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Councilors question detachment list

BEMIDJI -- Some Bemidji City Councilors Monday questioned recent events involving a mediation agreement between the city and Bemidji Township.

The Pioneer reported Friday the city sent a list of properties it believes cannot be detached, or returned to Bemidji Township, to the township's attorney John Steffenhagen. That follows the signing of a mediation agreement in May that allows the township to leave the annexation and joint powers agreements.

The mediation agreement requires the two sides to determine which annexed properties "not currently served by municipal sanitary sewer and water" can be detached.

Councilor Nancy Erickson said she was "surprised" to see that the list, which councilors also received, was provided to Bemidji Township and made available to the press.

"I'm puzzled...because we are in the middle of a court case and what will be decided in that court case is whether or not Bemidji Township will be separated from (the local government unit)," Erickson said. She said it also gives Beltrami County District Court Judge John Melbye the impression "that it is our intention to move forward with releasing them when he really makes the decision."

Erickson added the list being made public was an "insult" to Northern Township, who adopted the annexation and joint powers agreements with the city and Bemidji Township almost a decade ago. Bemidji Township sued the city in August 2012, claiming it had violated the terms of the annexation agreement.

Northern Township voted last month to not let Bemidji Township out of the joint powers and annexation agreements. Steffenhagen has said the mediation agreement can go forward anyway, despite the clause in the mediation agreement stating: "Any approvals needed by Northern Township to effectuate this (mediation agreement) must be obtained in order for this agreement to be effectuated."

City staff said Monday no discussions have taken place between them and Bemidji Township over detachment. City engineer Craig Gray said The Pioneer article was poorly timed, as the list was sent to Bemidji Township before Northern Township's vote.

"Because the matter is still pending and the mediated settlement is in essence still pending, the City of Bemidji fulfilled its obligation to take the initiative to identify those properties we believe, if in fact the mediated settlement goes forward, would not be eligible for detachment if in fact the settlement goes through," city attorney Al Felix said, adding the list is a public document. "There is no discussion going on with Bemidji Township," Felix added later. "We simply provided them what we believe to be the list of properties that are either connected to utilities or could be...and should not be part of any discussion about detachment."

City manager John Chattin said any action city staff take is done after discussions with their legal counsel in the matter, attorney Jim Thomson.

"That brings up a good point, I think we should have a meeting with (Thomson) as soon as we can," Councilor Ron Johnson said. He said councilors should make their position clear with him.

Felix said Thomson told Melbye in a recent court hearing that "we do not believe that the mediated settlement can move forward without Northern Township." Felix said the hearing was continued for 30 days.

The next court date between the two sides is scheduled for Sept. 11.

Councilor Roger Hellquist said Monday's discussion highlighted "a communication issue."

"We need to find some way to say we are not condoning this," he added. "We did what we had to do as part of something that was dictated by the court before Northern voted no."

Land sale approved

Following no comments from the public, the Bemidji Economic Development Authority unanimously authorized the signing of a purchase agreement for south shore land between the city and a Grand Forks, N.D.-based developer.

Northridge Construction Inc plans to build a high-end apartment building with 60 units on the west end of the Sanford Center parking lot. Construction is scheduled to begin this spring, according to a memo written by city attorney Al Felix.

The BEDA agreed to sell the 2.69 acres of land for $3 per square foot, or about $350,000, in June.

Park bid

The council accepted a $28,820 bid from St. Paul-based 106 Group to perform archeological services at Paul Bunyan and Library parks before they are redeveloped.

Marcia Larson, the city's parks and recreation director, said last week the firm will look for "cultural artifacts" in the area "and to make sure if we're developing the park we can avoid some of those areas and not impact some of the cultural resources that are there."

The cost also includes the area for the Carnegie Library building restoration. The committee raising funds for that project will reimburse the city $4,710 for those services.

Larson wrote in a memo to the council that the archeological work will need to be done before the proposed park development can start. That includes installing a platform for the new Chief Bemidji statue, which is scheduled to be installed in the fall.

Other business

• The council approved a bid from Rhode-Island-based Evan Fall Protection in the amount of $98,860 to install a fall protection system at the Sanford Center. The system will help keep employees safe while they work on catwalks.

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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