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City wastewater plant completes upgrade

Mike Forbes, co-superintendent of Bemidji’s Wastewater Treatment Facility stands inside a section of the new $4.6 million digester unit. The city held an open house Tuesday to showcase the completed project. Monte Draper | Bemidji Pioneer

BEMIDJI – After about a year and a half of construction, a $4.6 million upgrade to the wastewater treatment facility has been completed.

The new digester building, which was finished last month, was showed off to the public in an open house last week. The new addition is meant to help the plant meet increased demand for processing solid waste.

Plant co-superintendent Mike Forbes said the plant was originally designed to take in 4,000 pounds of solids a day. A recent study found it often handles 6,000 to 8,000 pounds daily.

“The solids that come into our wastewater facility have increased,” Forbes said. “So with only one primary digester we weren’t able to treat those solids as easily and break them down as well.”

He said the reason may be an increase in food service businesses in the city.

“It’s not just all the restaurants, but there are more nursing homes, (and) schools have expanded since they designed this place,” Forbes said. “The actual volume of water we treat hasn’t increased, it’s just that for every gallon there’s more stuff in it.”

Once the solids go through the plant, they’re sent to farm fields as fertilizer, Forbes said.

The city saved some money on the project because Forbes and fellow co-superintendent Al Gorick acted as construction managers. With a project this size, a construction management firm is usually involved, said city engineer Craig Gray.

“In this case, it was probably going to cost $200,000 over the two-year period,” Gray said.

The city has $3.8 million budgeted for various smaller projects at the plant in its latest five-year capital improvement plan. Those projects are slated to be paid for by city sewer fees. 

The council voted in 2011 for a one-time 15 percent increase of sewer fees in 2012 to help pay for unexpected additional costs of the digester project. The city plans to increase sewer fees by 3 percent annually for the next five years, city finance director Ron Eischens said.

The wastewater facility was constructed in 1985 for $12 million.

“There’s always going to be some projects because of the age of our facility,” Forbes said. 

John Hageman

John Hageman covers North Dakota politics from the Forum News Service bureau in Bismarck. He attended the University of Minnesota in the Twin Cities, where he studied journalism and political science, and he previously worked at the Grand Forks Herald and Bemidji Pioneer.  

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