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Bemidji considers GreenSteps

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news Bemidji, 56619

Bemidji Minnesota P.O. Box 455 56619

The city wants to be green. It's just not sure it can afford it.

The Bemidji City Council Monday heard a presentation from supporters of Minnesota's GreenStep City recognition program, which essentially challenges and assists cities to meet sustainability goals.

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A resolution was presented that would have authorized the community's participation in the program, but it was tabled after some councilors questioned the costs that would be associated.

'"If the council agrees to a resolution of this nature ... the sad part of it is that when we look at certain things, the return on investment from a taxpayer's status is that, sometimes, it's just not prudent to do that," said Mayor Richard Lehmann.

Chris Walz, the Northwest Minnesota Clean Energy Resource Teams coordinator, explained the program.

GreenSteps is a voluntary program that consists of 28 best practices in five categories (buildings and lighting, land use, transportation, environmental management, and economic and community development).

Cities, depending on their size, would implement a specified number - for Bemidji, that would be 16 - of the practices. Nine of the 16 are required and the other seven would be discretionary.

There is no cost to take part in the program.

Walz, who was newly hired to help guide cities on clean energy and energy-efficiency projects, said GreenSteps is a "guide or pathway to help communities achieve their sustainability goals and objectives." A full list of the best practices can be found online at http://greenstep.pca.state.mn.us/bestPractices.cfm.

The city's Sustainability Committee has been considering and looking into the program since last spring, committee member Erika Bailey-Johnson told the council. The committee researched the program and she and another committee member went to a presentation in August.

"It's not something we have taken lightly," she said.

Walz said the benefit of the program comes from technical assistance from people who can help cities reach their best practices and goals.

Bailey-Johnson, in a letter to the council, noted that the city already is committed to some of the best practices, such as enhancing city parks and trails, increasing city tree and plant cover, and creating a network of multimodal green streets.

"Bemidji already does a lot of these sorts of things," Walz agreed,

None of the city councilors was opposed to the program.

"I think we all agree that taking these GreenSteps is important," said Councilor Kevin Waldhausen.

But the potential costs were troubling to some.

Lehmann pointed out that the city considered installing a more efficient compressor when the city renovated Neilson Reise Arena, but the cost was prohibitive.

"That's where we run into difficulties with this type of thing," he said.

Walz said the program is designed to be cost-neutral, based on the energy savings derived from the best practices.

"That's really where you're going to save the most money," he said.

Further, Walz said the technical assistance that comes with the program could help the city find and secure grants that would assist with some of the costs.

Councilor Greg Negard said he found some of the best practices to be ambiguous, such as efficient existing public buildings, efficient existing private buildings, efficient building and street lighting and signals, efficient and healthy development patterns.

"Efficient, efficient, efficient," he said. "What is efficient to me might be a lot different than what is efficient to Councilor (Ron) Johnson."

Walz said the program is planned to let the community itself decide.

"This is a program that is really designed to bring the whole community together," he said.

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