COVID-19 has been a minefield in terms of living life as normal and the Central Mississippi River Regional Planning Partnership has been no exception. CMRP was re-constituted in 2019 with the launch of its Framework 2030 initiative to provide collaboration between communities in Wright and Sherburne counties in terms of regional planning and economic development.
After being forced to do almost all of its work virtually over the last year, CMRP held its first in-person event in more than a year at River City Extreme in Monticello on Thursday, March 25 to reconnect and get momentum back with the Framework 2030 initiative.
CMRP Chairman and Wright County Commissioner Darek Vetsch said that it was refreshing to get the members and affiliates back together in person to jump start the initiatives the group was formed to complete.
“The meeting was to get all the stakeholders together and get us all back on the same page,” Vetsch said. “We completed the first phase of public engagement and reviewed the findings from that, as well as the preliminary findings from the second round of engagement. Coming into the summer months, we’re be working on goals and strategies going forward as an organization. We thought it was important that everyone’s questions were answered and that there was good back-and-forth dialogue before we take the next steps to setting the tent poles for the organization.”
Much of CMRP’s initial focus when it was originally formed in 2016 was laying the groundwork for a future Mississippi River bridge crossing. However, the new-look CMRP has evolved to become a regional planning collaboration for the nine jurisdictions in its membership – Sherburne and Wright counties, the cities of Becker, Big Lake and Monticello, as well as Becker, Big Lake, Monticello and Silver Creek townships. It was determined that many voices would be louder than one voice, but one of the hurdles CMRP has faced is being mistakenly compared to the 17-member Metropolitan Council.
“There was a misconception that CMRP would be our version of the Met Council and we wanted to debunk those myths,” Vetsch said. “I think we were able to show that there are significant differences between what we do and what the Met Council does and we don’t have our structure set up like the Met Council. CMRP is a recommending body that works along with local authorities and we are voluntary collaborating partners and work on the growth and development of our region. The Met Council was created by the State Legislature and is an operating authority for things like public transit, wastewater treatment and housing and its members are appointed by the governor. The two groups have very little in common and CMRP has no intention of ever being a planning or zoning authority.”
Having a regional planning presence will be critical to getting a Mississippi River crossing. The Federal Highway Administration has made it clear that regional partnerships that are able to quantify regional buy-in from government units and demonstrating need through tangible data are the cornerstone of moving up the list for being awarded federal transportation dollars for these projects, which can often take decades.
Over the next three months, CMRP is going to conduct monthly workshops that will continue the forward movement of the Framework 2030 initiative. On April 22, members will receive a report of the findings from the second round of public engagement, proposed revisions to the key visions and strategies and the creation of a high-level outline of the Framework 2030 plan. On May 27, members will draft actions and vet engagement/decision-making processes, have an outline of the detailed Framework 2030 Plan and provide updates for members to bring back to their home elected bodies. On June 23, members will see the results of action plan engagements and begin the process of implementation and communication with the goal of presenting the final Framework 2030 Plan in July.
While the pandemic has derailed some of CMRP’s efforts, it hasn’t brought them to a halt. With more people being vaccinated for COVID-19 and life slowly but surely returning to more of a sense of normalcy, Vetsch said the work has been delayed, but is coming back in a big way to keep building the foundation that will eventually make the river crossing a reality.
“COVID threw us a curve right as we were starting to ramp things up on Framework 2030,” Vetsch said. “We had to take a bit of a pause, but the March 25 meeting was an important step to getting the process reignited and moving forward together – not just to try to secure a bridge crossing, but going forward in a collaborative effort to plan for a robust future for all of the member jurisdictions.”