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Whiting to retire as head of treatment plant

His goal has always been to keep Lake Bemidji clean.

But now, after 35 years with the city of Bemidji, Tim Whiting, the superintendent of the Wastewater Treatment Facility, is preparing for retirement.

Officially, it will be 34 years and 11 months when he retires on May 2, Whiting noted.

"The most satisfying thing is that I've worked to keep the lake clean," Whiting said. "That was always my first priority."

Whiting, who was born in Bemidji, joined the city's workforce after graduating from Bemidji High School in 1970. He first joined the city in its sewer line department and then joined the staff at the old wastewater treatment plant.

He had taken classes in high school in chemistry and biology, so he was put in charge of laboratory testing at the treatment plant, Whiting explained.

"No one else wanted to do that," he said.

In 1973, Whiting was named chief operator at the old plant, where he was involved in the system that removed phosphorus from the water.

Back then, there was a lot of weed and algae growth due to phosphorus, and the system utilized chemicals to remove the element from the water, he explained.

The new treatment plant, which opened in 1985 with Whiting as its superintendent, allows just .3 milligrams of phosphorus per liter of water.

"Evidence of that is apparent in the condition of Lake Bemidji and downstream rivers," Whiting said.

The city of Bemidji earlier this year began looking into the possibility of privatizing the treatment plant. Last month, the city learned through proposals from private firms that the treatment plant could be operated with three fewer full-time employees (five versus eight) and save about $100,000 annually.

Whiting, 56, said he "wrestled" with what to do once the city's intentions became clear. He ultimately decided to retire after realizing that the city of Bemidji was seeking someone to lead the treatment plant who had more of an engineering background, Whiting said.

"It was time I retired," he said. "This is good for everyone."

Looking back on his career, Whiting said he took pride in knowing that his job helped improve the condition of Lake Bemidji - that was always his main goal, he said.

"I think the new person will certainly have the same goal at heart - and should," Whiting said.

Whiting, who is married with two grown children, said he plans to spend his retirement fishing, hunting and traveling a bit. But, he expects to rejoin the workforce after half a year or so.

Perhaps in a more hands-on role at a treatment plant somewhere, he speculated.

"I have a lot of knowledge about how these things work," Whiting said, adding that he enjoys doing lab work and working outside.