Beltrami County commissioners get look at roads, parks
In an itinerary that covered every commissioner's district, the Beltrami County Board and staff members made on-site inspections Tuesday of planned and accomplished infrastructure improvements.
The first stop was the Bemidji Regional Airport expansion where Airport Manager Harold Van Leeuwen led the commissioners through what will be new security areas, additional restrooms, a lunch counter, luggage carousels, jet bridge and firefighter base. Van Leeuwen said tree planting would start Tuesday. Except for the parking lot improvements, which will be phased in next year, the expansion will be complete by mid-October.
The new facilities will be heated and cooled by water from 77 geothermal wells, and all the light fixtures will be LED or compact fluorescents. They will also be motion-activated so they will turn off when no one is around. Also new will be a north substation for the Bemidji Fire Department with firefighters staffing the site 15 hours per day.
Commissioner Jack Frost, who is a county representative to the airport board, said with the use of geothermal and efficient lighting, the cost of utilities for the expanded airport will not increase.
The tour moved on to Rognlien Park on Grant Lake in Wilton. The 3.5 acres for the park were donated to the state in 1937 by M.A. Rognlien as a memorial to his son. In 1938, it was developed by the Civilian Conservation Corps. In 2005, because of state budget cuts, the State Parks Department sold the site to Beltrami County for $1.
"Since the county took it over, the management has been three times, maybe 10 times better," said Park Manager John Winter.
Rognlien Park is a popular and attractive community park with 180,000 visitors in 2010. In pleasant weather, weekend visits can top 1,500 per day. The park is also enhanced by the managements of hosts Arland and Marlys Lindquist, who mow the grass, take care of garbage and remind visitors to keep their dogs on leashes and follow the other park regulations.
Three Island Park
Commissioners stopped at Three Island Park for a walleye lunch and to look over the renovated area near the Turtle River dam. The area that used to be drive-in with worn grass and a rutted, muddy track is now a walk-in area with a wheelchair-accessible path. A safe, new bridge spans the river over the dam, and fish ladders allow walleye and other fish to swim over the dam to the lake, which is a prime spawning environment. The improvements include a warming house/picnic shelter funded by a $20,000 Department of Natural Resources grant and a $11,000 Northwoods Snowmobile Club donation. Winter said he also worked with the Three Island Lake Association.
Extensive archeological explorations in 2009 showed that the site has been visited by people for 3,000 years. Artifacts found at the digs include pottery shards from three American Indian cultures, as well as fish bones and other items. Interpretive signs explain the people who used the area before modern settlers arrived.
"Kind of nice to interpret it and respect it," said Winter.
He said when the road was removed, he expected people to complain, but people are happy with the area as a walk-in section of the park.
The shelter is scheduled to be dedicated Sept. 24
At 3,000 acres, Three Island Park is the largest county park in Minnesota. The archeological site is on the way to being listed on the National Register of Historic Places, which will also make Three Island Park unique. The ski trail sign system has also been recognized as one of the best nationally, Winter said.
Three Island Park was deeded by the state to Beltrami County in 1969.
Interspersed between and after the parks visits, the commissioners toured 25 roads that are on the five-year improvement plan. Some of them, such as the road into Three Island Park and the widened County Road 507 to allow logging trucks to turn into the Norbord plant, have been complete. Others are scheduled for 2012 through 2016.
Some roads, such as County Road 5, which was surfaced in 1977 and just patched since then, will be milled and new overlay applied in 2016. The work will run from the Solway corner six miles north to Pinewood.
"When bituminous gets old, it gets brittle," said County Engineer Bruce Hasbargen. "We've got a lot of needs with our bituminous, more than we have money."
Other roads will have less extensive repairs.
Some projects will be completed jointly with Hubbard County. Discussion is also under way with the Red Lake Nation, which might use some federal money to partner on the repair of the northern section of County Road 15.
Decisions on which roads to include in the five-year plan relate to traffic counts conducted by the Minnesota Department of Transportation on a regular basis. For example, County Road 32 east of County Road 31 needs work, but it didn't make the list because it only carries an average of 345 vehicles per day.
Hasbargen also took the commissioners to a section of County Road 37, which only has a traffic count of 75, but which is soft clay, making for dangerous driving. He plans to try a product called Permazyme on one mile of that road. The product is supposed to bind with the clay to make a hard surface.