Neilson Reise reopening discussions continue, firefighters sent out west and mutual aid discussed during council work session

The Bemidji City Council held three discussions during their work session Monday evening.

The first item was a mutual aid agreement with neighboring law enforcement agencies ahead of the planned presidential visit this Friday. This item passed unanimously.

According to Chief of Police Mike Mastin, the mutual aid agreement should not result in the city incurring fees for the outside law enforcement on duty in the area.

Mastin fielded questions such as scheduled Delta flights out of the airport around the original planned time for the rally to begin (it was scheduled to begin at 4 p.m., now the campaign says 6 p.m.), as well as how the rally may impact the elementary school within the vicinity of the airport.

Mastin said the Secret Service is planning a restricted zone for an area encompassing parts of Highway 2 and the airport.

Mastin, in a release sent earlier Monday, slightly detailed what to expect with the increased law enforcement presence, including the Secret Service’s restriction zone, and reminded citizens to be respectful of other’s points of view.

The next item discussed was a request from the state of Oregon for firefighting help with the wildfires endangering lives and property. This request included engines, trucks and firefighters.

Bemidji Fire Chief David Hoefer was selected to lead one of Minnesota’s two task forces.

Nine Bemidji Firefighters will begin their drive to Oregon at 6 a.m. Tuesday, Sept. 15.

The state of Minnesota will reimburse the costs the Bemidji Fire Department incurs, in full.

The Bemidji team will be on duty in Oregon for 14 days, with two days to drive there and two more days to drive back. The council voted unanimously to send the team out west.

Bemidji’s team of firefighters heading to Oregon Tuesday, Sept. 15. Photo courtesy of the Bemidji Fire Department

The third and longest discussion concerned ice use amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

A motion failed to close the Neilson Reise Arena through the rest of 2020.

A motion passed that instructs Parks and Recreation Director Marica Larson to prepare a COVID-19 preparedness plan for the arena, as required by the state, and present this plan to the Public Affairs Committee.

The Neilson Reise Arena is described as a 50-year-old, uninsulated pole shed that uses a direct R-22 refrigeration system.

This particular refrigerant is scheduled to be phased out this year due to its adverse environmental impacts, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

Replacing the building and the refrigeration plant would cost around $4 million.

Representatives of Bemidji Youth Area Hockey Dale Thompson and Bruce Hasbargen were present during the discussion, and informed the council that they need around 300 hours of ice time for the projected 325 players anticipated this year.

The Sanford Power Rink, the Bemidji Community Arena’s second sheet of ice, is scheduled to open around mid-October.

The Sanford Center’s sheet of ice is largely reserved for its anchor tenant, Bemidji State University Hockey. That sheet would be in use from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. weekdays when the season is underway, with Sundays as a possible open skate day, as well as times working around scheduled BSU practices and games.

The Nymore ice rink, which is owned by the school district, is closed at the moment, as the Minnesota State High School League has not yet made a determination of a hockey season this year.

Ward 5 council member Nancy Erickson made the motion to close the Neilson Reise, citing liability concerns, and, referencing the reopening of the softball fields this summer that closed two weeks later due to COVID among players, wondered how long the facility would be able to remain open.

Ward 1 council member Michael Meehlhause made the alternative motion for the Neilson Reise Arena COVID preparedness plan, and hoped the arena’s tenants, BYAH and the Bemidji Figure Skating Club, would be party to those discussions.

Parks Director Marcia Larson informed the council that two part-time staffers at Neilson Reise have resigned, so she would need to hire new staff prior to reopening, and that laying the ice down takes between three and four weeks.

She also said locker rooms and possibly bathrooms would be unavailable to players, spectating would likely be limited, and an additional staff member at the door may be necessary.

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