Inver Grove Heights receives state award

The master plan for the Argenta Hills development, designed with Emmons & Olivier Resources, was the first one if its kind under the new city ordinances, and shows the numerous small-scale “hidden” runoff treatment practices integrated into the development’s design. (submitted graphic)

On Jan. 28, Inver Grove Heights was awarded the 2016 Environmental Leadership Award by the Minnesota Erosion Control Association for its role in “Designing a City for Zero Stormwater Runoff.”

“One of the reasons I think we got the award is not just for design, but there are now some developments where we got the [rain garden] features in the ground and they are working,” said Scott Thureen, Inver Grove Heights public works director.

Back in 1998, Inver Grove Heights began considering developing the northwestern part of the city.

Thureen explained that developers were increasingly eyeing this area, so the city began drawing up estimates for providing utilities as part of its comprehensive plan. 

However, the developers told the city that they were concerned about the estimated costs to build a traditional storm sewer system. “On a per acre basis, they felt it was not viable financially for them,” Thureen said.

Property owners wanted a different approach that would preserve more of the natural areas, such as planting rain gardens.

Inver Grove Heights worked with Emmons & Olivier Resources to find the best solution. Brett Emmons, project manager, says EOR got involved when the city decided to look for different approaches.

“The city stepped back many years ago, and rather than use the traditional approaches being used at the time with a lot of pumps and pipes and moving storm water downstream, they took a whole different approach of the new green infrastructure or low-impact development,” Emmons said. 

The low-impact development approach retains water as it rains near the source. 

This approach is also cheaper compared to the more traditional approach because pervious pavement, deep-rooted native plants and grasses and loose soil absorb most of the rainwater, thus preventing tainted runoff from flowing rapidly into storm sewer pipes and eventually into lakes and streams.

EOR helped Inver Grove Heights put together ordinances that dictate new standards for new developments.

“For the last six or seven years, developments have been coming in being built under the new standards,” Emmons says.

LID approach not only improves water in local areas but also aquifers, which are reservoirs of water held underground that can be pumped up and used after it has been filtered.

Another unique aspect of this project was bringing developers and engineers together to identify cost-effective methods of reducing water flowing into storm sewers. Several new ways were found for dealing with water runoff in large commercial parking lots.

“It was kind of fun to see the benefits neighborhoods get in terms of better quality of life and nicer neighborhoods,” Emmons said. These sorts of things would normally be handled by city planners, but instead they “were working hand-in-hand with the engineering infrastructure side so that both were benefiting from each other.”

Emmons said it is nice when new approaches are recognized for their innovation. The city should get a lot of credit for taking on a new way of doing things, he added.

“It shows leadership. It’s not easy to be one of those early communities trying some different things and making sure they work.”

Hannah Burlingame can be reached at 651-748-7824 or

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