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Bemidji Regional Airport terminal project nears groundbreaking

Work will soon begin on the $8 million Bemidji Regional Airport terminal renovation and expansion project.

The project, which will nearly double the square footage of the current terminal, needs a lot of paperwork to be completed before dirt can be turned, says Airport Executive Director Harold Van Leeuwen.

Plumbing plans are under state review and should be completed next week, and state review of building plans is underway, he told the Bemidji Airport Authority on Wednesday evening.

"The city has indicated it will issue a footings, utilities and ground work permit once the plumbing plan is reviewed by the state to allow work to start," Van Leeuwen said.

Probable start of work on the project is July 6, he said. A groundbreaking ceremony will be held in later July or early August, depending on schedules of U.S. Reps. Jim Oberstar, DFL-8th District, and Collin Peterson, DFL-7th District.

Most of the expansion is to accommodate a larger screening area and a larger secured waiting area, as well as updating a 20-year-old building with electrical and plumbing.

Authority Commissioner Jim Lucachick said he was concerned about local work on the project and reiterated his request that the Authority receive from contractor Donlar a list of subcontractors and the value provided by local subcontractors.

Van Leeuwen said local contractors should score more than 50 percent of the project total with three Bemidji firms doing lion's share of the work - Peterson Sheet Metal for plumbing, Hanson Electric for electrical work and Reierson Construction for groundwork.

"We're trying to keep as much money and jobs in the local community," said Authority Chairman Marshall Froyd.

According to Federal Aviation Administration rules, since federal money is involved, a safety and phasing plan with Donlar is nearing completion, Van Leeuwen said. Once done, a notice to proceed will be issued.

Because of high bids on the project, Authority commissioners rejected two bids for a jet bridge, saving $423,234 as bid by the low bidder. Instead, the project will be rebid next year when a new pot of federal funding can be tapped and add it to the terminal project as Phase 2, along with landscaping and entryway work.

It is anticipated the jet bridge can be put in place in the fall of 2011 or spring of 2012, and will not affect the new terminal's operational date, Van Leeuwen said.

"It can be an added incentive for another air carrier, but it is essential for our customers, who are aging and we can't have them climbing in and out of a plane on steps," he said. "Delta is looking at quicker turnaround times as well, and it could save 10 or 20 minutes."

Delta is now sending CRJ regional jets to Bemidji, with the last flight of the day incoming to Bemidji a regional jet that stays overnight.

"That is been a real plus for us," he said. "We have 40 to 50 people on that outgoing flight in the morning, which makes connections in the Twin Cities."

While most of the project is federally funded from Airport Improvement Project funding, there is a local match. The Bemidji Regional Airport will issue $1.3 million in tax-exempt facility bonds as the local match, to be paid off with passenger fee charges paid when flights leave or embark at Bemidji.

A public hearing on the bond issue is slated for 4:30 p.m. July 7 in the airport terminal conference room.

"The bond will be repaid by the passengers using the airport, not the taxpayers of Beltrami County or the city of Bemidji," Froyd said.

Target issue date for the bonds is Aug. 4.