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Bemidji City Council discusses 6 annexation options for Northern Township

Six varying annexation options were discussed during the Bemidji City Council's Monday work session to connect water and sewer services further into Northern Township.

Bemidji City Hall
Bemidji City Hall. Pioneer file photo
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BEMIDJI -- Six varying annexation options were discussed during the Bemidji City Council's Monday work session to connect water and sewer services further into Northern Township.

Following the Jan. 4 joint meeting with the Northern Township board and members of the Greater Bemidji Area Joint Planning Board , the council drafted six counter proposals for annexation in response to the township’s general disapproval of strict annexation.

The options include the following:

  1. The city extends municipal water and sewer to Ruttger’s through the Birchmont Beach Court roadway, including immediate annexation of all parcels. The city would be responsible for all professional services, engineering, bidding, construction and maintenance of public infrastructure. A connection fee for property owners excluding Ruttger’s would be $12,000.
  2. The city extends services to Ruttger’s through Birchmont Beach Court roadway with annexation upon connection. Similar city responsibility of services and maintenance with the same $12,000 connection fee.
  3. The city extends services to Ruttger’s by avoiding Birchmont Beach Court roadway with an immediate “flag lot annexation,” meaning the city will annex the County State Aid Highway21 roadway and Ruttger’s property itself. The city will establish a connection fee for Ruttger’s.
  4. Ruttger’s constructs a private sanitary sewer force main system along County State Aid Highway 21 to the Northwoods Landing. The city allows this connection and requires an immediate “flag lot annexation” like in option three.
  5. Northern Township constructs its own public water and sewer main system from Northwoods to Ruttger’s through Birchmont Beach Court. The township would be responsible for professional services and maintenance including fire hydrants and lift stations. The city would provide water and sewer and allow connection of the township water/sanitary sewer mains at Northwoods. The city would establish a fee system for township residents’ water and sewer.
  6. Northern Township contributes $1.5 million to the Greater Bemidji Area JPB to create a grant program providing up to $15,000 to each property owner to upgrade their individual system to current standards.

City Engineer Craig Gray noted option one not being an ideal solution considering the amount of pushback from certain Northern Township residents during its initial proposal.
“To me, it’s an option but it’s not an option. (On Tuesday night) we’re going into our third meeting with the township on this. If we go there with option one, they’re going to say, ‘you guys told us this three months ago,’” Gray said. “Option one is not a counter-proposal. It’s a repeat of what we talked about three months ago.”

Touching on other options, Gray mentioned that the township was adamantly against option one due to not being able to afford annexation and limitations for pipe placement along the roadways.

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“Is there any middle ground the council would consider? Well, you put the pipe down and only annex when people need the service,” he added regarding option two.

Ward 4 Councilmember Emelie Rivera spoke on potential overlap between some of the options and proposed giving the township all six to consider.

Bemidji Mayor Jorge Prince questioned the value of options four through six not requiring strict annexation with Ward 3 Councilmember Ron Johnson expressing similar sentiments.

“I can’t see how we could do Ruttger’s any good without annexation. It just seems unfair that with their big impact they would be denied entering the city,” Johnson said.

Johnson spoke in support of the first three options, though all six will be presented at the joint board meeting at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 11, at Northern Town Hall.

One less agenda item

Beyond the annexation conversations, potential changes to the Visit Bemidji board fell through the cracks after the proposal was rescinded by the Bemidji Innkeepers just prior to the meeting and subsequently, tabled by the council.

The Bemidji Innkeepers Association initially requested that the Visit Bemidji Board be reduced from 14 members to 11 after their December 2020 meeting.

Some concerns were raised regarding the board being too large after they expanded from nine members to the 14 currently on staff, along with the city’s marketing and promotional agreement not being updated to reflect the board size change.

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Wanting more time to weigh reducing the number of members versus changing who makes up the board, and changing their agreement as a result, the council voted to table further discussion until the end of March.

This will give Visit Bemidji and the Innkeepers at least one more meeting to iron out details about their future plans, collaborate more effectively with the council and propose their plan to the Public Affairs Committee.

Rivera mentioned time being of the essence regarding both topics in closing.

“I’m not comfortable waiting another year or putting it off for a seventh council member," she said. "And once we get that seventh council member, whether it’s in a couple months or several months, we’ll move on to different topics. But, I don’t like putting stuff off.”

Daltyn Lofstrom is a reporter at the Bemidji Pioneer focusing on education and community stories.
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