about the program.

“Benefits down the road” for Lake Elmo

Johnson said Lake Elmo had also completed several of the practices outlined by the GreenStep Cities program before joining in 2012, and the city will consider implementing other practices that promote environmental sustainability as more development comes to the city of Lake Elmo.

Johnson explained that over the years, Lake Elmo has implemented more innovative stormwater management practices than other cities in the east metro. Additionally, the Lake Elmo City Council recently passed a tree preservation ordinance to minimize the impact of development on the city’s tree population and woodland areas, Johnson said.

Johnson noted that the city of Lake Elmo also recently adopted a new Planned Unit Development ordinance that gives developers incentives for “adaptive reuse” of existing buildings, which Johnson said should help promote the renovation of buildings that are already standing, especially in the Old Village downtown area, rather than demolition of the historical structures.

Johnson said the Lake Elmo City Council’s willingness to consider new environmental sustainability practices will have a major impact on the city in the future.

“We’re going to see benefits for it down the road,” Johnson said.

Not done yet

Both Oakdale and Lake Elmo will be working to reach Step Three GreenStep city designation in the future, Hassebroek and Johnson said.

Hassebroek said she and Oakdale’s Environmental Management Commission, which provides direction for the Oakdale City Council, will soon be examining other practices that the city can implement. The city may start to shift its focus onto water quality and conservation issues after focusing heavily on energy conservation in recent years, Hassebroek said.

“It’s an ongoing process,” she added.

Johnson said Lake Elmo would probably begin focusing on potential energy conservation practices, especially if the city builds new facilities or replaces city vehicles in the near future.

Lake Elmo also plans to review its land use plan to come up with innovative ways to promote environmental stability as more agricultural fields give way to residential development, Johnson added.

Alex Holmquist can be reached at aholmquist@lillienews.com or 651-748-7822.

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