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Energy audit gets the green light

BEMIDJI -- The Bemidji City Council on Monday approved initiating an energy audit of city facilities.

That audit will be performed by Honeywell, which will find ways how the city can save money on energy. The firm originally estimated that the city could save between $230,000 and $270,000 per year if they follow through on some recommendations.

The council approved initiating the audit unanimously.

City finance director Ron Eischens said, in general, all of the costs to implement projects recommended by Honeywell would be paid back by energy savings. He said those projects could cost as much as $5 million.

Once Honeywell completes the audit, "they will guarantee the energy savings that they project," Eischens said. "So that if the city does not actually realize those benefits, Honeywell is on the hook to pay the city the difference."

Should the council choose not to implement any energy-saving projects, the city would still have to pay Honeywell $56,000 in city reserves for the audit, Eischens said.

City engineer and public works director Craig Gray said he had concerns about tying city staff to working with Honeywell for the near future, and suggested taking a hard look at the audit when it returns. He said energy-efficiency projects could total from $5 million to $8 million.

"I do believe the energy savings are there," Gray said. "But we're going to have to think about are we going to hitch our horse to this wagon for a decade?"

City manager John Chattin said some of the energy projects the city already has planned in its long-range capital improvement plan could be done sooner because of the audit process.

"I personally think it's time for this city to move forward on some energy efficiency in our facilities," Mayor Rita Albrecht said. "And I appreciate that there's that opportunity to save those taxpayer dollars."

"To me this makes a lot of sense," she added.

Carnegie update

Lew Crenshaw, chair of the Save the Carnegie committee, reported they have raised $641,700 in its effort to restore the historic building.

Crenshaw said the committee is in the middle of writing grants, including a state Legacy grant for $386,000. The city of Bemidji has already submitted its $800,000 bonding request to the state Legislature.

Volunteers hope to raise $1.6 million to renovate the building and move it away from State Highway 197.

"We are getting broad support from the community," Crenshaw said. "We're making progress. We're confident."

According to a two-page update provided by the committee, volunteers have put in more than 2,050 hours. Goods and services totaling $11,000 have been donated.

Most recently, the committee received a $150,000 donation from an Illinois couple, Andreas and Marilyn Kuhn of Godfrey, Ill., in memory of their grandson, Jordan Klope, who died at the age of 15.

"Our success really continues, as it always has, on finding those individuals and families who love our city but also have the capacity to give us those really generous and meaningful gifts," Crenshaw 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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