Happy birds equal happy people. That’s the thought behind the Bird City Program, an Audubon Minnesota initiative that helps communities encourage and support feathered friends, for the betterment of their human communities.

Stillwater leaders endorsed the notion of becoming a Bird City last week, but postponed action establishing the program until it’s clear how much staff time will be involved in its administration. They intend to look to groups like Sustainable Stillwater and other volunteer advocacy groups to help implement the program.

In 2018, Stillwater entered the GreenStep Cities program, a voluntary challenge, assistance and recognition program designed to help Minnesota cities achieve sustainability and quality-of-life goals. As part of being a GreenStep City, the Bird City Program recognizes cities for steps taken to conserve bird habitat and reduce threats to birds.

The program supports communities in their efforts to protect and manage green space, educate citizens, build nesting structures, landscape with native plants, and reduce threats to birds, under the premise that where birds thrive, people prosper.

According to Audubon Minnesota, birdwatchers are part of a $40 billion annual industry nationwide. One in four Minnesotans consider themselves a birdwatcher. Other Bird Cities are Austin, Bemidji, Crosslake, Hastings and St. Paul.

The Council also finalized an agreement with the Greater Stillwater Area Chamber of Commerce for Stillwater Lights, which will run from now through March. The display features a metal archway of lights for visitors to walk through in Lowell Park, a lighted dome on the pedestrian plaza stage, placement of lights on trees and structures downtown and in the Lowell Park Gazebo. There is no charge to walk through the display, which will be lit from 4 pm till midnight daily. The City is waiving the normal $500 per day event fee and will pay electric costs, estimated at around $300. But the Council nixed a request for direct funding, noting that last year, the City made a one-time contribution of $15,000 in matching funds for the event.

Meanwhile, in staff reports:

Community Development Director Turnblad informed the Council that the request for proposals (RFP) to design a master plan for the riverfront property known as the Aiple Property is ready to be distributed. The Council should get a first look at consulting firms interested in designing the project on December 17. A bit further out in the design process is the Chestnut Street Plaza, whose RFP will go out this winter, with construction tentatively slated for spring 2021.

Public Works Director Shawn Sanders reported that the draft ADA Transition Plan is finished and will be presented to the Human Rights Commission in January, followed by the City Council. The plan fulfills a requirement of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) that the City identify obstacles within the public right-of-way and establish a plan for how and when they will be fixed. Last spring, the City contracted with SRF Consulting to develop the plan.

City Administrator Tom McCarty said that a November 14 presentation by members of the City Council, staff, Washington County and property owners to the Minnesota House Capital Investment Committee drew positive support for the possibility of securing State funding for the Highway 36/Manning Avenue interchange project. The $15 million project, involving a bridge over Highway 36, was one of several pitched by cities and counties during a bus tour of the east metro taken by the legislators.

The Council also approved a feasibility report for the Neal Avenue improvement project. It consists of reconstructing Neal from Boutwell Road to McKusick Road, mill and overlay from McKusick to White Pine Way, and construction of a trail along the east side of Neal. The total project cost of $1.8 million will be funded by the City, assessments, utility funds and Municipal State Aid. Construction is set for May through October, 2020. A public hearing on the project is set for December 17.

Councilmember Mike Polehna informed the Council that a date has finally been set for the lift bridge opening celebration: May 15-16, 2020. “It’s going to happen this time,” Polehna said. He noted that activities being planned include dinner on the bridge, a street dance, and “Hands Across the Croix,” an attempt to bring together 6,300 people stretching from state to state, holding hands.


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