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City to look at cleaning up south shore

BEMIDJI – The city took a step toward cleaning up the south shore of Lake Bemidji Monday night.  

The city council during its work session directed staff to contract with a firm to help determine the costs of cleaning up the beach of wood debris. That is a first step in potentially having a swimming beach there as part of development on the south shore.

That money for consulting work, about $36,000, will come out of the Sanford Center contingency fund.

City engineer Craig Gray said the firm, Landmark Environmental LLC, would help obtain necessary permits and construction bids for the city.

Meanwhile, the council asked for more information on a proposal to phase-in the Paul Bunyan Park development plan.

The parks and trails commission recommended starting on a piece of that plan, focusing on the area known as the Third Street spine, with the remaining local sales tax dollars in 2014.

That would potentially include closing off the third street exit from the parking lot and improving the plaza area.  

While the council didn’t vote yes or no on the proposal, there was some pushback on improving parks in separate phases.

“It’s like trying to remodel half of your living room,” Ward 3 Councilor Ron Johnson said earlier in the discussion.

Mayor Rita Albrecht had concerns it would add costs and cause logistical problems for the activities that happen at the park.

The city has about $744,000 left of the revenue generated from the local half-percent sales tax for development of that park. But the estimated total cost for that park is between $2.9 million and $3.4 million.

The city was informed at the end of 2012 that its application for Legacy amendment dollars from the state was not funded.

The council discussed, but took no action on, potentially bonding for park improvements, an idea Ward 1 Councilor Michael Meehlhause described as a “backup plan” in case Legacy money doesn’t come through in the future.

A $4 million general obligation bond paid over 15 years would raise the city tax levy by about 7.6 percent, said city finance director Ron Eischens. A GO bond proposal would have to be approved by voters.

Ward 2 Councilor Roger Hellquist said while he supports the idea of improving parks, he was concerned with adding costs to the taxpayers.

Despite little clarity on where money for improving them may come from, councilors expressed support for having vibrant parks.

 “I think that great cities have to have great parks,” said Ward 4 Councilor Reed Olson.

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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