City authorizes first phase of water treatment plant project

Concept art for Bemidji's new Water Treatment Facility provided by the city of Bemidji.

BEMIDJI -- The city of Bemidji took another step Tuesday toward breaking ground on a new water plant to treat forever chemicals.

Since discovering perfluorocarbons, or PFCs, near the city's water wells just east of the Bemidji Regional Airport, the city has been exploring options to stay within state guidelines. Over the past several months, the city chose to construct a new facility near the wells to treat the water and remove the PFCs.

At its meeting Tuesday, city elected officials and staff opted to undertake the project in two phases, with the facility to be built in the near future with an expansion later. The goal is to have the near term plant operational by the end of the year.

When the near term facility is finished, consultants for the city said it will be able to handle about 1,800 gallons per minute. Once the expansion is in place, the plant will be able to handle 2,500 gallons per minute.

The City Council authorized Public Works Director Craig Gray to pursue bids on four sections of the plant project. Those include:


  • The purchase and installation of precast concrete panels that the building will be constructed of, estimated at $670,000.
  • The purchase and installation of a treatment system to remove iron and manganese, estimated at $1.25 million.
  • The purchase and installation of a granulated activated carbon treatment system to remove the PFCs, estimated at $1.2 million.
  • Hiring a contractor to build the plant and install the treatment systems, estimated at $2.45 million.

According to Gray, the plan is to have the first three become open for bids on March 10, and have bids presented to the council on March 16. Then, open the bidding for the fourth in late April, with a presentation to the council in May or June.
In total, the estimated cost is $5.57 million, and when including engineering and inspection, the cost comes to $6.28 million. According to officials, the expansion for the facility to come later will cost $10 million, for a total of about $16.3 million. To pay for the project, the city will take on short-term debt until other funding sources are determined.

"The challenge of the project, if it's going to be completed by the end of the year, is you have to get some of the materials ordered," said Finance Director Ron Eischens. "We as a city don't know how ultimately it's going to be paid for. There are three things in the works right now that we hope to see some results on."

Those three include a request to the Legislature for funding through a bonding bill, which would cover half of the amount, authorization on implementing a new 0.5% sales tax, and legal action against the producer of the chemicals, 3M.

If the sales tax is authorized by the state Legislature, and later approved by Bemidji citizens in a referendum, the dollars would go to the water treatment plant and the wastewater treatment plant. At the latter, improvements and upgrades coming to more than $10 million are needed to meet potential new state guidelines and add capacity to meet city growth.

Additionally, part of the revenue from a sales tax would go toward capital maintenance at the Sanford Center, to reduce the amount of property taxes dedicated to the city-owned facility.

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