Several members of the Minnesota House and Senate, including those who represent the area, have taken tours of Bemidji's water facilities and were briefed on the infrastructure needs.
When legislators convene for another session in St. Paul in less than two weeks, one hopes what they learned will stay with them as they begin their work. There are two major projects related to the city's water systems, and both require state assistance in some way.
One of the projects is to treat a chemical known as perfluorocarbons, or PFCs, that have been discovered in the city's water wells near the Bemidji Regional Airport. These chemicals were previously found in foams used by fire departments, including Bemidji's, which has trained at the airport.
The city has had to shut down some of its wells after detecting PFCs, and must build a treatment plant to remove the chemicals and keep the water within standards set by the state. The estimated cost of the treatment plant is $16.3 million, and the city is hoping at least $8 million is covered through state bonding funds.
There is always a multitude of project requests during a bonding session, but those related to infrastructure that keeps water safe for citizens has to be a priority. This is an integral project to the city, and its residents.
The other project, just as important, is upgrading the city's wastewater treatment plant. Earlier this month, the Minnesota House of Representatives Environment Policy Committee toured the facility and received a first hand look at the plant's needs.
Not only is the facility at capacity, there's also a possibility that it may need to treat for additional substances such as nitrogen and ammonia in the future. The cost of these improvements comes to an estimated $13 million.
For both the city's share in the PFCs facility and the wastewater treatment plant, officials are looking for the state to authorize a 1/2% sales tax increase. The dollars generated by the sales tax would be used for the water projects, and to support the the city-owned Sanford Center.
If a sales tax was authorized, it could collect more revenue from those who visit the city and provide some relief for residents. It would ensure that the city's water systems are up to date and ready to accommodate a growing community.
This year, as legislators, and possibly voters, approach the sales tax topic, it will be important to remember that water infrastructure is essential to everybody who lives in the First City on the Mississippi.