Gwenia Fiskevold Gould sworn in as new Bemidji City Councilor, discussions on water and sewer continued

Gwenia Fiskevold Gould was sworn in during Monday’s Bemidji City Council meeting, after which the council continued discussions on water and sewer infrastructure related to Northern Township.

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New Ward 1 Councilor Gwenia Fiskevold Gould is sworn in during a Bemidji City Council meeting on Monday, April 17, 2023, at city hall.
Annalise Braught / Bemidji Pioneer

BEMIDJI — Monday’s Bemidji City Council meeting saw Gwenia Fiskevold Gould officially sworn in as Ward 1’s new representative.

Fiskevold Gould beat her opponent Ron Johnson, the current Ward 3 Councilor, in a special election on April 11 87-41, filling a vacancy present on the council since last November’s general election.

After taking her seat on the dais, one of the first items of business the council heard was one that Fiskevold Gould had helped produce, the strategic plan for the Bemidji Parks and Recreation Department.

“It’s just really exciting to see this in its full form,” said Fiskevold Gould, who’s been a member of the commission that created the plan.

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New Ward 1 Councilor Gwenia Fiskevold Gould shakes hands with City Clerk Michelle Miller after being sworn in during a Bemidji City Council meeting on Monday, April 17, 2023, at city hall.
Annalise Braught / Bemidji Pioneer

The strategic plan is the culmination of 18 months of effort by the Parks and Recreation Commission and includes in-depth surveys of Bemidji’s parks and trails, along with priorities for the amenities’ future.


It also involved extensive efforts to gather community feedback, something the commission members take pride in.

“Many members of the community provided input,” said Parks and Recreation Director Marcia Larson. “This is their plan and your plan. We’re extremely proud of what we’ve produced here.”

The strategic plan included feedback from 509 responses to a community survey, along with additional focus groups for underrepresented populations.

These findings helped guide the strategic plan’s priorities and structure, which emphasizes maintaining the city’s current amenities over creating new parks.

“Our citizens in Bemidji aren’t looking for big things,” Fiskevold Gould commented. “They just want to see our already fantastic parks maintained.”

The other priority of the strategic plan is increasing accessibility for all community members, whether they use the trails for transportation or recreation.

“There are barriers to people enjoying our amenities,” said Tonya Prim, a commission member. “(This plan) gives us a way to move forward to cultivate better access for all of our community members.”

Water and sewer

Monday’s meeting also featured a continuing discussion on water and sewer infrastructure around Lake Bemidji, a conversation started two years ago between the city of Bemidji and Northern Township.


The topic first arose in 2021 when Ruttger’s Birchmont Lodge approached the city asking to connect to its system. The owners were informed that this would require annexation, something that has received considerable pushback from Northern Township.

After several proposals, including the potential for Northern Township to build its own infrastructure and connect to Bemidji’s system for an established fee, have stalled or been opposed, the possibility of a water and sewer district came up in a meeting on April 5.

However, after examination by city staff, this option’s flaws were also revealed, since it doesn’t bypass annexation and could reduce Bemidji’s ability to grow. These concerns are similar to those city staff presented about Northern Township’s proposal.

City staff raised concerns to the Bemidji City Council on the proposed MOU with Northern Township during its Monday night meeting.

“The city would lose any ability to control that infrastructure,” explained City Attorney Katie Nolting, “It would limit the ability to fully annex other properties. It’s going to be very difficult to annex anywhere.”

The necessary steps for creating a district would also take considerable time and expense. Just hiring a consulting firm for the project would cost hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Nolting explained that with her concerns regarding the district and Northern Township’s proposal to build its own infrastructure, annexation might be the best option.

“Every attorney we’ve talked to in regards to this keeps going back to annexation,” Nolting said. “That seems to be the way to do what you want to do, which is to protect Lake Bemidji.”

The members of the council had varied opinions about how to move forward, though seemed to agree that a water and sewer district was not a viable option.


“It doesn’t seem like (a water and sewer district) is really feasible or workable at this time,” shared Ward 4 Councilor Emelie Rivera.

She continued by explaining that she still would like to support Northern Township’s plan if it was possible to work out an appropriate legal agreement.

“Annexation is where we’re being directed, but I still would like to make efforts on that if possible,” Rivera said.

As a step forward, the council appointed a smaller task force to continue negotiations with Northern Township regarding the issue. This group will include Mayor Jorge Prince, At-large Councilor Audrey Thayer and Ward 5 Councilor Lynn Eaton.

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