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On south shore beach, council to seek funding partners

BEMIDJI -- After hearing from consultants that the cost to clean up and create a south shore beach would approach $1.2 million, the City Council plans to seek funding partners.

"I don't see the city standing alone in doing this all by ourselves," said Mayor Rita Albrecht. "I do think there is a public benefit that would meet the eligibility for the contamination. I would not want to suggest that we are going to pay for this without investigating or at least applying for contamination cleanup (grants) through the state and redevelopment grants through the state."

In March, the city contracted with Landmark Environmental LLC to determine the cost estimates for creating the beach by cleaning up wood chip debris from the area identified to become the south shore swimming beach.

Landmark consultants in a Monday council work session detailed plans to create a 200-foot-by-400-foot swimming area by cleaning up the water in an area thrice that size.

By using a temporary barrier during fall, when water levels are lower, the area would be "de-watered" and wood chip debris would be excavated from the water and shoreline.

Meanwhile two spots of contaminated soil -- one located next to the old bathhouse has polynuclear aromatic hydrocarbons and one in the beach area has arsenic -- would also be removed.

Once clean, the barrier would then be removed.

"Once we take the barrier away, are we going to have beach water like we have at Diamond Point (beach) or is this suspension stuff going to hang in this water and this new beach won't be as clean and pristine?" asked Councilor Nancy Erickson, after hearing there are other areas, outside of the 1,200-foot-wide cleanup area, known to contain wood chip debris.

Craig Gray, public works director and city engineer, said no one knows how long precisely the swimming area would remain absolutely clean.

But by getting rid of the debris in and on the sediment the city would be clearing out the source for most of the debris in the area, said Sherry Van Duyn, vice president and senior civil engineer with Landmark,

"It's going to take out 200 feet (out from the shoreline) and then 1,200 feet along the shoreline," she said. "It's going to take the major source of (the debris) out of the area. Will you get a little drifting in from other areas? Yeah, you might get some, but it's not going to be near to the level of what it is now."

The project, expected to take about two months, carries a cost estimate of $1.18 million, according to Landmark consultants.

Albrecht said she would like to talk with local legislators and seek state grants to help cover the clean-up costs. Noting that the Paul Bunyan State Trail runs right along where the beach is planned, she wondered whether the Department of Natural Resources would be willing to partner on costs for a public restrooms for trail users.

"I'm just trying to think out of the box here because I am just not willing to look at that $1.2 million number and think that the city of Bemidji should pay that all by ourselves," she said.

Wood chip debris consists of everything from planks, or large pieces of wood, to smaller more mulch-like debris. Landmark has been working with two local companies that have expressed an interest in hauling away that debris at no charge.

Gray, saying that he did not think the debris would be valuable enough to charge for its removal, compared the potential business partnerships to last year's city decision to offer wood chips to the public for free following the July 2 windstorm that knocked out hundreds of local trees.

"We'll just be glad to get rid of it for no cost," he said.

Bonding question?

The cost estimate of $1.2 million solely covers the cost for the swimming beach cleanup.

Marcia Larson, parks and recreation director, said the master plan for the enter south shore park -- envisioned with a traditional play structure and splash pad -- is projected to cost upward of $1.4 million, not including the swimming beach cleanup.

Renovation of the existing warming house would be at least $265,000 more, Larson reported.

Farther north along the Lake Bemidji shoreline, the Paul Bunyan Park/Library Park project also is seeking funds for its redevelopment, estimated to cost anywhere from $2.9 million to $3.4 million.

The city, according to Larson, has about $725,000 remaining of its half-cent sales tax that was dedicated to park redevelopment and the city also secured $750,000 from the state in Legacy funds.

The council briefly discussed whether it should seek approval to take out bonds to cover the south shore park project, but agreed to continue the discussion until an Aug. 12 work session, when staff could present additional information.

"I am not recommending a bond referendum until we have exhausted every potential funding source at the state level," Albrecht said.

Several councilors, including Erickson and Roger Hellquist, said the council made a promise to its residents in 2009 when it sold Nymore Beach as part of a land deal to the Edgewater Group that it would replace the beach as part of the south shore redevelopment.

"We promised the public when we did this and before knowing what the chips were going to cost ... We're reneging on a promise as far as I'm concerned," Hellquist said.