Northern Township seeks city, state support for water and sewer services

Northern Township and the city of Bemidji are now one step closer to an agreement regarding the extension of water and sewer services further north after a joint meeting Tuesday night.

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

BEMIDJI — Northern Township and the city of Bemidji are now one step closer to an agreement regarding the extension of water and sewer services after a joint meeting Tuesday night.

Over the last year, both government units had been approached by Ruttger’s Birchmont Lodge wanting to connect to the water and sewer services provided by the city, along with interest to connect water services to Lake Bemidji State Park.

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

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.

City Manager Nate Mathews presented these options at a second joint meeting on Jan. 11 , which also allowed for public comment.


The township board seemingly took favor to option five at that meeting and revealed on Tuesday that they now plan to take this matter to the state legislature.

In need of support

“Option five is on the table and that’s what we’re moving toward right now,” township board member Jess Frenzel said.

Regarding meetings with the Department of Natural Resources, county administrators and Ruttger’s, Frenzel detailed support from each entity in extending water and sewer services through a system the township would construct.

District 5A Rep. Matt Bliss, R-Pennington, also met with the township board agreeing to create a bonding request for the current legislative session with hopes to present it within the next week.

To strengthen their case of offering services without strict annexation and gain state support for it, Bliss also encouraged the township to attain letters of support from constituents including the city of Bemidji.

Highlighting the “devil in the details,” Mayor Jorge Prince spoke in favor of a more general letter of support that wouldn’t address many of the details that have yet to be ironed out.

“When you say, ‘can you write a letter of support,' the devil is in the details and we don’t have all of those details," Prince said. "At some point, there could very well be friction if the cost comes back in a way that is unfair or unduly burdens our citizens."

Ward 4 Councilmember Emelie Rivera also supported a general letter of support and give time to figure out the specific parameters of the project.


“We have a commitment. I would support the city getting behind this project. I don’t want to condition support on all the future stuff because we don’t know all of that yet,” Rivera said. “I want to get behind this, and if this is what it takes, then let’s do it.”

Annual maintenance costs, connection fees and general operations between the township and city are topics that both entities will continue to flesh out for future discussion.

At its Feb. 7 board meeting, the city council is expected to review a drafted letter from the township for approval, after which lobbying efforts will take place.

Taking from previous lobbying experience, City Manager Nate Mathews emphasized preparation of answering the question of why the state should give the township money when the city is offering to extend services through annexation.

“We can give a letter of support for a project to build your own system, but the state has resources and the project has to be of state significance,” Mathews said.

If the bonding request isn’t approved, the township would seek separate financing through the rural development sector of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

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