Friday, January 24, 2014

Minnesota River group moves ahead with ‘Blueway’ initiative despite setback

The Minnesota River Watershed Alliance voted at its quarterly meeting in Hutchinson Jan. 21 to continue working on the Minnesota River Blueway initiative, to implement its goals, and seek support from federal agencies. 

Over the past year the Alliance – an informal, citizen-led network in the Minnesota River Basin – worked to gather widespread support and submitted a nomination to the U.S. Department of Interior, requesting Blueway designation for the Minnesota River watershed.

The Dept. of Interior (DOI) established the National Blueway System in 2012 to promote a network of nationally significant rivers and their watersheds that are highly valued as economic, recreational, social, and ecological assets. The Connecticut River spanning four states in New England was the first to receive National Blueway designation.

Recently, the DOI decided to terminate the program, primarily due to concerns with the program that arose in the Whitewater River basin in Arkansas, and possible impacts from the federal budget sequestration.

“Although the Department of the Interior discontinued the National Blueway Program, to the great disappointment of those who worked so hard to obtain a National Blueway designation for the Minnesota River Valley, the Minnesota River Blueway Initiative is still an active program,” says Ted Suss of Wabasso.

“The Blueway Initiative will bring together people from all industries, all interest groups, and all communities in the Minnesota River Valley to continue the already successful efforts to clean up the Minnesota River, increase public use of the Minnesota River as a tourism and recreation asset, to expand economic development in the valley, and to make the Minnesota River Valley an even better place to live, farm, play, operate a business, and to visit.”

There was much discussion at the Jan. 21 meeting about using the “Blueway” name. Among the viewpoints, the term is ambiguous and doesn’t clearly and quickly convey its meaning. It may have a negative response from those who may fear it as a means to use public funds to acquire private land. While acknowledging the concerns, it was understood that the name is needed for the time being, and work on branding and marketing will continue.

Recommendation from the Blueway working team as adopted by the Alliance:

1)      Continue with the Blueway initiative.

2)      Continue to implement the goals in the Blueway nomination as the Alliance goals for 2014, and empower the Blueway working team to continue its work.

3)      Formally request that the DOI and local U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to explore options for a regional memorandum of understanding among federal agencies to work on the identified goals.

“Based on conversations with senior DOI officials, the Alliance hopes to enter into a memorandum of understanding with the Department of Interior and other federal agencies that will outline a working arrangement and include commitments of federal agency support that will very nearly match the working arrangements and federal commitments of support as a National Blueway designation would have provided,” says Suss.

The next Minnesota River Watershed Alliance meeting is scheduled for Tuesday, April 15, at Ridgewater College in Hutchinson. A potluck meal begins at 6 p.m., and the meeting at 7 p.m. All are welcome to attend. More information about the Alliance is on the web at:

Contacts: Ted Suss, 507-828-3377; Forrest Peterson, 320-441-6972; Scott Sparlin, 507-276-2280; Brad Cobb, 320-493-4695