Bemidji reaches settlement with 3M to handle chemicals in water

The city of Bemidji and 3M came to an agreement for the company to pay the city $12.5 million to support operations at a new water treatment plant. The facility will remove chemicals, produced by 3M, from the city's water wells.

The water treatment plant is located at 3115 Gillett Drive NW, near the Bemidji Regional Airport. (Jillian Gandsey / Bemidji Pioneer)

BEMIDJI -- After nearly five months of negotiating, the city of Bemidji and Minnesota-based company 3M have reached a settlement related to chemicals in local water systems.

According to a release from the two entities, the Bemidji City Council on Monday approved an agreement resolving its claims against 3M, which produced the chemicals. The chemicals, known as PFAs, are pervasive in the environment and don't break down over time.

Since the 1930s, such chemicals have been used in various products, including firefighting foams. In the last 20 years, they've come to be considered an emerging contaminant.

Locally, the Bemidji Regional Airport, which is located near the city's water wells has been used as a training ground for local fire departments, which used the foam in the past. In 2016, the city began analyzing the amount of PFAs in the water wells and, to meet environmental and health standards met by state agencies, chose to build a plant to treat the chemicals.

In summer 2020, the city approved a $7.34 million project to construct the plant , with a second phase planned in the future to expand the facility and increase the amount of water that can be treated. In fall, the Legislature approved a bonding bill with $10.1 million for the project's second phase.


Around the same time, in mid-October, the city launched its litigation claim against 3M. In the agreement approved by both parties, 3M is now set to contribute $12.5 million to the construction of the facility and the treatment operations.

"Our estimate for the second phase is $10.1 million, which will include pre-design, engineering, construction and equipment," City Manager Nate Mathews said. "The funding from the state will help build the project, as will the funds from 3M. The facility will have a new treatment mechanism, resulting in operational costs, and we know we will have to hire an additional staff member to run this plant. These funds will be used for those purposes."

A statement in the release stated, "the city believes that the agreement provides a durable funding mechanism for completion and operation of its treatment system, without passing on additional costs to residents - a great thing for Bemidji and its water customers."

"I'm very pleased with the outcome of the settlement. It's the result of number of months of discussion and negotiation with 3M," said Bemidji Mayor Jorge Prince. "I think it's wonderful news for our community."

The facility is expected to be in operation this month.

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