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Northern Township leans toward 1 annexation option at joint meeting with city

A second joint meeting within a week between the Bemidji City Council and Northern Township allowed for further discussion on annexation of the township as well as public comment on Tuesday.

Northern Town Hall
Northern Town Hall is located at 445 Town Hall Rd. NW north of Bemidji.
Daltyn Lofstrom / Bemidji Pioneer

BEMIDJI – A second joint meeting within a week between the Bemidji City Council and Northern Township allowed for further discussion on annexation of the township as well as public comment on Tuesday.

Following a city council work session a day prior, City Manager Nate Mathews presented six of the council’s annexation counter-proposals on Jan. 11 to the town hall.

The options included 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 all professional services, design, engineering, bidding, financing, construction, ownership and maintenance of the public infrastructure including fire hydrants, lift stations, etc. The city would provide water and sewer and allow connection of the township water/sanitary sewer mains at Northwoods and 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.

Option five was seemingly the most favorable of the six to the township board. Most of the meeting's conversation revolved around this option and to a lesser extent, option four.

Bemidji City Manager Nate Mathews speaks on Tuesday, Jan. 11, 2022, during a joint meeting with the city council and Northern Township.
Bemidji City Manager Nate Mathews speaks on Tuesday, Jan. 11, 2022, during a joint meeting with the city council and Northern Township.
Daltyn Lofstrom / Bemidji Pioneer

Recognizing each option as mere talking points is part of a larger process, township supervisor Mike Kelly questioned both options in terms of how spot annexation would work for the township.

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“(The city of Bemidji’s) thought process isn’t wrong. It just doesn’t work for the township,” Kelly said during the meeting. “Spot annexation opens up the township for further annexation. Just annexing Ruttger’s is a physical problem for us. You could just as well say we’re going to annex over to (Northern Elementary) school and just open the rest of the township in theory.”

Ward 2 Councilmember Josh Peterson piggybacked off of Kelly’s remarks stating he didn’t know why a sole agreement with Ruttger’s couldn’t be made.

“If we could commit to just Ruttger’s and make an agreement for no further annexation, I think we could make something work,” Peterson said. “I don’t want the city to be greedy and start taking up properties just because we can. I don’t think that’s right.”

City Attorney Alan Felix referenced orderly annexation agreements between the city and surrounding townships from the 1990s that would prevent further annexation without permission from both parties but also emphasized people over governing bodies.

“The problem is it’s not what we think about politics. It’s about what people need,” Felix said. “So if someone adjacent to Ruttger’s has a problem and the most feasible option is for them to hook onto that pipe, what would you do in their shoes? Certainly, you would petition the city to get services because that’s the most advantageous and feasible thing for them to do.”

Lake concerns

A public comment period brought about questions regarding aged septic systems compromising Lake Bemidji’s water quality along with irregular inspection that may be more streamlined with city annexation.

Nickolaus Phillips, assistant planner for the city’s Joint Planning Board , spoke to increased phosphorus pollution in the lake as most recently reported to the Department of Natural Resources in 2017 by RMB Environmental Laboratories , which conducts lake monitoring.

“(The level of pollution) is borderline right now. It’s not an impaired water, but they worry that if the trend continues, it would be classified as impaired with phosphorus,” Phillips said.

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Recognizing a shared vision of protecting Lake Bemidji, Kelly stated his willingness to give a chance to option five despite uncertainties that the proposal doesn’t yet address.

This includes the fee system that township residents would pay into for services to the city, which would depend on how extensive the township builds their system.

Ruttger’s owner Karrie Nelson spoke during the comment period in favor of option five, assuming it’s feasible time-wise and in line with what's best for Bemidji.

“I know the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency would prefer us to not have our own system, but on a municipal system of course,” Nelson said. “We just want to do what’s best for the community, and a lot of people may not be in favor of (any annexation) right now, but in the long term I think it’s a great idea.”

With many details to iron out, the city council and township board agreed to a tentative joint meeting on Feb. 1 with hopes to bring the Beltrami County Commissioners into the discussion.

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