BEMIDJI -- After a lengthy discussion regarding the company's background, the Bemidji City Council approved a bid from Reierson Construction on Monday to handle 2021 street renewal projects.

On an annual basis, the city selects several roads, often grouped together in one area, for reconstruction as part of its Street Renewal Program. For 2021, the following roads were selected for reconstruction:

  • Fern Street Northwest, from Power Drive to U.S. Highway 71.
  • Ash Avenue Northwest, from Paul Bunyan Drive to 23rd Street.
  • 26th Street Northwest, from a dead end west of Delton Avenue to Bemidji Avenue.

The city engineer's estimate for the projects was $1.53 million, and the low bid was from Reierson Construction at $1.47 million, followed by Northern Paving at $1.54 million. During its March 1 meeting, though, where the bids were first introduced, the staff raised concerns with the council about issues in the past with Reierson.

On Monday, Reierson was able to respond to some of the concerns raised. Following a back and forth between the city, the company and legal representation from both parties, the council approved the bid in a 5-2 vote.

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Voting in favor of the move were council members Nancy Erickson, Ron Johnson, Josh Peterson, Emelie Rivera and Audrey Thayer. Mayor Jorge Prince and council member Daniel Jourdain, meanwhile, were against.

One of the main issues discussed before Monday's vote was an incident in May 2019 when a water main break caused flooding in Bemidji's Nymore area, where more than a dozen homes being impacted, some with severe water damage.

As part of its clarifications to the city on Monday, Reierson stated that its crews were working at the intersection of Pershing Avenue Southeast and Second Street to remove and replace an old sanitary sewer equipment piece. In order to complete this task, the company had to confirm the location of the existing water main, which is buried deeper than the equipment piece.

Reierson crews dug and found the existing water main and left dirt under the pipe to support it. However, the company claims that there had been years of erosion of soil that ultimately gave way.

Additionally, Reierson claims that the break occurred where a cross pipe connected to the water main. The company states that the pipes should have used tie rods, which would have prevented the situation. Reierson also claims that residents' homes were flooded because of a delay in shutting off the water after the incident.

RELATED: Impacts from Nymore water main break linger as issue goes to legal system

In response, Monday's agenda included a document from the city's legal representation which had disagreements. The document states that the incident occurred "because Reierson failed to support the water mains while excavating despite an obligation to do so under the project specifications."

In the time since, Reierson has reached settlements with some of the residents impacted, while it remains in litigation with others.

In addition to the 2019 incident, city staff also noted that there have been half a dozen projects awarded to Reierson Construction that have not been completed on time. Additionally, the city has received concerns from residents over the lawn restoration to boulevards after projects.

In a letter to council, the company stated that "Reierson Construction is committed to getting the 2021 Bemidji street renewal project completed on time and according to project specifications." The company also stated it intends to add Flying Gardens as a subcontractor for the boulevard.

In his comments regarding his no vote, Prince said, "I am all about local jobs and all about supporting local businesses. I've done that for 30 years, it's not easy for me to not do that."

Prince added, though, that he partially based the vote on language included in communication with the company.

"When I read 'the fact that repair warranty work is also irrelevant to responsibility,' I have to take that at its face value, sent to me by Reierson," Prince said. "This isn't conciliatory . This isn't someone saying 'we've learned from our mistakes, we're going to strive to do a better job because we care about our community.' When I take it at face value, I can't support a motion."

"I wonder if we have not sufficiently notified Reierson Construction of our displeasure? I think we have, council, and I think the staff have also," Erickson said. "I am of the standing here that I would support awarding this lowest bid to Reierson. That Reierson knows they're on notice for performance."

Lake Irving phosphorus protection

Another approval made Monday evening was for a project to remove phosphorus that would otherwise go into Lake Irving. Over the past four years, city staff have been working with the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, the Beltrami County Soil and Water Conservation District, the firm H.R. Green and the Mississippi Headwaters Board to consider stormwater improvements that would provide phosphorus treatment to the lake.

The lake is considered an impaired body of water for nutrients because of the high levels of phosphorus. Additionally, the levels of phosphorus in Lake Bemidji are nearing impaired status.

RELATED: Endocrine disruptors in lakes are becoming an emerging concern

The MPCA has now established a total daily load of phosphorus for the lake, meaning the city must reduce the amount of phosphorus going into the lake by 36%, or 267 pounds, per year. An option brought forward by H.R. Green is an improvement to a ditch flowing into Lake Irving which could remove 230 pounds of phosphorus per year.

The low bid is from $326,129 and the engineer's estimate was $430,000. When adding design, change order contingencies and engineering, the amount comes to $488,129. To assist with the project, the city has received $50,000 from Enbridge and $152,000 from the Board of Water and Soil Resources.

After a staff presentation, the council approved the bid and project's associated work.

Another project authorized by the council Monday was an interior one. During the meeting, the council also voted to approve a bid from NLFX of $91,678 to improve both audio and video capabilities in the City Hall meeting chamber.

The city's consultant for the project, MoreCom, had provided an estimate of $149,998. As a result, MoreCom staff informed the council Monday that the bid amount for the project allows financial flexibility if future upgrades are needed.

RELATED: More coverage of the Bemidji City Council