(June 27, 2019–St. Paul, MN) At its Annual Conference in Duluth, the League of Minnesota Cities announced four winners of the 2019 City of Excellence Awards today. The awards recognize cities for outstanding programs or projects. Each winning city will receive a plaque, a check for $1,000, and recognition in League publications and promotional activities throughout the coming year.
Winning entries were chosen in three population categories and in a special topical category.
Afton’s historic "Old Village" downtown faced a number of challenges, including crumbling streets with no stormwater system, a deficient flood levee, and private septic systems in the flood plain. Additionally, a breakdown in communication with local tribal communities led to misunderstanding and distrust related to a sacred burial ground located in the area.
The city was able to address all of those problems with an integrated perspective and by working with state, county, and community partners. They were also able to establish a working relationship with the tribal communities and reach an agreed-upon solution.
The $20 million final project included reconstruction of all county and local roads, creation of a walkable main street corridor, a new sanitary water system, new stormwater infrastructure to protect the water quality of Lake St. Croix, new trails that connect the Old Village to the river, a levee reconstruction providing 100-year flood protection, and preservation of historic buildings.
The citizen-led North Oaks Tick Task Force, created in partnership between the city and the North Oaks Home Owners’ Association, established an integrated tick management program to address concerns about tickborne illness in the community. Before the task force was launched, the city’s incidences of tick-related illnesses were five times higher than neighboring communities. This was due in part to an abundance of trails and wooded areas, and a higher than normal deer population in the area.
The task force partnered with experts to develop a deer management program, landscaping, and grounds maintenance recommendations, educational resources, and awareness efforts among community stakeholders. A city survey tool was put in place to track progress.
The city’s tickborne illness rates are now comparable with neighboring communities, and it is working to reduce the deer population to levels recommended by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The city faced significant inflow and infiltration problems due to aging infrastructure and housing stock. Without action, the city would incur additional Metropolitan Council charges due to the volume of stormwater unnecessarily being treated by the regional wastewater system.
To address this, the city put in place a series of aggressive strategies to inspect and repair non-compliant properties. The city developed a 24-month inspection and compliance schedule, a capital plan for public infrastructure, a point-of-sale inspection and repair process, and finance options for private property owners.
The program reduced the percent of stormwater entering the sanitary sewer system by a third during peak flow events, and spurred investment and replacement of lateral lines on more than 1,000 properties in the city. Due to the program, buyers of property in the city can be confident that the possibility of significant, unexpected sewer repairs has been minimized.
The city learned in 2015 that a chemical called 1.4 dioxane exceeded the health risk limit in one of its three wells. The contaminated well was shut down. The source of the pollutant was identified as a former Army munitions plant site.
Finding a solution and maintaining the public’s trust in the city’s ability to provide safe and reliable drinking water were the city’s top priorities. After reviewing its options, the city chose to modify the existing water treatment plant to eliminate the one contaminant using ultraviolet light and hydrogen peroxide. This system was the most cost-effective solution, and the first of its kind in the state.
The city also pursued a proactive public relations strategy to reduce anxiety and keep residents informed. As a result of the city’s collaborative approach with project partners, including the U.S. Army, the new treatment system was completed under budget in just 18 months.
The 2019 City of Excellence award nominations were judged by a panel of former members of the League’s Board of Directors, including Carol Mueller, mayor of the City of Mounds View; Brian Scholin, councilmember for the City of Pine City; and Craig Waldron, former city administrator and currently a professor of public administration at Hamline University.
The League of Minnesota Cities is a membership organization dedicated to helping cities throughout Minnesota build quality communities through effective advocacy, expert analysis, trusted guidance, and collective action. The League serves its more than 830 member cities through advocacy, education and training, policy development, risk management, and other services.