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U of M, small towns could team up for sustainable infrastructure project development

The University of Minnesota could partner with small communities across Minnesota to further efforts in developing sustainable infrastructure.

That’s the idea behind HF2499, sponsored by Rep. Erin Koegel (DFL-Spring Lake Park).

The House Sustainable Infrastructure Policy Committee approved the measure Wednesday, as amended, on an 8-5 party-line vote. Its next stop is the House Transportation Finance and Policy Committee.

Koegel’s bill would appropriate $5 million to the Department of Transportation for the purposes of partnering with several entities at the university focused on infrastructure project analysis and development.

Entities named in the bill include: Regional Sustainable Development Partnerships, Center for Transportation Studies, Minnesota Design Center, Humphrey School of Public Affairs, and Center for Urban and Regional Affairs.

Funds would be used to help small communities “incorporate consideration of sustainability, resiliency, and adaptation to climate change” into future infrastructure projects. Prioritization for assistance would be given to communities that have historically lacked the capacity to apply for state and federal infrastructure grants.

The proposal generated pushback from Republicans.

“There is a lot of concern in rural communities about urban planners coming to rural communities and telling us how to live,” said Rep. Isaac Schultz (R-Elmdale Township). He sees the bill as potentially operating in this overbearing and heavy-handed manner.

Koegel responded that her bill aims to encourage strong local community engagement, referencing a recent infrastructure project in her district as an example of what this would look like.

Schultz, while acknowledging the point, reiterated his wish for the university entities to focus on just road planning and not social engineering when coming into rural districts like his. “I hope that remains the premise,” he said.

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