Veterans honored in Bemidji City Council meeting, Northern Township service extension discussed
The Bemidji City Council held a ceremony to display the POW/MIA flag in city hall, and discussed the ongoing proposal to extend municipal water and sewer services to Northern Township.
BEMIDJI — The Bemidji City Council took a moment to honor veterans with a ceremony commemorating the display of the POW/MIA flag in city hall during its Monday meeting.
With a small crowd in attendance, members of the American Legion and VFW Honor Guard sang the national anthem and posted the flag in the lobby following a procession.
“(This flag) serves as a symbol of our nation’s concern and commitments to resolving as fully as possible the fates of American service personnel who remain unaccounted for,” said Mayor Jorge Prince. “(It) will proudly fly in our lobby next to the U.S. flag and the flags of our tribal neighbors.”
Also recognized during the ceremony was Vietnam War veteran and former prisoner of war, Sergeant Gary Guggenberger, who was presented a certificate by the city for his commitment to veteran causes in Bemidji.
On Feb. 12, Guggenberger will be celebrating 50 years since his release from a POW camp in Vietnam, where he spent four years.
“I was pretty lucky,” Guggenberger said before holding up a short chain, “It will be (50 years) next Sunday since this chain came off my leg.”
Another city resident was also honored during the city council meeting. Earlier in the evening Pastor Bob Kelly, the founder of Peoples Church, was recognized for his long-standing service to the Bemidji community, particularly those facing homelessness.
Following the completion of the ceremony, the council proceeded with its usual business.
One of the most prominent items on the council’s agenda was to consider a memorandum of understanding presented by Northern Township regarding its proposal to construct its own water and sewer infrastructure that would hook up to Bemidji’s municipal system.
The plan was first discussed last February as one of several options presented to Northern Township and the city council and was chosen by the township board over alternatives that included annexation.
Northern Township’s plan brought the MOU to the council to formalize the city’s partnership, which is particularly important now that the township has received a grant for the project.
Several city council members expressed a desire to move forward with the project and the city’s collaboration with Northern Township, particularly related to how delays might affect Lake Bemidji.
"The objective is protecting the lake," said Ward 2 Councilor Josh Peterson. "Time is of the essence."
Concerns for protecting the lake relate to the original motivation behind this project, which was a request by Ruttger’s Birchmont Lodge to hook up to municipal services as its own system had aged and gone out of compliance.
Other councilors, however, expressed concern with the project, both as a whole and their worries that the city hasn’t had a chance to consult with its own constituents.
“That’s who we should be thinking of first,” said Ward 3 Councilor Ron Johnson. “We owe it to our residents.”
City staff also expressed concerns about the project, both from an engineering perspective and a legal point of view, since it would be extending municipal services outside of the city’s boundaries.
“This is a very difficult precedent to set in Bemidji,” said City Manager Nate Mathews. “(If) we start to not annex property that does have municipal services, I think that would be a difficult long term public policy.”
Johnson shared that this extension of municipal services outside of Bemidji was one of his primary concerns.
One of the proposals we did offer was a very long, phased-in annexation,” Johnson said. “Doing this knowing that at some point it would be in the city is a very different thing.”
Because the option is being pursued by Northern Township to avoid annexation, councilors also shared concerns that the proposal would provide obstacles to Bemidji’s growth in the future.
“The other concern for me is we are setting the boundary for Bemidji as it relates to Northern Township, potentially forever,” Prince said. “That’s not something I personally would feel comfortable doing.”
Ultimately, because Bemidji’s legal department had not had time to review the MOU, it was agreed to revisit the topic at a later date.
“We do have urgency,” said Jess Frenzel, chairman of the Northern Township Board. “These monies have contingencies, so we can’t wait six months or a year.”