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Who goes back to the township? Talks begin over which properties get detached from city

BEMIDJI -- The City of Bemidji and Bemidji Township are in the process of determining which annexed properties can return to the township.

The city recently sent a letter to the township with a list of properties that it does not believe are eligible to be in the township again, or detached from the city, as a result of a mediation agreement signed May 30. Bemidji Township attorney John Steffenhagen said it is an important step for the people who want to become township residents again.

"We certainly owe it to them to get this done as soon as we possibly can," Steffenhagen said. The first phase of annexation, which was initiated last spring, brought properties from Northern and Bemidji townships into the city.

The mediated agreement comes about after the township sued the city in August 2012, claiming it violated terms of the annexation agreement they and Northern Township adopted almost a decade ago.

At issue, however, is which properties can go back to the township. As part of the mediation agreement, "properties not currently served by municipal sanitary sewer and water may be detached from the City of Bemidji to Bemidji Township."

The city's list is based off of which properties have city utilities available to them, but not necessarily ones who have attached to those services, said public works director/city engineer Craig Gray.

According to a list provided by the city to The Pioneer, 60 of the 244 parcels annexed in 2012 from Bemidji Township are not eligible for detachment. That includes a mix of homes, businesses and public owners like the Bemidji School District and the state Department of Natural Resources.

The city's list, Steffenhagen said, is not "conclusive."

"We don't agree that they've correctly identified the properties," he said Monday. "We do seriously question the city's allegation that some of those properties are not eligible for detachment."

Jim Thomson, the city's attorney in the dispute, said Tuesday they were waiting for a response from the township. If there were disagreements, he said, they would have to sit down and discuss them.

"We went by the terms in the settlement agreement," he said.

Once a final list of detached properties is complete, it will be sent to the state, Steffenhagen said. For a property to be detached from the city, the owner's consent is required.

The detachment process is underway despite Northern Township's vote last week to not allow Bemidji Township to leave the annexation and joint powers agreements, as provided in the mediated settlement. Steffenhagen has said the mediation agreement could go forward anyway.

Jason Kuboushek, the attorney for Northern Township, said the board will consider its next steps at an Aug. 12 meeting.

"The next step for everybody is kind of unknown," Kuboushek said.

John Hageman

John Hageman covers North Dakota politics from the Forum News Service bureau in Bismarck. He attended the University of Minnesota in the Twin Cities, where he studied journalism and political science, and he previously worked at the Grand Forks Herald and Bemidji Pioneer.  

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