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Paul Bunyan Transit: $1 million for expansion

Paul Bunyan Transit has been awarded $1 million in federal stimulus dollars to fund an expansion of its operations.

"The beauty behind the federal stimulus (grant) is that there is no local match," said Greg Negard, the executive director of Paul Bunyan Transit

Typically, grants awarded require a 20 percent local funding match, Negard noted.

Paul Bunyan Transit will send out a request for building proposals for a new facility that would add on to the existing building, house about 12 buses, a mechanical shop and a bus wash, Negard said.

"Basically, it would be large enough, with our existing facility, to cover us for 15-20 years," he said. "We're trying to look into the future."

Paul Bunyan Transit now has 13 buses and a van. The current building houses 10 buses.

"But we're squeezed in there pretty tight," Negard said.

Paul Bunyan Transit received two new buses in 2009.

And, in addition to the $1 million grant, Paul Bunyan Transit received another federal grant to purchase a bus that was scheduled for 2010.

The expansion, when complete, will add office space for administrative staff, which Negard said is needed.

There now are five full-time staff members, including Negard, nine full-time drivers and about seven part-time drivers.

The Bemidji City Council on Monday voted 5-0 to purchase a 1.53 acre parcel immediately south of the current Paul Bunyan Transit property for $70,000 to accommodate the expansion.

Paul Bunyan Transit has not yet received the $1 million, but once that money is in hand, it will repay the city for the land.

Negard, a Bemidji city councilor, abstained from Monday's vote. Councilor Ron Johnson was absent.

Paul Bunyan Transit last month celebrated its 10-year anniversary, offering coupons for free rides.

"It was a really big success," Negard said.

Many Paul Bunyan Transit riders use the system to get to and from work, and Negard said the coupons for free rides were welcomed.

"Instead of cake or cookies, it was something they could just cut out of the page and get a free ride," he said. "It was great."