Rochester Public Utilities | Blog

25 Years of Recognizing Individuals and Organizations for Environmental Achievements in the Community

Rochester Public Utilities (RPU) and Olmsted County mark 25 years of recognizing environmental achievements by announcing the recipients of the 2016 Environmental Achievement Awards. The awards were first given out back in 1991 and have now grown and expanded to cover a wider range of environmental achievements in the area. This year’s recipients will be recognized at an awards banquet on January 19 at the Rochester Golf and Country Club. Past award recipients have been invited to commemorate the 25th year of the awards. The awards honor individuals, organizations, schools and businesses that have made a significant contribution in 2016 towards environmental quality in any of the following categories: renewable efforts, conservation, energy, water, agriculture, education, and other.

The 2016 recipients are:

Terri Dugan
As part of her capstone project in the Minnesota Master Naturalist Program, Terri Dugan organized a volunteer effort to restore a 10-acre woodland on the west side of Quarry Hill Park. Terri and her team of volunteers flagged a sustainable trail, blocked a steep erosion path, and planted 60 species of native flora. Summer of Service (SOS) teens assisted in clearing deadfall and invasive species. This restoration project allows hikers to enjoy a part of the park that was previously inaccessible.

Additionally, Terri started the Weed Warriors program at Quarry Hill. Since 2014, Terri and other volunteers have cleared over 20 acres of invasive plant species. She continues to play a major role in educating the public about the detriments of Garlic Mustard and Buckthorn.

The Green Thumb Initiative
The Green Thumb Initiative (GTI) is a hands-on educational program for environmentally conscious students who attend the Rochester Alternative Learning Center (ALC). GTI is involved in a number of student-led projects. The group maintains the school’s garden, organizes Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) subscriptions, and introduces students from other schools to raised-bed gardening.

This past spring, GTI transformed an empty plot at the fairgrounds into a small space gardening demonstration. The students cultivated the soil over a demolished building’s rocky foundation and planted a mixture of vegetable crops and ornamental plants. A mulch path leading through the garden was added to showcase a variety of “upcycled” planting containers. The containers included an old grill, milk crates, and shoes. Signs were placed near each planting to inform patrons how each upcycled container was created. Produce from the garden did not go to waste; some of the vegetables were donated to the Salvation Army, while others were used to teach a science lesson on food preservation at the ALC.

First Student
First Student in Rochester, Minnesota services Rochester Public Schools for student transportation and provides intra-town transportation for Mayo Clinic. In an effort to reduce their environmental impact, First Student upgraded their fleet with vehicles that run on alternative fuels. Thirty-four propane powered school buses, twelve propane powered shuttle mini-coaches, and four compressed natural gas (CNG) powered transit buses operate throughout the city. Utilizing these alternative fuel sources reduces greenhouse gas emissions and improves air quality in Rochester. First Student further reduces emissions with its three-minute idling policy.

Jeffery O’Neill
Jeffery O’Neill understands the important role agriculture plays in preserving water resources. His farm is located along the Middle Branch of the Whitewater River, and he has worked to curb runoff by converting an area of land that was previously used as a feedlot into fields that support fruit and vegetable production. He used mulch to establish crop rows and seeded a ryegrass cover over an area adjacent to the river. These modifications represent Jeffery’s commitment to sustainable land management.

2015–2016 Fifth Graders of Gage Elementary Garden Boxes
Students at Gage Elementary aren’t afraid to get their hands dirty. This past spring, fifth graders submitted designs for a series of raised garden planters. With a little guidance from several skilled teachers, the students learned to use a variety of tools. Once complete, the garden boxes were filled with topsoil and vegetable seedlings. The students tended the garden into the summer, and eventually harvested their crop. Produce collected from the garden went to the school’s Community Resource Room to support families in need.

Dr. Cory Rubin
As an educator for Rochester Community and Technical College (RCTC), Dr. Cory Rubin is able to connect with future environmental leaders through experiential learning and extracurricular leadership. Cory serves on the RCTC Stormwater Committee where he advises and assists with decisions that affect stormwater management on the campus. In his role as advisor to the Ecology Club, Cory assists with an annual cleanup along the Zumbro River, organizes tree plantings, and assists in the management of the Native Species Garden at RCTC.

Off campus, he has organized neighborhood tree planting events, been part of the Earthfest Planning Committee, and currently serves on the Rochester Energy Commission.

Lincoln K-8 FIRST LEGO League Team
FIRST LEGO League is an extracurricular program that challenges students to solve real-world problems by applying science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) concepts. Students enhance a variety of skills in the process: critical thinking, team building, and public speaking. During the 2015-2016 school year, the Lincoln K-8 FIRST LEGO League team found a way to reduce their lunchroom waste through composting. Team members collaborated with staff and faculty to teach their fellow students how to separate garbage, organics, and recyclables correctly. The team worked with Full Circle Organics to collect and compost the organic waste. Thanks to the team’s leadership, the school now diverts two to three bags of compostable material from the trash each day.

For more information on energy conservation or the Environmental Achievement Awards visit

About Rochester Public Utilities
As the municipal utility of Rochester, Minn., for more than 110 years, RPU provides high-quality and reliable electricity to over 50,000 customers. Water customers number more than 37,000. RPU continually investigates innovative technologies to help customers realize the best value from the services they receive. Current initiatives include fuel cell research, wind power, and photovoltaic offerings.