Greening Minnesota ~ August 2011

There are some great green initiatives and events happening in Minnesota, contributing towards a cleaner environment for residents. Read about how local communities are working towards creating a more environmentally-friendly world. There are more entries than usual this month!

Prodded by a homeowner whose prairie plantings were mowed against his will, the city of Minneapolis has come up with a plan to let lawns go natural. Some suburbs have already taken the step of allowing natural plantings in place of grass, accepting their environmental benefits over the objections of some neighbors who think they look unkempt. The proposal defines the new type of landscaping as an intentional planting of native or non-native grasses, wildflowers, ferns, shrubs, trees or forbs. They're allowed to exceed the city's normal nuisance ordinance threshold of 8 inches in height, or grass that has gone or is about to go to seed. They can't include noxious weeds and have to be maintained to avoid "unintended vegetation." Unkempt turf lawns are specifically prohibited.

Organizers of the Visa Gymnastics Championships, held earlier this month in St. Paul, teamed up with Xcel Energy Center officials to exclusively power Xcel, RiverCentre and Roy Wilkins Auditorium with wind energy for four days and go paperless at what President Steve Penny called USA Gymnastics' greenest event ever.The sustainability plan also included composting in Xcel Center lobbies. Instead of paper-based programs and bio packets, the revamped USA Gymnastics mobile site fed live scoring to smartphones, tablets and LED screens. Xcel Center has already emerged as one of the country's greenest arenas. Its "50-50 in 2" program, aimed at cutting trash and increasing recycling, has reduced trash by 1.2 million pounds and raised recycling rates from 15% to more than 50% by increasing the number of recycling and composting bins.

Prodded by Hennepin County to boost its lagging recycling rate, north Minneapolis's Willard Hay and south Minneapolis's East Calhoun neighborhoods will get new carts that allow residents to toss all of their recyclable trash in one bin. Among cities in Hennepin, Minneapolis is the only one that won't pick up recycling unless the cans, glass, plastic, newspapers, cardboard, mixed paper and magazines are separated. The "seven-sort" method produces cleaner waste, but it also puts more of the burden on residents to think before they recycle. City and county leaders believe a test of the new recycling carts will help answer the question about whether it's the sorting or some other factor that hampers Minneapolis's recycling.

Once a tiny jewel in the Minneapolis chain of lakes, Spring Lake has been squeezed by development, is surrounded by invasive species and pollutions has contributed toward its thick layer of chartreuse algae. But now the Spring Lake is now home to seven little floating islands built and launched to undo what humans have done to it. Made from recycled plastic bottles and planted with wildflowers, reeds and grasses, the floating islands act like wetlands on steroids, offering habitat for birds and butterflies, and below that they have habitat for fish. Thousands of such islands float on lakes, bays, treatment ponds and rivers from China to Montana, and many environmental experts say they are excited by their potential.

A former lumberyard purchased for a future riverfront park contains lead, arsenic, mercury, petroleum and other hazardous compounds in its soil that will cost more than $1 million to clean up. The 11.3-acre parcel, along the Mississippi River north of the Plymouth Avenue Bridge, is seen as a key piece of a long-range plan by the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board to dramatically reshape the mostly industrial corridor north of downtown into recreational green space. The Minneapolis Riverfront Development Initiative, working with community groups to develop riverfront plans, calls the property a vital "entry point to the trail and park system for kayaks, bikes, skiers and runners," and a "significant urban hub."

Unemployed veterans, workers with the soon-to-be shuttered Ford plant in Highland Park and out-of-work St. Paul residents will be targeted to receive "green jobs" skill training so they are qualified to work cleaning up one of St. Paul's many industrial brownfields. The two-year, $300,000 grant to train 90 workers comes courtesy of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The grant is one of 21 such job-training grants worth $6.2 million awarded nationally this year. The training prepares people to reduce environmental contamination. Those unemployed workers who receive training will become environmental field technicians and hazardous-waste-excavation workers. Their training will consist of six three-week sessions, with courses on hazardous materials management, energy management and reducing environmental releases and emissions. Other classes cover asbestos cleanup and hazardous waste excavation.

The city of St. Paul's Public Pools Green Initiative was one of three environmental projects receiving a Governor's Award for Pollution Prevention. The initiative uses a species of sphagnum moss to reduce chemical use in public swimming pools. Gov. Mark Dayton highlighted the projects at the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency's Eco Experience building during the opening day of the Minnesota State Fair. Other recipients include a partnership by Fairview Health Services and other nonprofits that has recycled more than 45 tons of "blue wrap," which covers operating-room supplies during sterilization, and a partnership that expects to recycle more than 150,000 tons of old roofing shingles into asphalt paving each year. The annual awards, which trumpet environmental efforts by businesses, nonprofits, governmental agencies and other institutions, have been given out since 1991.

Xcel Energy workers will spend the next two months stringing high-voltage transmission line between 157 poles that were installed on 28-miles between Monticello and St. Cloud last year. But instead of the homeowner equivalent of going up and down the ladder and moving it around to string outdoor holiday lights, Xcel has gone airborne to get it done faster and more efficiently. It's the utility's first new major power line in three decades and the first of three segments that will be built along 231 miles between Monticello and Fargo by mid-2015. The new power line is needed to strengthen the grid and increase reliability. Demand for electricity is growing, especially in the St. Cloud, Alexandria and Fargo areas. And much of future power, will come from renewable sources like wind, which are abundant on the western side of the state of transmission lines that can accomodate the voltage don't reach that far - yet.

This year at the Minnesota State Fair, there's something new at the Eco Experience: the Green Crossing, an intersection showcasing four concepts in green building.  At Green Crossing, you can tour the Passive House, find ideas for "greening up" an existing home at the Common Cottage and the Tech Tower, and learn how to make life more sustainable at the Community Center. The Green Crossing on Randall Avenue will be open during the fair's entire run, through Sept. 5.

Taking a step toward choosing more foods from local sources couldn't be easier or more delicious than right now. Lately the corn has been so good. As part of a healthful diet that is loaded with a wide variety of colorful vegetables, corn is a delicious addition to celebrate the height of summer flavors. To find the best sweet corn from a local stand or at the farmer’s market, ask the farmer when it was picked - you'll ideally want corn that was harvested within the past 24 hours for maximum sweetness and tender kernels. Local foods are fresher, having traveled fewer distances to arrive on our tables, have higher nutrient values having spent less time in transit, they come from local growers who live and work in our economic region and contribute to the health of our communities, and most of all - they taste better.

Speaking of local foods, two Burnsville community gardens are growing vegetables and greens that are unknown to most Americans. The community gardening initiative, launched on the grounds of International Outreach Church in Burnsville, is also growing comradery as well. Hundreds of garden plots are available each year, and many of them were scooped up by immigrants from around the world. Russian, Hmong, Latino and African families, many of whom left gardens behind when they came to the United States, work the land side by side.  The program has  has since spread to another garden at the city's Wolk Park.

A 70-acre undeveloped parcel of land with stunning vistas, hardwoods and grasslands in southern Maplewood will stay that way permanently now that the city has teamed up with a national nonprofit land conservation group to buy the site. According to a purchase agreement approved by the Maplewood City Council, the Conservation Fund will pay Lakeland Construction Finance of Eagan $1.9 million for land abutting the Fish Creek Natural Greenway. The tract is bordered by Interstate 494 on the east, Carver Avenue on the north and connected to open land owned by Ramsey County on the west and south.  The Maryland-based nonprofit will hold the land for two years while the city raises enough money to pay for the property. Maplewood will keep 50 acres as park land, and plans to sell the northern-most 20 acres sometime in the future to help cover the acquisition cost.

If you know about green initiatives and other environmentally-conscious programs and events occurring in the Twin Cities or Minnesota, please leave a comment and let us know for September's Greening Minnesota issue!

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