NORTHERN TOWNSHIP AND CITY OF BEMIDJI SPECIAL JOINT MEETING – Discussion Regarding Extension of City Water and Sewer – Tuesday, January 4, 2022, 5:30 p.m. at the Northern Town Hall, 445 Town Hall Road NW, Bemidji, MN.
The meeting was called to order by Northern Township Vice-Chair Jess Frenzel, and a roll call was taken:
Northern Township Supervisors; Gary Barnard, Curt Blumhagen, Jess Frenzel, Chris Lahn. Absent: Chairman Mike Kelly.
City of Bemidji Council; Mayor Jorge Prince, Audrey Thayer, Josh Peterson, Ron Johnson, Emelie Rivera, and Daniel Jourdain. Other staff members attended also.
This meeting was scheduled as the result of an invite by the Northern Township Board, to talk to the entire City Council about the concept of extending City sewer and water utilities into Northern Township. Northern Township Vice-Chair Frenzel read a proposal that emphasized the idea of protecting our Lake Bemidji natural resource by a cooperative agreement allowing the extension of the utility along the north end of Lake Bemidji without annexation, and requiring non-compliant onsite wastewater treatment owners to hook into the services at an accelerated rate over what the city users pay. A copy of this proposal was handed out to all.
Frenzel added that there has been no push by property owners for these services, other than Ruttger’s Resort. The Mn Regional DNR Office and Bemidji State Park have indicated some interest in the utilities, due to the upcoming road reconstruction. A letter asking for property owner comments and inviting all was mailed to 1500+ Northern Township property owners. A meeting was held with over 150 of those property owners in attendance and the comments were overwhelming against annexation. Other calls/emails from property owners were mostly against annexation, and most who would be affected by the services did not show interest in receiving the services. The Board does understand the opportunity to extend the services due to possible cooperative funding from MN DNR, Beltrami County, State of MN, etc., and the re-construction of CSAH 20 that runs across this area.
Mayor Prince asked if there were definite numbers, and the answer is no. There has been no one addressing Northern Township with interest in receiving the service, other than Ruttger’s Resort.
Rivera thanked the township board for the invite, since she has not been involved in any conversations regarding this matter. She understands that everyone feels quite strongly in their interests/passion and their sides to this topic. She indicated that she is very open to ideas on how we can get to a cooperative solution, by putting past differences aside. She would like to hear from those who would be directly affected by the project, and the other partners mentioned.
Other comments from council members indicated a desire to try and work together, but a very short timeline is at hand. The extension that would be Phase I, along Birchmont Court to Ruttger’s Resort, needs to be decided by April, at the latest. A preliminary estimate of the project for this proposed Phase I would be approximately $4,000,000+, and affect about 30 properties with homes. Gray emphasized that if those costs were to be assessed to property owners, it would be more than $100,000/each, and is there a point where the expense is too high?
City Manager Mathews pointed out that they had looked at the possibility of extending these services to Ruttger’s alone as a “flag lot” annexation, by using County Rd 21 ROW, but there is just too many issues with the ROW so that route is not feasible. So the only route to get to Ruttger’s is through Birchmont Court.
It was also agreed that the City Council has just received this proposal, and a response of a decision was not expected tonight. The Board again indicated that if annexation of the Birchmont Court area is the only route to accomplish Phase I, they would probably not need further discussions since those property owners are not pushing for it. The City would like to have more discussions, but believe some kind of timeline for annexation would likely need to be in the conversation. Thought should also be put into other options of treatment, with models from around the state suggested.
It was then agreed that the City Council will discuss this topic at their next work session on January 10th, and bring it back to the Northern Township Board on Tuesday, January 11th. That meeting will be held again at the Northern Town Hall at 5:30 p.m. The City will host the meeting, and a box lunch was requested.
With no further comment forthcoming, the meeting adjourned at 7:10 p.m. Respectfully Submitted; __________________________________ Mary Israelson