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Bemidji Township hires annexation attorney

Bemidji Township has hired an attorney to aid the township in any future annexation discussions with the city of Bemidji.

The attorney, John J. Steffenhagen with Hellmuth & Johnson in Edina, Minn., sent a letter to Al Felix, Bemidji city attorney, on Wednesday stating that he had been retained by the township.

The city of Bemidji and Bemidji and Northern townships all signed in 2004 an orderly annexation agreement dictating a three-phased plan through which select township properties would be brought into the city limits. The first phase was eligible for annexation in January, but the city decided to hold off on enacting annexation as township officials asked that they be allowed to meet in small committees with city councilors to re-examine the property lines in the agreement.

City Councilors Rita Albrecht and Greg Negard have been chosen to represent the city on the Bemidji Township committee while Bemidji Township chose supervisors Jan Heuer and Lowell Vagle as its representatives.

As of Friday, no meeting date for the Bemidji Township/city of Bemidji committee had been set.

Steffenhagen told the Pioneer Friday that his involvement at this time is not intended to thwart that process, but that Bemidji Township wanted to involve someone who had expertise on the annexation issues.

Steffenhagen, according to his law firm's biography, has more than 20 years of experience and specializes in municipal law, commercial litigation and employment law and litigation. He served as the lead trial counsel for the incorporation of the city of Columbus, through which a township won legal status as a city and defeated annexation of a commercial district to a larger neighboring city, according to the law firm.

"(Bemidji Township) thought this was an important issue," Steffenhagen said, explaining that his role at this time is to provide guidance and assistance. "It's just a matter of good business practice."

Felix said Friday that he believed the letter from Steffenhagen stated simply that he had been retained by the township and believes the committee process could still move forward.

"The township is the one that asked us to meet," Felix said. "We're just following along with their request."

Northern Township and city officials met in an amiable committee last week, at which time Northern Township representatives offered a potential plan through which the annexation would occur in two stages, speeding up the annexation timeframe for a select group of Northern Township properties and preserving more than 1,600 acres of land as township property.

Any revision to the orderly annexation agreement would require support from all three entities.