Ruttger’s Birchmont Lodge pays $13,000 fine for sewage violations near Lake Bemidji
The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency has fined Ruttger’s Birchmont Lodge $13,000 for violating municipal wastewater treatment regulations.
BEMIDJI — Ruttger’s Birchmont Lodge has been fined $13,000 by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency for violating municipal wastewater treatment regulations.
An investigation by the MPCA found that the resort had discharged sewage onto the ground and failed to notify the Minnesota Duty Officer and MPCA during the summer and fall of 2022.
MPCA inspections confirmed that sewage holding tanks had inadequate and unsecured covers, and sewage was surfacing to the ground from the system’s drain field. A release announcing the fine stated that these violations caused potential public safety and health threats around the tanks and drain fields.
In addition to paying the $13,000 civil penalty, Ruttger’s, located near the northern end of Lake Bemidji, has completed a series of corrective actions, including:
- Stopping the discharge of sewage to the ground and capping the connection between the tank and the drain field.
- Submitting a release response plan to include actions to identify, recover and treat released wastewater, ensure public safety and immediately report potential future releases of wastewater to the Minnesota Duty Officer.
- Submitting a signed document to confirm resort staff has been trained on the release and response plan.
Ruttger’s has been aware of inadequacies with its system since 2021 when the MPCA informed the resort that it was no longer in compliance with water and sewer guidelines.
Since then, Ruttger’s has approached the city of Bemidji and Northern Township to discuss connecting to Bemidji’s water and sewer infrastructure. These discussions, while ongoing, have not led to a conclusion since connecting to the city’s system would require annexation opposed by residents of Northern Township.
The township has instead proposed building its own water and sewer infrastructure and connecting it to Bemidji's system for an established fee. However, extensive concerns about this proposal have been raised by city staff.
Ruttger’s is on a deadline for drafting a plan to come into compliance, with or without an agreement to connect to city infrastructure. This deadline has been extended in the past, but it is currently unclear how the situation will be resolved.
The MPCA emphasized that its rules and regulations are designed to protect human health and the environment by limiting pollution emissions and discharges from facilities and that when companies do not fully comply with these requirements the resulting pollution can be harmful to people and the environment.
When calculating penalties, the MPCA takes into account how seriously the violations affected or could have affected the environment, and whether they were first-time or repeat violations. The agency also attempts to recover the economic benefit the company gained by failing to comply with environmental laws in a timely manner.