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Bemidji City Council approves bid for Phase 2 of Water Treatment Plant

A bid for the second phase of Bemidji’s Water Treatment Plant Project has been approved for just under $14.2 million.

Bemidji City Hall
Bemidji City Hall. Pioneer file photo
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BEMIDJI — The second phase of Bemidji’s Water Treatment Plant has been approved and a bid has been awarded to the Rice Lake Construction Corporation for the amount of $14,198,200.

Approved during the Bemidji City Council’s Tuesday, July 5, session, the city received three bids from various contractors who were interested in the project before selecting the lowest offer.

All of the bids, however, came in around $2 million higher than the city’s engineering staff had anticipated.

“I think the bids are a reflection of our economy and everything that’s going on right now,” said City Engineer Craig Gray.

The total project budget, according to Gray, is set at just under $17.3 million. The second phase of the project should be completed by July 2024.

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“Our goal is to come in below that number like we did for the first half,” Gray said.

Construction of a new water treatment plant began in 2020 after concerns were raised over the discovery of elevated levels of PFAS, man-made chemicals linked to negative health outcomes, in the city’s wells four years prior.

The presence of the chemicals was connected to the use of firefighting foams developed by 3M near the Bemidji Regional Airport, which is located near the city's water wells and has been used as a training ground for local fire departments, which used the foam in the past.

A settlement was reached between 3M and the city in March 2021 for $12.5 million to help fund the new treatment plant’s construction.

Completed in the spring of 2021, the first phase of the water treatment plant has been successful in removing PFAS from the water supply. The second phase will be focused on increasing the plant’s treatment capacity.

The treatment capacity after phase two is complete will increase to 2,500 gallons per minute, or 3.6 million gallons a day. It’s the biggest project the city has undertaken since the construction of the Sanford Center.

In addition to funds from the 3M settlement, the rest of the project will be financed through a state grant. This means that there will not be any increase in water or utility rates for Bemidji residents or businesses as a result of the project.

“We’ve been working for the past year for the design of phase two of the water treatment plant,” Gray said. “The construction of this plant will take care of all our city’s water needs well into the future.”

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Sanford Center Advisory Board

The city council’s meeting also included a discussion on creating a new board to oversee the Sanford Center following the transition to the new management company ASM Global.

Following a recommendation from the Sanford Center Transition Committee, which oversaw the transition to ASM Global, the city council moved to formally dissolve the Sanford Center Board of Directors in order to create a new body, the Sanford Center Advisory Board.

“We sat down and talked about what was working well and what wasn’t working well with the old structure,” said Mayor Jorge Prince.

The advisory board will be made up of nine members, including two city councilors and representatives from local organizations like Visit Bemidji and the Bemidji Area of Commerce. Most notably, it will also include two community members who live in the city.

“We didn’t want to see repeat individuals on the boards throughout our city,” said Ward 1 Councilor Audrey Thayer, who served on the transition committee. “This creates the opportunity for people to be involved.”

The new structure came about from discussions held with the previous board and other invested parties to decide what changes could be made to improve efficiency and representation. The new board is larger and no longer has subcommittees to oversee different areas.

“This will kind of be an inaugural year,” Prince said. “We’ll see how it goes.”

Other business

The city council also approved a contract with Wold Architects and Engineers to conduct a conditions assessment for City Hall, after the basement of the building flooded in April and brought to light the building’s deteriorating condition.

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Both a remodel of the existing building and the potential construction of a new city hall are being considered, and the assessment will provide more information on which route will be most beneficial and cost-effective.

The cost of the services included in the contract is not to exceed $30,000, and the assessment will also examine the aging fire station next to City Hall.

The council also heard from the Freedom Defenders Veterans Memorial Board on a new monument and the Bemidji Curling Club on a lease extension, both topics that will come back to the council at a later date.

Nicole Ronchetti is a reporter at the Bemidji Pioneer, focusing on local government and community health.
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