BEMIDJI -- The Bemidji City Council set 2021 road construction in motion Tuesday by authorizing staff to begin engineering plans for several projects.

Those projects are part of the city's annual Street Renewal program, where several roads in a chosen area of Bemidji are reconstructed. In many cases, the program also includes utility work and pedestrian path upgrades.

This year, the roads selected and corresponding projects include:

  • Fern Street Northwest, from Power Drive to U.S. Highway 71. The road, which is currently gravel, will be getting a paved surface.
  • Ash Avenue, from Paul Bunyan Drive to 23rd Street Northwest. The reconstruction of the road will include a new surface, curbs and gutters.
  • 26th Street Northwest, from a dead end just west of Delton Avenue to Bemidji Avenue. The road will be fully reconstructed with a new surface, curbs and gutters. The 26th Street project will also include width changes to add sidewalks.
  • On 26th Street west of Irvine Avenue, the road will be narrowed from 38 feet to 30 feet for a 5-foot sidewalk with space for a grass boulevard on the south side.
  • On the east side of Irvine Avenue, the road will be narrowed from 29 feet to 24 feet for a 5-foot sidewalk on the north side of 26th Street. Sections of outdated water, sewer and storm mains also need replacing.

In total, the project is estimated at $1.7 million, with assessments anticipated at $267,841. The project will go out for bids at the end of the month, with construction expected to start in May and completion at the end of September.

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Legislative policies

The council also took action to support legislative priorities introduced by both the League of Minnesota Cities and the Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities. Additionally, the council reviewed what occurred in the 2020 legislative session.

Last year, the city did receive bonding money for its water wells project to treat forever chemicals. However, a request to authorize a city referendum on adding a hospitality tax to support its water infrastructure and the Sanford Center event facility were not taken up by the Minnesota Legislature.

In his comments, Mayor Jorge Prince said he feels the city needs time to recover from the pandemic before such a tax moves forward.

"As it relates to the discussion of a hospitality tax, from my point of view, I know to be successful those need community support," Prince said. "Given the state of the pandemic and business right now, I don't see a situation where I'd want to add that burden to existing taxpayers. I think the more time we give the community time to recover from the impacts of the pandemic, the better."

The priorities from both Minnesota organizations, meanwhile, were largely focused on the Local Government Aid program, which supports cities with state dollars, and COVID-19 relief.

Other priorities listed by the coalition included:

  • Requesting $100 million in clean water infrastructure and creating a strategy to keep chemicals out of Minnesota waters.
  • Seeking $20 million in bonding for child care facilities, $3 million for the state Department of Employment and Economic Development's child care grant program and $3 million for regional child care development.
  • Pushing for $10 million for grants to support housing developments and $50 million for city streets.