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City approves dig funding: Money will fund removal of artifacts from Paul Bunyan/Library Park

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BEMIDJi — Culture won out over budget concerns Monday as the Bemidji City Council voted expand the contract of archeological survey team The 106 Group, which is investigating the artifacts it discovered earlier this year in Paul Bunyan Park/Library Park near the western shore of Lake Bemidji.

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The team has identified a cluster of artifacts around the Carnegie Library that may affect the effort to move and restore the 100-year-old structure, and another concentration under the planned future site of the Chief Bemidji statue. At Monday’s meeting, the council approved to extend the total amount of money budgeted for the survey project to $130,750.

The 106 Group has itemized the cost as $78,790 for the area around the library and $51,960 for the rest of the park, including the future Chief Bemidji statue site, according to the recommendation prepared by Marcia Larson, director of Parks and Recreation.  

In her remarks to the council, Larson said the additional money would fund completion of “Phase 1” of the project, or site mapping. It would also allow 106 Group to carry out later phases that include actually removing the artifacts from the future construction sites and sending them to the Minnesota Historical Society for curation.

City Attorney Al Felix pointed out the expansion raised the “not-to-exceed” limit on the contract, and it didn't necessarily mean the project would cost that much.

Budget Concerns

Councilor Nancy Erickson was opposed to expanding the contract. At first, she appeared to dismiss the value of the artifacts being found as not worth the expense.

“When you say you're finding artifacts, are you finding beads? Marbles? Chunks of pot?” she asked Larson. “Bits and pieces of this and that, for $130,000...”

Erickson later elaborated by saying that the expansion did not allow for the additional expense if human remains were found at the site and more study was required.

“I'm just anticipating that there are going to be future expenses with this project that we aren't currently seeing,” she said.

Mayor Rita Albrecht voiced her support of the expansion, saying it was worth it to preserve Bemidji’s heritage.  

“Cultural resources, I think, are important, no matter which culture that they are are from,” she said. “We are inhabiting an area that’s been inhabited for...3,000 years, and those artifacts are a fact that we are going to have to manage during construction projects, in particular along the lake.”

Potential Funding Sources

In her written recommendation in favor of the expansion, Larson noted that the $51,960 cost for surveying/removing the artifacts near Chief Bemidji statue site will be paid for using sales tax revenue, $721,000 of which is already allocated for the Paul Bunyan/Library park redevelopment as whole.     

The Save the Carnegie fundraising group has also pledged $20,000 towards the survey near the library.

In a response to a question from Albrecht on whether there were potentially any additional funding sources for the project, City Finance Director Ron Eischens said there was $134,000 remaining from last year's budget surplus that the council could choose to allocate towards the survey costs.  

The council eventually voted 4-2 in favor of the contract expansion. Mayor Albrecht and councilors Michael Meehlhause, Jim Thompson and Ron Johnson voted for the contract expansion; Councilors Erickson and Roger Hellquist voted against it. Councilor Reed Olson was absent from the meeting.

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