By JOHN HAGEMAN
BEMIDJI – The Bemidji City Council voted unanimously Monday night to approve plans from Otter Tail Power Co. to move power lines from the north side of Midway Drive to the south side of the street.
The decision came after some councilors expressed interest in exploring the possibility of moving the lines underground. Otter Tail officials, however, said that would be infeasible due to the high cost.
Leon Kremeier, area manager for Otter Tail, said moving the poles across the street is part of a larger system upgrade that will continue in the coming years. He said the move would cost about $105,000, not including the cost to purchase the easements for the city-owned property next to the trail and the cost to have lines run underground to the businesses located on Midway Drive.
He added that the company would like to begin work by the end of the year, and then run lines underground to the businesses in the spring.
Several caveats were included in the memorandum provided by the city, including that the line would be at least 10 feet from the Paul Bunyan State Trail, equipment like transformers and capacitors would not be hung on the poles, and Otter Tail vehicles may not use the trail for installation or maintenance.
“I believe that if these caveats are adopted, the relocation of the line would be an aesthetic improvement to the area and provide a more stable power source for the businesses using that line,” city manager John Chattin wrote in the memo.
However, some councilors were hoping the company would consider moving the lines underground.
“This area is part of the entrance to our city,” Ward 5 Councilor Greg Negard said, adding that he thought it was a good project, but more could be done.
Ward 1 Councilor Kevin Waldhausen made a motion to table the proposal and have Otter Tail discuss that possibility with city staff, but later retracted it after Kremeier indicated that the cost would be too great.
“It would be very hard for us to justify to do it,” Kremeier said.
Ward 4 Councilor Rita Albrecht encouraged the company to talk with city staff on ways to help beautify the trail corridor next to where the new lines would be.
Fire District update
The council also unanimously adopted a resolution supporting the concept of a fire district in the Bemidji area.
The proposed district, which has been a topic of discussion in a research committee in recent years, would likely be supported by a fire protection fee based on building value, according to an outline included in the city council packet.
Currently, the city’s fire department is funded by the city’s general fund, a large portion of which is made up of property tax revenue.
The funding source would likely need legislative approval.
The joint entity would be created through a joint powers agreement among the local units of government currently served by the department. The district would include a governing board that would approve budgets and major policies, along with a board of directors. The board of directors would include elected officials from both the city of Bemidji and the area at large.
The entity would begin on Jan. 1, 2014, according to a proposed timeline.
Bemidji Fire Chief Dave Hoefer said the group will now start working on drafting a joint powers agreement.