Proposed development to address water main concerns at Bemidji Regional Airport

The Bemidji City Council heard a development proposal for the Bemidji Regional Airport that includes two phases over several years that would turn Planning Area 3 into a hub for the aviation industry.

Bemidji Regional Airport
The Bemidji Regional Airport is located at 3824 Moberg Drive NW.
Pioneer file photo

BEMIDJI — The Bemidji City Council heard a development proposal for the Bemidji Regional Airport during its work session on Monday, one that would include two phases and have the goal of turning a currently undeveloped area into a hub for the aviation industry.

The discussion began when members of the Airport Authority came to the council in July 2022 with a proposal for the development of the airport’s Area 3 — 57 acres that have been under consideration for development for the past 15 years, which hit a roadblock after concerns were raised about a dead-end water main.

Dead-end water mains with low use mean that water can sit in the pipes for extended periods of time. As water sits, the chlorine added to it can settle out and its levels can fall below safety recommendations.

“The biggest concern staff had in July was the airport’s request was going to expand an already dead-end main,” said City Engineer Sam Anderson. “There was a concern about water quality and how much usage there really was going to be once users are on there.”

Under the new proposal, however, the dead-end water main would be looped back as a second part of the development project.


“There’s kind of a two-fold approach,” Anderson explained.

The first phase of the project would be to pursue a Business Development Public Infrastructure Grant from the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development. This grant would help fund the construction of a taxi lane later this year.

While the city would have to support the grant application, there would be no financial ask for the first phase of the project.

The second phase would be to develop plans for looping the dead-end water main, which would potentially take place in 2028. Two options for this project were presented to the council, with an estimated difference in cost of $700,000.

Anderson explained that city staff supported the more expensive option, with an estimated cost of $2 million, due to the fact that it meets the city’s comprehensive plan and provides more benefit to the city’s infrastructure.

For this phase, the airport is requesting a 50% split in cost with the city. Prior to its completion, however, the airport has expressed a willingness to cover the expenses of the dead-end main which include staff time and the cost of regular flushing.

The hope is that if this project is completed, it will create a space that would allow growth for local aviation businesses and potentially draw in more companies to the area.

“Remember why we’re doing this,” said Dave Hengel, executive director of Greater Bemidji, who has been a part of the planning process. “It’s for the expansion of the industry and aviation companies.”


While the council was supportive of the proposal, there were concerns related to funding. Since the project hasn’t been included in the city’s capital improvement plan, the costs could result in a 1.6 to 2% rate increase for users of city water.

“Putting this on the average rate payer to fund an expansion to the airport, I struggle with that,” shared Ward 4 Councilor Emelie Rivera. “I wonder if there isn’t a way to help defer some of this cost to the city payer.”

One option to decrease the individual cost burden by spreading it over a wider area would be to increase the airport levy, which the airport has already approved to cover 50% of the cost to loop the water main.

“The levy is our last option,” said Karen Weller, the Airport Authority’s executive director. “I’m going to keep looking for money between now and 2028.”

A resolution is expected to come before the council in a future meeting to allow for the airport to seek the BDPI grant and begin the first phase of the project.

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