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Bemidji City Council awards Birchmont Drive bid

While the environmental enhancements caused by utility improvements along Birchmont Drive are certainly noteworthy, City Attorney Al Felix said the project is really about the residents.

"You can't forget this is a people issue," he said.

He reminded the council that it allowed for a system under which township residents who will be annexed into the city could still approach the City Council with petitions in favor of local projects.

A sewer and water extension project was initiated after residents presented a petition to the Bemidji City Council in February 2005. The project later expanded to include Beltrami County and its intention to include the improvement of Birchmont Drive.

The Bemidji City Council on Monday unanimously voted to award a bid to Arcon Construction for utility improvements and road work for Birchmont Drive. The project, which is projected to cost $5.48 million, will be funded through assessments and a $1.4 million contribution from Beltrami County.

There are 216 parcels that will be affected by planned sewer and water improvements. Property owners connecting to sewer only would be assessed $14,470 and those connecting to sewer and water would be assessed $21,040.

City Engineer Craig Gray told the council that about 40 percent of affected residents are against the project due to the assessment costs.

There could be property owners who challenge the assessments at a meeting to be held this fall, he said. If some win those challenges, their assessments could be lowered or dropped and the project could be underfunded, he explained.

"If there are successful challenges, some dollar amount may not be covered (in the project's revenue)," Gray said, noting that the city could be facing a $100,000 to $300,000 shortfall.

He also said there is a group of residents who oppose the project who have taken or are considering legal action.

Councilor Nancy Erickson questioned why the city should bear the risk in the project when it is a partnership between the city, Northern Township and Beltrami County.

She also asked why Beltrami County was only contributing $1.4 million toward the road work portion of the project when it will cost more than that amount.

Gray said he and City Manager John Chattin have met with County Administrator Tony Murphy regarding the county's contribution.

"They're committed to having more discussions with the city manager and I," he said. Chattin added that the county is waiting to see figures that justify a higher contribution.

Both also explained that assessments would be higher if the county was not involved because Birchmont Drive would still need to be excavated and repaired back to its original condition if only utility improvements were being done.

"We would still have substantially more costs if the county wasn't involved," Chattin said.

The Northern Township Board of Supervisors voted 4-1 March 24 to approve the project. The recommendation was forwarded to the Bemidji City Council, which had to either award the bid Monday or allow 11 received bids to expire.

"You're never going to get this project done for any less," Gray said, noting that the city received good bids. "It's never going to get any cheaper."

The City Council did not take public comment on the matter during Monday's meeting.