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Posts Tagged ‘Minnesota Department of Natural Resources’

Rice Creek Commons is Common Sense— Meet the Natural Resource Winners

April 25th, 2017

The Natural Resources category award is given to collaborative efforts that implement sustainable solutions to preserve, protect, or restore Minnesota’s land, water, biological diversity, and other natural resources.

In the land of 10,000 lakes, you can see why recognizing efforts to restore waterways and landscapes is so important.

Ramsey County, the City of Arden Hills, Wenck Associates, Inc. and many other partners are currently working to restore a piece of polluted land that has been around since World War II: The Twin Cities Army Ammunition Plant.




Four years ago, Ramsey County purchased a contaminated parcel of land in Arden Hills with the goal of making it a community asset. The land once held the Twin Cities Army Ammunition Plant, built to manufacture small arms ammunition during World War II, and had sat dormant for nearly four decades. Partnering with the City of Arden Hills, the county began redeveloping the brownfield into a livable space for homes and businesses.

Over a 32-month period, existing buildings were demolished, and the soil was remediated to residential standards. We removed hazardous waste and recycled or reused materials like concrete and asphalt. This past summer, the county collaborated with the Rice Creek Watershed District, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and Minnesota Department of Natural Resources to transform Rice Creek, which runs through the site, back to its original, meandering path and stabilize it with surrounding trees and plants.

With the site demolished and soil restored to residential standards, infrastructure construction is set to begin this year. Soon Rice Creek Commons (named after the site’s stream) will be a walkable, vibrant commercial and residential development, creating economic and social opportunity for Arden Hills and the region.


“When the county purchased the land, it was the largest superfund site in Minnesota. The large cost and difficulty associated with cleaning up the site had discouraged previous developers for many years. Because the property presented unique challenges, the Ramsey County Board of Commissioners recognized the land would probably stay polluted and empty for many more years unless they took action.

The project is also unique in that Ramsey County is a fully developed county. With few opportunities to grow and increase the area’s tax base, developments like Rice Creek Commons present an important opportunity for economic development.” – Heather Worthington, Deputy County Manager

“I’m proud that this project respects the history of the site and what was there before. Redeveloping the area is about honoring its past and making it a safe, economic engine once again.” – Heather Worthington, Deputy County Manager

Read the Pioneer Press piece: A cheer for Rice Creek Commons »


Join us on Thursday, May 25 to congratulate and celebrate these project partners, their positive environmental outcomes, and the lasting benefit of collaboration. To shake things up, we’re also honoring three individuals in honor of our 25th anniversary, so it’s sure to be a night of reflection and festivities for Minnesota’s environmental community. Purchase your tickets or tables here »


A note from Environmental Initiative:
In honor of Environmental Initiative’s 25th Anniversary, four organizational and two individual awards will be presented on May 25, 2017 at the Nicollet Island Pavilion. Get your tickets before they’re gone »

Damian Goebel


Communications Director

Ron Nargang: Critical Collaborator Award Recipient

April 4th, 2017

Ron Nargang is one of two recipients of the Critical Collaborator award, recognizing an individual over the age of 50 who has used partnership and collaboration to achieve positive and lasting environmental outcomes. At the time of his retirement, Ron Nargang was the State Director for the Minnesota Chapter of The Nature Conservancy (TNC), but he’s also held high level positions at the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.

He also has extensive experience in the formulation, passage, and implementation of public policy initiatives, playing a key role in the Reinvest In Minnesota Program, Wetlands Conservation Act, and Groundwater Protection Act. You can read more about his professional career on our awards page. We hope you join us in honoring Ron at the 25th Anniversary Environmental Initiative Awards ceremony on Thursday, May 25. Purchase your tables and/or seats today »

We have two Critical Collaborator recipients this year, and I got to sit down with them both and talk about their career, passions, and get their advice for those currently working on environmental issues.


Where do you see the most opportunity for collaborative action on the environment in Minnesota?

This has got to be a difficult time for anyone in the trenches doing this work right now, particularly those trying to do things collaboratively.

I guess I would be inclined to say, in this environment, to look at things that are very provable by science so that you can get truth on the table. Focus on things that are compelling—like any issues related to public health or to water. I certainly think water continues to be an issue that people understand and have a pure concern about because it’s so inherently essential to all of us and everything we do. I’d be looking for something like that that doesn’t have as much gray area associated with it like some of the other environmental issues do.

You’ve been involved with Environmental Initiative for a long time, and your legacy has shaped the way we work and what we value. What made you invest so much of your time into this organization?

I’ve operated on a collaborative basis my whole career, and it was kind of refreshing to find an organization that really built their entire purpose around collaboration and cooperation between parties that are often adversarial. The business community and environmental community, and regulators. I think Environmental Initiative is unique in that respect. There may be a lot of other organizations that have warm fuzzy words built into their mission and philosophies, but I just think that Environmental Initiative distinguishes itself by being totally committed to collaboration. It’s refreshing and proved to be quite successful. It was easy.

What success are you most proud of in your career? Why? 

It would be really tough for me to answer anything but the Glacial Ridge National Wildlife Refuge for a whole lot of reasons. It was a tremendous resource management opportunity but it happened to be set in the middle of a place that was hard for conservation—politically. It was intimidating from a cost standpoint because you just didn’t have an individual that was standing there with a deep enough pocket to say, “We’ll take this thing on.” It took some creative approaches to generate operating dollars and restoration money and while still recovering costs so that organizations could put money back into other projects.

During the Bush Administration, this was the only National Wildlife Refuge created administratively— I think Congress may have created a couple of small ones. Getting done with that and being able to sit down with county commissioners, local farmers, environmentalists, agency staff… having everybody feeling good about something like that… and using it as an economic development opportunity for the whole area… that one feels really good to me. Read more about Glacial Ridge here »

What advice would you give those currently working in the environmental sector? 

Train for endurance. I think it’s going to be a bumpy ride. This is not unusual—we’ve seen ebb and flow on environmental issues all through the last few decades. We’ve seen high points with the passage of the Clean Water Act and the Clean Air Act, and we’ve seen low points. I think it’s going to be a rough patch for a while. I think the best advice is to keep the faith, cling to the science, and present it as the truth. Keep selling that— that we need to deal with truth on these issues and not let emotions and hearsay dictate what happens.

Your favorite Environmental Initiative memory…

As I thought about it, it’s not one specific event but it’s something that I always watched for and marveled at while doing stakeholder processes. It was to see the emergence of who the leaders were going to be in each one of those processes because every single time, when you’ve got a successful one, it’s because out of the group around that table, somebody steps up and moves the rest. It’s a powerful moment to watch that happen in a group, and I never could predict who might be the one, but it was always such a joy to watch it happen. You could literally see in a matter of moments a transformation in a process and suddenly you’re headed down a different road.

A good example would be the Mercury Reduction Project. It was rough, and the industries weren’t too anxious, particularly the mining industry. But, Xcel Energy stepped up and they laid out what they were going to commit— and then demanded that others do the same. You had to kind of wonder, have they got the gravitas to pull this off? But the way it was presented, the people presenting it, the tension in the room… it was successful. That was the turning point in that process.

There’s always that sort of profound moment that happens, and as I thought back on it, those were the things that tickled me! You knew you had a good one when it happened, and you were going to get a good outcome.

A note from Environmental Initiative
In honor of our 25th Anniversary, we’re taking the time to acknowledge those who’ve been essential and influential in Minnesota’s environmental community. In addition to celebrating outstanding projects, we’re also recognizing the leaders that have helped us get to this point, and those that will continue to improve our community.

Damian Goebel


Communications Director

Environmental Initiative’s 2013 Year in Review

December 27th, 2013

Happy New Year from all of us here at Environmental Initiative! 2013 has been an exciting year for us and we can’t wait to continue to work with our current partners, and forge new collaborations, in 2014. Before we hit the ground running next year (next week!), join me in looking back at this top-ten list of Environmental Initiative’s 2013 highlights.

1. Our Clean Air Minnesota partners announced twenty-four recommendations to reduce emissions, protect public health, and keep Minnesota’s air clean. Now, this statewide partnership of leaders from businesses, government agencies, and nonprofit organizations is entering a new phase of work together – collectively reviewing, prioritizing, and discussing how to implement these recommendations.

2. Halfway through Governor Dayton’s first term in office, we brought state agency leaders together at our 2013 Commissioners Forum to discuss their environmental priorities and perspectives. Leaders from the Board of Water & Soil Resources, Metropolitan Council, Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, and Minnesota Departments of Agriculture, Commerce, Health, Natural Resources, and Transportation offered ideas and heard from audience members on water quality, climate change, and more. We were pleased to hear lots of talk about the importance of collaboration – with so many agencies working on environmental issues, our speakers agreed that aligning goals and programs across agencies and departments was key to driving greater impact.


Georgia Rubenstein


Senior Manager, Sustainability Program

Our Thoughts: 2013 Commissioners Forum

April 18th, 2013

Why would Environmental Initiative hold the first policy forum of the year the day after a spring snow storm?

Besides the fact that we’re all hardy Minnesotans who secretly enjoy the unusual weather, we find ourselves at a unique time. We’re halfway through Governor Mark Dayton’s first term and changes in legislature can sometimes shift priorities and possibilities for state agencies. Added to this, Minnesota has state agency leaders who have stepped into new roles to coalesce with the establisheAttendees at the 2013 Commissioners Forumd leaders.

With all this in mind, Environmental Initiative wanted to gather state agency leaders to provide the community with a unique opportunity to have a conversation about their priorities and opinions on the environmental issues that matter to Minnesotans.

Leaders from the Board of Water & Soil Resources, Metropolitan Council, Minnesota Departments of Agriculture, Commerce, Health, Natural Resources, Transportation, and the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency discussed their priorities during two panel discussions last Friday. While there was a lot of good discussion, some common themes emerged throughout the morning including concerns about water quality and quantity, climate change, collaboration, and Minnesota’s Environmental Congress. (more…)

Eric David


Program Manager, Minnesota Pollution Control Agency

Our 2012 Top 10: The Year in Review

December 27th, 2012

Happy new year, from all of us here at Environmental Initiative! Another year has flown by. Things are quiet at the office this week and we’re taking a breather to look back on 2012 — reflecting on the projects we’ve been a part of, the many partners we’ve worked with, and the successes we’ve achieved, together, for Minnesota’s environment. We’ve got plenty in store for an even more exciting 2013 but before we tell you more, join us in our reflection and embark with us on a journey back through 2012. Here, with no further ado, is our second annual Year in Review Top Ten List. Be sure to check out the slideshow too!


Georgia Rubenstein


Senior Manager, Sustainability Program

Focus on the Loon

December 10th, 2012

This past summer I had the pleasure of facilitating the Parks and Trails Legacy Funding Project, which brought together leaders from the three major parks and trails providers (Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, Metropolitan Regional Parks and Trails, and Greater Minnesota Regional Parks and Trails) to determine a consensus-based allocation of about $40 million per year in Legacy Amendment dollars.

In past bienniums, the money was allocated based on what some called “a food fight at the legislature,” that left most parties dissatisfied. Our project was set up to avoid a similar fate when it came time to the allocation for FY 2014 – FY 2015. The idea was that nine reasonable parks and trails professionals, three from each provider, could meet six times and come up with a more thoughtful, sensible and consensus-based approach. Common Loon in breeding plumage

I worried that the food fight had just been moved from the Capitol to my meeting room.

Yet in a year that saw so many issues obstructed by divisive rhetoric, I was impressed by the calm, amenable discussion during our six meetings. Although at one point I did have to encourage them to quit being Minnesota nice and state their positions or we’d never reach our goal! (To which one group member memorably replied, “You’ve got a room full of alpha dogs here, just circling and taking each other’s measure.” So true!)

It was interesting to see the different approaches each team member took to the task at hand. Some were focused on data, trying to discover a clean mathematical answer to the allocation of funds. Others took a more philosophical approach, keying in on ideals and goals all the groups shared.

But all the members agreed on one thing: that Parks and Trails dollars from the Legacy Fund should be used to improve the recreation experience for all Minnesotans. “The people using Minnesota’s parks don’t care which group built them or maintain them – they just want to have a good experience,” summarized one group member.

I used a small plush loon as a visual totem of this idea, and it sat in front of me at every meeting. I was very gratified that many group members referred to the loon throughout the process to remind them to think of the whole state before their own professional positions.

I’m immensely proud of this project’s success and all the players involved: Environmental Initiative, which doggedly believes that civilized discussion can solve contentious challenges; the State of Minnesota for investing time and funds to host the discussion, and especially the nine parks professionals from diverse background who worked so hard to come to an informed agreement.


A note from Environmental Initiative:

Marian Bender facilitated Work Group meetings for the Parks and Trails Legacy Funding project from April – October 2012. Consensus was reached on an agreement to allocate parks and trails funding for FY 2014 – FY 2019. The final report and process recommendations are available on the Parks and Trails Legacy Funding Project page.

Photo credit: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services Headquarters via Flickr.

Marian Bender


Facilitator, Parks and Trails Legacy Funding Project

Presenting at the Minnesota Recreation and Park Association Conference

October 5th, 2012

Recently, I had the pleasure of heading up to Cragun’s Resort just outside Brainerd, Minnesota to present the draft recommendation for parks and trails legacy funding and an overview of the Parks and Trails Legacy Funding Project at the Minnesota Recreation and Park Association’s 75th Annual Conference. This presentation was given in coordination with Al Leiffort and Jeff and Kathy Schoenbauer, who presented information on the $175,000 study being done for the Greater Minnesota Regional Parks and Trails Coalition. Thanks again to Al, Jeff and Kathy for sharing their time!

The purpose of Minnesota Recreation and Park Association (MRPA), through its members, is to improve the quality of life in Minnesota by providing excellent park and recreation services. The MRPA was originally formed in 1937 and has now grown to include over 1,000 members across the state.

The Parks and Trails Legacy Funding Work Group members have been meeting since April to reach consensus on a recommendation on how best to allocate legacy dollars to the three parks and trails providers in Minnesota:

  • Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR)
  • Greater Minnesota Regional Parks and Trails
  • Metropolitan Regional Parks and Trails

Below is the presentation I gave which includes information about how Environmental Initiative facilitated the process to reach consensus and the draft recommendation.  Work group members met earlier this week to finalize their recommendation. The final report will be made available over the next several weeks.

Thanks again to the Parks and Trails Legacy Funding Work Group for their efforts during this complex process. And thanks again to Al Leiffort and Jeff and Kathy Schoenbauer for giving Environmental Initiative this opportunity to present the information to MRPA conference attendees.


Eric David


Program Manager, Minnesota Pollution Control Agency

Exploring Minnesota Parks

September 14th, 2012

One of the great things about working with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources and the nine Parks and Trails Legacy Funding Work Group members, has been the chance to explore some of Minnesota’s state and regional parks. Each month, the group met at a different park to develop recommendations for parks and trails legacy funding allocations for the FY 2014 – FY2015 biennium and beyond.

Here’s a roundup of the parks I’ve had a chance to visit as a part of the project. The weather this weekend is supposed to be perfect. I hope this motivates you to get outside and explore Minnesota’s amazing parks! (more…)

Emily Franklin


Director of Communications

The Hike to Consensus Continues For Parks and Trails

August 17th, 2012

Outdoor recreation participation has been on a downward trend nationwide since the 1990s. According to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, declines in activities like hunting, fishing, and boating among young adults and their children, are driving the changes. These challenges, as well as a set of strategies to overcome them, were identified in the Parks and Trails Legacy Plan. Over the next two decades, Minnesota parks and trails providers will play a crucial role in reversing these trends by helping connect people to nature-based outdoor recreation statewide.

The Parks and Trails Legacy Funding Work Group has also kept these challenges in mind as they work to develop a recommendation for Parks and Trails Legacy Funding. During the most recent meeting, agreement was reached on a series of ideas that will likely end up in the final recommendation. The group has decided to establish a small “Opportunity Fund” to support efforts to jointly market and coordinate parks and trails of state and regional significance managed by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, Greater Minnesota Regional Parks and Trails, and Metropolitan Regional Parks and Trails. (more…)

Emily Franklin


Director of Communications

Halfway Down the Trail

July 20th, 2012

As the great conservationist Theodore Roosevelt once said, “Believe you can and you’re halfway there.” With the most recent meeting of the Parks and Trails Legacy Funding Work Group complete, there are just three meetings left for the group to develop consensus recommendations that can serve as a model for Parks and Trails Legacy Fund allocations for the FY 2014-2015 biennium and beyond. So, we’re halfway there.

The Work Group made progress, discussing both criteria that could support the recommendation and various concepts that could make up the recommendation for allocating parks and trails funds. During the June meeting, we spent some time brainstorming possible recommendations and criteria, which resulted in this list. Small groups had time to answer these questions:

  1. Are there any criteria missing from this list? What are they?
  2. As a group, identify 3-5 criteria that you collectively believe are critical to include as a basis for the Work Group recommendation and why. If not everyone agrees on the criteria, note that.
  3. As a group, identify if there are any criteria below that should not be considered as part of the recommendation and why it should not be considered.


Emily Franklin


Director of Communications

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