Code Audits & Community-Government Partnerships

Facilitating Pathways to Resilience with Green Infrastructure in Minnesota Communities

  • Minnesota Sea Grant (MNSG) seeks to help to build the capacity of Duluth Urban Area communities to develop a framework that allows for and promotes the adoption and installation of green infrastructure (GI) that can address water-quality impairments and coastal flooding impacts resulting from extreme storm events through review of local codes and ordinances.
  • In 2022, MNSG and partners began preparations for a code audit of the land-use codes and ordinances for both the City of Duluth and Midway Township, Minnesota, to identify barriers to green infrastructure (GI), provide alternative language that will remove these barriers and promote the use of GI within these communities, and develop outreach on how ordinance language impacts on-the-ground practices.
  • At the conclusion of the project MNSG will share code audit findings and host a workshop to show how the findings can be applied for the Duluth Urban Watershed Committee (DUWAC).
  • Code Audits & Community-Government Partnerships Phase I began August 1, 2023, and will tentatively end May 30, 2024.
  • Code Audits & Community-Government Partnerships Phase II will tentatively begin December 31, 2024.

Image credit: Minnesota Pollution Control Agency

 

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Project description

Minnesota Sea Grant seeks to help to build the capacity of Duluth Urban Area communities to develop a framework that allows for and promotes the adoption and installation of green infrastructure (GI) that can address water-quality impairments and coastal flooding impacts resulting from extreme storm events through review of local codes and ordinances.

Green infrastructure (GI) including built practices such as green roofs, rain gardens, and tree wells and natural systems such as forests and wetlands can help improve water quality and reduce flooding, but specific language in local land-use codes and ordinances can unintentionally prohibit or discourage the implementation of many of these practices. Adoption of codes and ordinances promoting green infrastructure implementation can contribute to healthier ecosystems, protect infrastructure, and minimize the economic impacts of poor water quality.

For example, language found in the landscaping section of codes and ordinances may require landscaped areas, such as parking lot islands, to be surrounded by raised curbs and gutters, covered with turfgrass, or to include trees.

Some examples of practices that inhibit the use of these landscaped areas for stormwater management include:

  • A raised curb and gutter impedes runoff from entering the planted area inside the curb.
  • Turfgrass requirements prevent planting of bioretention plantings.
  • Trees may not be compatible with location in a bioretention system.

Another example is code language that requires all paved areas to be asphalt or concrete, or to be sealcoated every “x” number of years. This language prohibits the use of pervious (or permeable) pavement, even though that was likely not the intention. If written appropriately, ordinances can promote instead of discourage the use of green infrastructure practices.

10 Duluth Urban Area Watershed Communities

  1. City of Duluth
  2. City of Proctor
  3. City of Hermantown
  4. City of Rice Lake
  5. Township of Midway
  6. Township of Thomson
  7. Township of Gnesen
  8. Township of Normanna
  9. Township of Lakewood
  10. Saint Louis County
Map of Duluth showing watersheds, cities, and townships.
Map showing the Duluth Urban Area Watershed communities where this project will take place. Most of the effort will be in the City of Duluth and Midway Township.

Duluth Urban Watershed Advisory Committee (DUWAC)

Updating ordinances is also one of the areas of agreement within the Duluth Urban Watershed Advisory Committee (DUWAC). Minnesota Sea Grant partnered with the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency to create and facilitate DUWAC, which consists of the nine communities within the Duluth Urban Area Watershed (Figure 2) as well as the broader St. Louis County and interested agency and organizational partners.

In 2018, this group of communities finalized a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU). One of the areas of agreement in the MOU is to "Identify potential options to update our local codes and ordinances affecting water resources and associated ecosystems, as desired by each stakeholder." Adoption of codes and ordinances promoting green infrastructure implementation can contribute to healthier ecosystems, protect infrastructure, and minimize the economic impacts of poor water quality and flooding for all communities.

Project activities

2023

  • July 2023: The Code Audits & Community-Government Partnerships project team completed the first stage of its code audit for Midway Township and the City of Duluth. The project team has begun developing comparison criteria for the Duluth Urban Watershed Advisory Committee communities and reviewing their codes and ordinances.
  • April 2023: The Code Audits & Community-Government Partnerships project team began the review of the City of Duluth and Midway Township codes and ordinances.
  • March 2023: The Code Audits & Community-Government Partnerships project team welcomed Minnesota Sea Grant Resilience Extension Associate Jessy Carlson and hosted project kickoff meetings with City of Duluth staff, the Midway Township Planning and Zoning Committee, and the Duluth Urban Watershed Advisory Committee. Project kickoff meetings with the City of Duluth and Midway Township included a facilitation of the Watershed Game by Minnesota Sea Grant and Water Resources Center Stormwater Extension Educator Maggie Karschnia.
  • In early 2023, Minnesota Sea Grant established a relationship with a skilled consultant, Birchline Planning LLC, to lead the code audit process.

Why Minnesota Sea Grant?

The green infrastructure code and ordinance project supports Sea Grant's mission to enhance the practical use and conservation of coastal, marine and Great Lakes resources by addressing barriers to using green infrastructure in the western Lake Superior region. Specifically, this project primarily supports our national and state focus area of resilient communities and economies. The project also builds on prior Wisconsin Sea Grant work described in the Tackling Barriers to Green Infrastructure: an Audit of Local Codes and Ordinances Workbook.

What have we done lately?

  • October 2023: Minnesota Sea Grant Resilience Extension Associate Jessy Carlson will present on this project at the Midwest Climate Resilience Conference in Duluth, Minnesota.
  • September 2023: The Code Audits & Community-Government Partnerships project team held midpoint project meetings with City of Duluth staff, Midway Township Planning and Zoning Committee, and the Duluth Urban Watershed Advisory Committee to share progress and collaborate on next steps.
  • September 2023: The Code Audits & Community-Government Partnerships project team is building relationships with additional communities along Minnesota’s Lake Superior shore to scope which communities are interested and would benefit from a green infrastructure code and ordinance audit.
  • August 2023: The Code Audits & Community-Government Partnerships project team has begun planning for a spring 2024 green infrastructure professional development training in collaboration with the Lake Superior National Estuarine Research Reserve.

Participants & audience

Project audiences:

  1. Duluth Urban Watershed Advisory Committee (DUWAC)
  2. Primary Duluth Urban Area Watershed project communities:
    1. City of Duluth
    2. Township of Midway
  3. Additional Duluth Urban Area Watershed communities:
    1. City of Proctor
    2. City of Hermantown
    3. City of Rice Lake
    4. Township of Thomson
    5. Township of Gnesen
    6. Township of Normanna
    7. Township of Lakewood
    8. Saint Louis County

Project team:

  • Madison Rodman, project lead, resilience extension educator, University of Minnesota, University of Minnesota Duluth, Minnesota Sea Grant. 
  • Tiffany Sprague, organizational development manager, University of Minnesota Duluth, Natural Resources Research Institute.  
  • Juli Beth Hinds, principle, Birchline Planning LLC.

Funding

The Minnesota Sea Grant-led Code Audits & Community-Government Partnerships project is funded by the National Sea Grant Office, FY22 Coastal Adaptation and Resilience Opportunity. Award #NA22OAR4170098, Amendment 5, $125,000. The project started 8/1/22 and ends 1/31/24. 


Upcoming Events

Program Staff

Maggie Karschnia
Minnesota Sea Grant & Water Resources Center Stormwater Extension Educator
Madison Rodman headshot
Resilience Extension Educator
Jessy Carlson
Resilience Extension Associate

Media Mentions


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