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New task force OK'd; approval does not authorize any funding

Councilor Onen Markeson may continue his efforts in establishing the Bemidji Sustainability Task Force.

The Bemidji City Council on Monday unanimously approved the request without dedicating funding to the task force.

Markeson learned of a similar effort in the city of Duluth during the League of Minnesota conference held earlier this summer.

The goal of the Bemidji task force is to "formulate recommendations for the preservation and protection of the area's ecosystems and natural resources so that our use of natural resources is in balance for nature's ability to replenish them," according to the agenda report on the task force.

One of the possible projects the task force would examine, Markeson said, would be the possibility of having Bemidji City Hall's heating and air-conditioning system replaced with a more energy-efficient system.

Wisconsin-based Johnson Controls Inc., which offers solutions for operating buildings effectively and efficiently, has said it believes the aging system could be replaced without impacting the city's budget, Markeson said.

There are state loans available that would pay to replace the system, and the cost savings from the newer, more energy-efficient system would cover the cost, he explained.

The task force is proposed to consist of two council members, two representatives from Bemidji State University's faculty or staff, two city staff members, two BSU students, one representative of the Bemidji Youth Advisory Committee and three city residents.

Mayor Richard Lehmann mentioned another potential project for the task force regarding America in Bloom, whose judges recommended that LED lights be used in the city's signal lights.

The stoplight at highways 197 and 71 utilizes LED lights, which are bright enough to shine through dense fog, Lehmann said.

"And they use one-tenth of the energy," he said.

Councilor Jerry Downs suggested that the task force be expanded to be the Bemidji Area Sustainability Task Force and include representatives from the county and school district as well.

"I think the issue is bigger than the city," he said.

But Markeson wanted to keep it dedicated to the city. He was worried that opening it up or making the task force too large would slow the process down, he said.

During the BSU Student Senate update earlier in the meeting, President Cody Nelson said the senate is asking the university to consider funding a sustainability coordinator.

Markeson said it is possible that other entities, such as the school district and county, are also looking into their own ways of furthering their interests and needs.

Councilor Barb Meuers said the task force could always be expanded once it gains momentum.

"Start small and see what happens," she said.

It was proposed that if task force recommendations result in measurable savings for the city, the task force would receive half of those savings for its use.

Lehmann said he supported the task force idea, but would want to see a detailed budget plan - and specifics on how savings would be measured - before starting to spend money.

Markeson said he was not requesting funding at this point, but did want approval to continue seeking potential members.

"(The task force budget) is going to be subject to debate, I'm sure, and different opinions," he said.