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Proposed development at Bemidji Regional Airport impeded by cost of infrastructure fix – Bemidji Pioneer

BEMIDJI — A water main originally installed to help facilitate growth at the Bemidji Regional Airport might now be the primary obstacle facing any future development at the airport, something the

Bemidji City Council

was informed of during its Monday, July 25, work session.

Members of the Airport Authority came to the council 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.

“We are really excited about this because it’s good for the community,” said John Knorr, chairman of the Airport Authority. “This is what we’ve been striving for and planning for as an airport for a number of years.

The current proposal has an estimated budget of $3 million and would involve the construction of a new hangar that will house Bemidji Aviation. The airport would pay for this primarily through grants, meaning there would be no financial responsibility for the city.

“We ask for the city’s partnership, but no money,” said Karen Weller, the Airport Authority’s executive director.

In addition to the hangar, the development would also include adding and completing additional infrastructure to allow for future hangars to be constructed.

But older infrastructure that was added in 2009 to prepare for future development might hamper the airport’s plans for Area 3 after concerns arose about issues surrounding a dead-end water main

Dead-end water mains with low use, like the one at the airport, 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 city tested the line in the past week and found that the water from the main had just 25% of the recommended level of chlorine. After running for nearly an hour those levels increased to the minimum recommendations but fell again after just four days.

While solutions like regular flushing of the line could be alternatives to a more costly fix, they would not be a permanent option. In addition to its ongoing cost, with flushing, there were also concerns about where the large quantities of released water would go.

“We’re afraid of some maybe unintended consequences with that,” Knorr said. “Where’s the water going to go? This area’s already prone to flooding.”

These concerns, and others, led to the recommendation by City Engineer Craig Gray of looping the water main so it would no longer be a dead end.

“Once you put a user on it, we have to make sure we maintain those chlorine levels,” Gray said. “(Looping) is the only permanent solution for the city.”

But looping the water main would also increase the development’s price tag by $2 million, something the Airport Authority isn’t sure it could finance.

The grants it’s looking to get for the development would not be enough, and while taking out a loan is an option, when and how it would be paid back adds additional questions to the development plan.

But if any development is to happen in that area, the dead-end water main would need to be dealt with in some fashion or another, something that Mayor Jorge Prince noted.

“We’re always going to have (a need for) this infrastructure before we do something,” Prince stated. “At some point, we know it needs to be looped.”

The remaining questions on the water main will likely delay the development of Area 3, something that the proposed tenant Bemidji Aviation is currently willing to wait for.

“Bemidji has been their home, it’s currently their home, and they want to continue it as their home,” Weller said.

No formal action or decision was made by the end of the session, but important topics were raised for further investigation.

“I think we’re at that point where we need more questions answered,” Prince said in conclusion.

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