Decision on Self-Fueling Station at Airport Tabled by Bemidji City Council

May 22, 2024

May 21—BEMIDJI — Conversation during Monday's

Bemidji City Council

meeting centered on the potential risks of adding a self-fueling station at the Bemidji Regional Airport, with councilors citing concerns about risk mitigation and proximity to the city's water supply.

The Airport Authority brought the discussion to the council during its meeting, highlighting the economic potential of the station, which would be available for aviators all hours of the day, rather than fueling services currently available from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. each day.

The fueling station would include an above-ground, 10,000-gallon tank with a point-of-sale system for both local tenants of the airport and pilots traveling through the region.

The cost of the project would be $350,000, with money coming from a grant program and no funding request made to the city. Revenue from fuel sales would go directly to the airport.

While some councilors were supportive of the plan as it was presented, several expressed concerns with the level of preparation for spill prevention and response, particularly given that the airport sits above the city's water supply.

"I understand the business case (in support of the station), and that our airport needs to be an economic engine for our community," said Mayor Jorge Prince. "On the flip side, this is sensitive when you're talking about fuel in proximity to your wellheads."

Bemidji's water supply has previously been contaminated with PFAS, a group of chemicals that have been associated with adverse health conditions, as a result of firefighting foams used at the regional airport. The city reached

a settlement with 3M,

one of the companies that produces products with PFAS, in 2021 for $12.5 million.

Ward 4 Councilor Emelie Rivera also expressed concerns about the potential for spills and contamination and also shared that she believed the project hadn't yet put in enough work to create a spill prevention plan and communicate with residents in the area about the potential risks.

"I see a lot of risk. If there's a spill and a clean up, there's a lot of households in that area, and a lake fairly nearby," Rivera said. "I'm really concerned that this project has not done its due diligence as to who else might have a concern."

Representatives of the airport did share that there is ongoing work to develop a spill prevention plan and that there would be regular inspections of the station alongside other safety measures. However, much of the plan has not been completed due to a need for specific design details, and several councilors were unsatisfied with the responses to their questions.

"What I'm hearing is a lot of 'I don't know,' I'm not hearing a lot of confidence," Rivera expressed.

Ultimately, after concerns were raised by Prince, Rivera, At-Large Councilor Audrey Thayer and Ward 1 Councilor Gwenia Fiskevold Gould, a motion was made to table the discussion until more information could be gathered on the exact risks and the spill prevention plan could be further developed.

"I would be more comfortable with the risk plan really laid out for us, with a little bit more information," Thayer said.

The motion to table the topic until the council's meeting on June 3 passed unanimously.

The council also approved a $53,600 bid from

Short Elliott Hendrickson Inc.

to handle a Federal Aviation Administration release of land to allow for the realignment of Gillett Drive connected to the Minnesota Department of Transportation's plans for State Highway 197 in Bemidji.

MnDOT has agreed to cover 80% of the cost, reducing the city's share to $10,720.

Also approved was a bid for

the extension of 34th Street Northwest

, which was awarded to

R.L. Larson Excavating Inc.

for $956,373.06, and a professional services agreement with Freeberg and Grund in the amount of $56,250.

The total project cost is estimated to be $1,033,000. Sanford Health has agreed to contribute $462,694 to assist with funding.

In its final act of business for the evening, the council approved the submission of an application to the Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities to host its 2025 conference. Bemidji previously held the CGMC conference in 2019.


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