St. Paul working on climate change resilience plan; seeks feedback


The City of St. Paul is working on a draft Climate Action and Resilience plan to help prepare it for extreme weather events and to make the city carbon neutral by 2050. A part of the plan identifies neighborhoods and communities in the city that are at various risk levels of vulnerability to climate change. (courtesy of City of St. Paul)

To prepare for climate change and to curb its impact on the environment, the City of St. Paul is creating a draft Climate Action and Resilience plan. 

The goal of the plan is to identify areas and populations in the city most sensitive to extreme weather events, prepare for such events, and to establish actions to reach carbon neutrality across the entire city — residents, business and government — by 2050. 

As a part of the draft plan, St. Paul is holding a series of community discussions about climate change in the city. One such meeting, led by St. Paul Chief Resilience Officer Russ Stark and Mayor Melvin Carter, was held April 29 at the East Side Freedom Library.

“Our climate is changing, it’s just a fact,” said Carter, pointing out that St. Paul is seeing more frequent extreme weather events, like this winter’s rugged cold and snow, as well as heavy rain and historic flooding. “This is impacting our lives on a direct level.”

 

Climate change close to home

To start the meeting, Stark talked about the ways in which climate change has already affected St. Paul, from the perspective of the city and its costs. 

For example, he said, when a big storm hits the city and causes tree damage, that takes extra Forestry Department resources and time away from its regular maintenance. Stark also mentioned the rockslide near Wabasha Street, which last year followed the wettest spring on record for St. Paul. It took six months for the city to repair the damage the slide caused. 

This spring, the city has been dealing with Mississippi River flooding, Stark said, which again costs it time and money when workers have to go out to close streets and parks. Flooding also causes extra wear and tear to roads, shortening their lifespans. 

Given these direct instances, Stark said part of the draft plan identifies neighborhoods and populations most vulnerable to climate change and extreme weather, based on both characteristics of where they’re located and the vulnerabilities the communities may have.

Some of the geographic characteristics may include decreased tree canopies, more air pollution due to proximity to highways, increased threats of flooding due to proximity to water sources or less access to transportation and failing infrastructure. 

Vulnerabilities that communities may be dealing with include low incomes, health challenges that require mechanized medicine, age — being very young or old, social isolation and decreased access to transportation.

Using these characteristics, the city identified climate change and extreme weather risk levels for various neighborhoods.

Many of the high risk areas included parts of the East Side, North End, and Thomas-Dale areas, while low-risk areas included much of the western side of the city, including neighborhoods like Macalester-Groveland, Highland Park and St. Anthony Park, among others. 

Some of the goals to support community resilience, as described in the draft plan, include strengthening social connections, preparing for emergencies by establishing emergency infrastructure and preparing and notifying residents in multiple languages.

There are also actions to bolster and expand natural infrastructure, like supporting urban forests. The plan also acknowledges the need of building and repairing infrastructure with climate impacts in mind, by choosing cost-effective materials that can withstand freeze-thaw cycles and are lighter in color to decrease heat-island effects. 

 

Carbon neutral by 2050

Stark also talked about the draft plan’s goals of making the City of St. Paul carbon neutral by 2050.

“It has to be the goal,” he said, noting it’s the only way to reach significant cuts in carbon emissions.

On a personal level, Stark said residents can begin to minimize their impact by living car-free or reducing the use of single-occupancy driving. Residents can also try to purchase produce and groceries from local sellers and eat plant-based meals. At a more expensive end, households can work to purchase or install green energy, like solar or wind.

“It can feel insignificant,” he said, “but it makes a difference.”

Stark said most carbon emissions in the city come from energy used for buildings and transportation. 

The draft plan lays out a number of actions for residential buildings and small and large commercial/public buildings, mainly reducing emissions through in-depth retrofitting processes and establishing more strict building codes for energy efficiency. 

Some of the most significant energy reductions will come from utilities. Xcel Energy, one of the largest energy providers in the state, has committed to providing carbon-free electricity by 2050, which will help the city reach its carbon-neutrality goal, something accounted for in the draft plan.

In terms of transportation, the plan lays out actions to create more infrastructure that supports carbon-free transportation — building more bike lanes, providing electric car charging stations, creating higher density housing closer to public transit and supporting multiple mobility options. Overall, the goal is the reduce single-occupancy vehicle use by 40% come 2040. 

 

Local changes already happening

On the local level, some of these changes are already happening. In the Railroad Island neighborhood, a number of energy consumption and renewable energy programs are taking shape. 

One program, RENEW — Rehabilitation and Efficiency; Neighborhood Energy Works — helps low income residents lower their energy consumption by helping residents upgrade appliances and find other ways to make dwellings more efficient. 

The program will also include a solar garden in the neighborhood to be constructed this year by Xcel, between the western end of Minnehaha Avenue and Interstate 35E. Energy from the array will be made available directly to Railroad Island residents.

The city is continuing to seek feedback on the draft Climate Action and Resilience plan. The next community meeting will be held Monday, May 13, 6 to 8 p.m. at Neighborhood House, 179 Robie St. E.

To read the St. Paul Climate Action and Resilience Draft Plan in its entirety and to give feedback, go to www.stpaul.gov/departments/mayors-office/climate-action-planning/climate....

 

–Marjorie Otto can be reached at 651-748-7816 or at eastside@lillienews.com.

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