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Voyager Crossing inches forward

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Bemidji, 56619

Bemidji Minnesota P.O. Box 455 56619

Will Bemidji soon see development on the south side of Lake Bemidji?

The final plat of Voyager Crossing last week received the OK from the Joint Planning Commission. But, it must also be approved by the Bemidji Area Joint Planning Board, which is scheduled to meet at 6 p.m. Aug. 8 at Northern Township Town Hall.

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The final plat is very similar to the preliminary plat that was approved in September 2004 by the Bemidji City Council. ShoreQuest, the property owner, would like to divide about 74 acres into 42 commercial parcels and three outlots. The land is on the southeast edge of Lake Bemidji and encompasses 5,000 linear feet of shoreline. The property includes the former sites of Georgia-Pacific and Burlington Santa Fe Railroad.

It is the largest piece of land on Lake Bemidji that has not yet been developed.

What exactly will happen with those lots in terms of development is still unknown. But, there is the potential for a hotel or perhaps a water park, which is what the land owners are advocating on the Web site at shorequest.net.

The entire project involves a lot of players. First, there is John Zacher and ShoreQuest, the land owner. ShoreQuest obviously would like to make a profit and develop into a destination point.

Secondly, there is the Department of Natural Resources. The DNR is working with Zacher to try to acquire land to extend the Paul Bunyan State Trail.

There also is the city of Bemidji. The city originally got involved to discuss the Paul Bunyan Trail, but turned the matter over to the DNR in 2004. Now, the city is possibly interested in securing land for city trails or parkland.

The other entity involved in the project is the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, which administers the Voluntary Investigation and Cleanup program. The VIC program was created to offer technical assistance and legal assurances for individuals seeking to investigate or clean up contaminated property, according to the MPCA's Web site.

The property along the south side of Lake Bemidji is in the VIC program because of the potential for contamination from previous land uses, including a wood-processing plant.

The VIC program does not operate independently from the landowner. ShoreQuest staff or consultants will first propose a specific use for a particular parcel. For instance, they may decide that a road needs to run in a particular direction. They would then research and investigate what the environmental impact of such a use would be and whether previous land uses would interfere with those plans. They would submit their findings to the MPCA, which would then confirm the adequacy and completeness of the investigation, or point out deficiencies in the investigation.

Zacher said on Thursday that even if the property is sold to a developer or another individual, the new land owner also would be required to keep the property in the VIC program. The requirement, Zacher said, would be written into the deed.

"The VIC program stays with the property until everything has been developed on the property and the buildings have been built," Zacher said.

Commissioners react

The Bemidji Area Joint Planning Commission on Thursday considered the request from Zacher to recommend approval of the final plat to the JPB.

While the city has discussed and reviewed plans at the site for the last few years, Thursday was the first time the Joint Planning Commission saw the plans as a public body. The JPB and Joint Planning Commission were formed after the preliminary plat was approved by the City Council in 2004.

The Planning Commission members from Northern and Bemidji townships were especially unfamiliar with the proposal.

"We're not real familiar with this," said Clark Chambers, the chair of the board. "Some of us are really struggling with what's involved here."

ShoreQuest was well represented at the meeting. Zacher himself was on hand, as were several consultants. Jon Pollock, a ShoreQuest consultant who works with Frontline Environmental L.L.C., gave the Planning Commission an overview of the VIC program and how it works in regard to the Voyager Crossing site. He also answered questions from planning commissioners about the program and environmental concerns at the site.

Commissioner Laurie Kramka asked if someone buying the property would know what environmental issues exist at the site they would be purchasing, or would they "buy a lot not really knowing what's there."

Zacher said commercial activities on the site have been approved by the MPCA. Once a plan is ready to move forward, he said, it would be submitted to the MPCA, which would review and comment on what would be needed to be done to get the site up to the standards required to support that use at that exact location.

Pollock said it is a back-and-forth process with the MPCA and both ShoreQuest and the MPCA are comfortable planning for commercial development on the site.

Commissioner Greg Negard asked if the MPCA's findings were available to the public. If something was identified that was problematic with the site, he asked, how would the public know?

Pollock said the paperwork the company submits to the MPCA, and vice versa, are all public documents.

"We don't intend to work on this without the public's involvement," Pollock said.

City Attorney Alan Felix confirmed Pollock's comments, saying that the city has seen the bulk of the correspondence between ShoreQuest and the MPCA.

"We haven't seen every bit of documentation," Felix said, adding that there are massive amounts.

Commission Richard Slinkman was the only planning commissioner to vote against the recommendation to approve the final plat.

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