COMMENTARY: Northern Township seeks city, community support for extending services
This extension is needed to help protect the water quality of Lake Bemidji and address concerns about several outdated and/or failing septic systems including Ruttger's Resort and the state park.
Northern Township is seeking the formal support of the Bemidji City Council and its residents to allow a connection from Northern Township to the city of Bemidji water and sewer system extending services all the way through Lake Bemidji State Park on the north end of Lake Bemidji.
This extension is needed to help protect the water quality of Lake Bemidji and address concerns about several outdated and/or failing septic systems including Ruttger's Resort, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources Regional Headquarters and the state park.
Northern Township and the city of Bemidji have met on multiple occasions over the past year and a half to find a way to work cooperatively to accomplish this common goal. On Jan. 11, 2022, the city of Bemidji offered six options for how they could work with Northern Township to get this water and sewer extension into place.
Five of the options presented involved annexation of township properties which the residents of Northern Township had, at a previous township meeting in October 2021, overwhelmingly rejected.
The other proposal was that Northern Township constructs its own public water and sewer main system from Northwoods to Ruttger’s through Birchmont 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.
In keeping with Northern Township's resident’s wishes, we sought ways in which we could take up this offer and fund the entire project ourselves. On Dec. 29, 2022, Northern Township was awarded a $5 million federal grant to fund the first phase of this proposed project which would put water and sewer pipes into the ground up to CSAH 20.
The only thing now needed is for the city of Bemidji to follow through on its offer to take Northern Township on as a customer and allow for a connection to its existing water and sewer system. This type of agreement between two local government units is not uncommon. Mankato, Minn., and La Crosse, Wis., are two such examples that have agreements worked out with their surrounding communities.
This can be a great achievement and moment for everyone in our area to celebrate. Extending services around Lake Bemidji has been a regional planning goal for 50-plus years. Completing phase one of this project will also set the stage for future expansion of the system around the entirety of Lake Bemidji.
We hope that the Bemidji City Council and its residents will agree that this is the best possible agreement and mutually beneficial for both our communities. We all get a safer and cleaner lake. The city gains a new customer, a new source of revenue, and doesn’t have to spend millions of dollars outside its current borders to install this system. The township gets to heed its resident’s wishes that they remain in the township.
This is a once-in-a-generation opportunity. In getting this $5 million dollar award, we have achieved something no one in this area has been able to for more than 50 years. Let’s not come this far just to leave the ball sitting just short of the goal line.
Please, reach out to the Bemidji City Council if you support this project and let them know you want this agreement to proceed to protect one of our area’s greatest natural resources.
This opinion piece was compiled and signed by the Northern Township Board of Supervisors Jess Frenzel, Chris Lahn, Micheal Kelly, Curt Blumhagen and Gary Barnard.