BEMIDJI -- Construction of a new water treatment plant for Bemidji's water wells was authorized to begin by the City Council at their latest meeting.

Located near the Bemidji Regional Airport, the new facility will treat chemicals in the water pumped from the wells known as perfluorocarbons. These chemicals were previously used in firefighting foams and are in the vicinity of the wells because the airport has been used as a training area for local fire departments.

During their meeting Monday, the council awarded the bid of $6.06 million to Rice Lake Contracting to begin construction on the facility, which is considered the first phase of the project overall. Eventually, the city intends to expand the facility and increase the amount of water that can be treated.

Along with the bid from Rice Lake Contracting, the council also hired Barr Engineering at a cost of $440,000 to handle design and inspection work. When including other costs such as construction contingencies and needed upgrades to the city's sanitary sewer lift stations, the total comes to $7.34 million.

"We're planning on having a pre-construction meeting with our general contractor on June 18, and I would expect we'll see some construction starting in early July," Public Works Director Craig Gray told the Pioneer. "We're hoping to have the plant up and running by the end of January."

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When including the next phase of the project to expand the plant, Gray said the estimated cost is $14 million. To assist with the project costs, the city is seeking financial support from the Minnesota Legislature by way of a bonding bill.

While such legislation wasn't passed in the regular session, the city is hoping a bonding bill is passed and signed during the state's special session, which started Friday.

"It's imperative that the Legislature pass a bonding bill and we really need to have their assistance," Mayor Rita Albrecht told the Pioneer. "It's important for us to have a bonding bill passed, and for us to be in that bonding bill. So we've been contacting legislators to include us. We're hopeful we'll get some state aid, because we feel clean water is a value everyone shares and the state should help with that."

Another action the council took Monday was to allow a project to continue developing at the city's North Country Park. The park is located north of 30th Street Northwest and directly west of Delton Avenue, and contains nearly 20 acres of space.

The plan is for the city, in partnership with the Bemidji Rotary Club, to develop a natural playground, which uses native plants, hills and trees to help form park equipment. According to Parks and Recreation Department Director Marcia Larson, the project is being staged in multiple phases over several years.

"We're focusing on 'phase one,' which includes a 'creation station' and a 'pollinator path," Larson said. "We also know that the group wants the park to have a water feature."

Construction is set to begin in spring 2021, but some work such as seeding and water line extensions could possibly take place this year.

"We're thinking it's going to be a multi-year project, it really depends on the ability to fundraise," Larson said. "We have enough funds for phase one, and we're going to be looking for some volunteer labor and materials."

For phase one, Larson said the city has allocated $50,000 and the Rotary Club is allocating $30,000. As it's a smaller project, Larson said when the time comes, the city will likely seek quotes, rather than have a bidding process.

"The park itself is unique," Larson said. "One section is open and grassy and another is highly wooded. It really presents itself as a good natural resource. We received a grant a couple years ago to add an outdoor classroom, and we've put some pollinator gardens in there. It really lends itself to being an environmental, natural area. We're also seeing a lot of trends where natural playgrounds are becoming popular, so it just really fits."