BEMIDJI -- Bemidji property owners with private wells may receive incentives in the future to connect to the city's water system.
The incentives were recommended to the Bemidji City Council Monday as a way to assist residents who live not far from where chemicals known as PFAs have been discovered. The area in question is the Bardwell Park neighborhood, located south of Anne Street and west of U.S. Highway 71.
To the west of the neighborhood is the Bemidji Regional Airport, which has served as a training ground for local fire departments. In the past, those departments used foams containing the PFAs chemical, which was developed by the Minnesota-based company 3M.
Those chemicals made it into the groundwater and moved east, where the city's water wells are located.
To meet standards set by health and environmental agencies related to PFAs, the city in 2020 approved the construction of a treatment plant at a cost of $7.4 million. The facility is now in operation and is successfully removing chemicals from the city's water wells.
Constructing the facility was just the first of two phases, the second phase will be an expansion of the plant, which will increase the amount of water that can be treated at one time.
To assist in the building of the plant, the city received $10.1 million from the state through a bonding bill passed by the Minnesota Legislature. The facility is now in operation and is successfully removing chemicals from the city's water wells.
While the plant will treat water taken in by the city's wells, there's still a chance the plume of chemicals can continue moving east and enter private wells. To help residents in the area be protected from those chemicals, two incentives were conceived to assist property owners if they feel moving to the city's water system is necessary.
One incentive is waiving the payment of any water access charge for a period of time. The charge for most of the lots in the area would be either $845 or $1,268.
The water connection cost, meanwhile, is estimated at about $4,000. To assist in that amount for residents, the city could issue a refund of possibly $1,000, $2,000 or more. The money for the refund would come from the negotiated sum from 3M.
During the meeting, the council came to a consensus that the water access charge should be waived and that a refund for the connection cost.
"I think the fact that we're dealing with a plume of PFAs makes this a unique situation," Bemidji Mayor Jorge Prince said. "I support this primarily because the funding is coming from 3M and it was designated for this purpose. It's a good-faith gesture for that community and it mitigates risks for the citizens."
As Monday's meeting was a work session, the council held off on any official decisions. The topic will be brought back for the council's regular meeting on June 21 where votes can be taken on both incentives.