By Richard Crawford, Chanhassen Villager, September 18, 2015
The Resilient Communities Project (RCP) matches projects identified by government agencies with students and professors who research and develop options to address.
The 1-year partnership will put students to work on about 30 different projects for the county, the cities of Chaska, Victoria and Watertown, School District 112 and SouthWest Transit.
Carver County Board Chairman Randy Maluchnik said the partnership will provide “an infusion of energy and creativity to move projects forward, opportunities to test new ideas and make data-driven decisions, not decisions based on political rhetoric or sound bites.”
Topics to be explored will cover areas from energy conservation to aquatic invasive species.
For invasive species, for example, students will strive to identify approaches the county can use to evaluate the effectiveness of aquatic invasive species prevention efforts.
In Chaska, one project calls for recommending safety improvements for bicycle and pedestrian access at Highway 41 and Engler Boulevard, near the Chaska Community Center and Chaska Middle School West and Chaska Elementary School.
In Victoria, students will work on projects including developing a trail signage program and review the city’s firefighter staffing model and ways to meet increased needs as the population develops.
Wendy Petersen-Biorn, the executive director of the Carver County Historical Society, said the student support will save time and money for the organization in its preservation efforts related to the historic Andrew Peterson farmstead in Laketown Township. Petersen-Biorn said the site, which was originally home of the Swedish immigrant, is one of the two most historic properties in the county.
The goal of the Resilient Communities Project, according to Director Mike Greco, is to “leverage resources of the university to help communities with self-identified initiatives.” The program benefits students in a range of programs by allowing them to get “real-world” opportunities, Greco said.
The program is in its fourth year. Previously, the city’s of Minnetonka, North St. Paul and Rosemount were partners in the program.
Carver County was selected to participate through a competitive application process for the 2015-2016 school year.
The cost of participating in the program is $55,500, according to a county report. Carver County will be paying $23,500 and the remainder is split between other participating jurisdictions.
Carver County Commissioner Tom Workman voted against participating in the Resilient Communities Project.
Workman has said public officials should be skeptical of the program because it is an example of why government grows so fast.
Vince Beaudette and Vicki Ernst, co-chairs of the Carver County Republicans, also expressed concerns about the cost of the partnership because it appears to have a heavy emphasis on the “green agenda” and appears to place a heavy emphasis on “social re-engineering.”
The Carver County Board approved the Resilient Communities Project by a vote of 4 to 1.
“We will get a lot of work done at a good price for the taxpayers,” Maluchnik said.
Greco said about 400 students from nearly 20 different academic departments are expected to work on the projects. If governments hired these students as interns it would cost an estimated $400,000 or more, he said.
Once recommendations are developed on the projects around the county, it will be up to local governments to determine how and whether they will be implemented.
“All of these projects are nominated by staff and elected officials of Carver County,” Greco said. “None of these are coming from the University.”
Although not a formal partner in the project this year, the city of Chanhassen has applied to be selected for the Resilient Communities Project in the past, said Community Development Director Kate Aanenson. She said Chanhassen should be able to benefit from some of the projects on the countywide list.
Carver County and area cities have identified more than 30 potential projects that are included in the Resilient Communities Project. Below is a sampling. For a complete list and more information, go to http://rcp.umn.edu and click on Carver County projects.
Safe Routes to School: Chaska Community Center and School Complex
Project Goal: Evaluate the Chaska Community Center and School District 112 middle and elementary school complex located at Highway 41 and Engler Boulevard to recommend improvements that would enhance bike and pedestrian access to the area and circulation within the complex.
Sponsoring Agency: City of Chaska
Trail Wayfinding Signage Plan
Project Goal: Develop a trail wayfinding program for the City of Victoria, and coordinate with neighboring Cities and the County to promote consistent user experiences for trail users.
Sponsoring Agency: City of Victoria
Historic Andrew Peterson Farmstead and the Urban/Rural Edge
Project Goal: Inform planning and historic preservation efforts related to the Andrew Peterson Farmstead to maximize the site’s potential as a public resource and an historic attraction.
Sponsoring Agency: Carver County Historical Society
Victoria Firefighter Recruitment/Retention and Staffing Model Study
Project Goal: Review the City of Victoria’s firefighter staffing model and identify options for meeting increased service needs that will result from anticipated future population growth.
Sponsoring Agency: City of Victoria
Aquatic Invasive Species Program Evaluation
Project Goal: Identify evaluation approaches and methodologies Carver County can use to measure the effectiveness of and impacts of its Aquatic Invasive Species (AIS) Program to inform future improvements to the program.
Sponsoring Agency: Carver County Water Management Organization
Alternative Energy Development and Regulation in Carver County
Project Goal: Identify best practices and policy tools that can be used by County and local government to accommodate and attract high-quality solar and other alternative energy projects while protecting community interests.
Sponsoring Agency: Carver County Community Development Agency
Bicycle and Pedestrian Traffic Count Program
Project Goal: To identify and/or implement available and appropriate methods for collecting count data of bicycle and pedestrian traffic on County-managed trails and roadways to inform pedestrian facility planning and implementation.
Sponsoring Agency: Carver County Planning & Water Management Department
Eco-Tourism Marketing Plan
Project Goal: Create a marketing plan that encompasses the unique natural amenities located in Victoria and Eastern Carver County, including parks, the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum, lakes and water bodies, outdoor recreation activities, wineries and orchards, breweries, and other businesses that are accessible via bike and pedestrian trails and that appeal to visitors seeking to revel in the outdoors.
Sponsoring Agency: City of Victoria
Latino Community Engagement Exploration
Project Goal: Identify best practices and strategies for Carver County, local governments, and other agencies to more effectively engage the Latino population in the county about community services and programming.
Sponsoring Agency: Carver County Public Health Department