Outdoor dining amendment to move forward

The Bemidji City Council will move forward with an ordinance amending Bemidji’s temporary outdoor dining laws.

The amendments, offered by the Bemidji Area Chamber of Commerce and some of the downtown restaurant owners, would allow temporarily fenced-in areas on city streets and sidewalks, similar to what was seen in the emergency phase of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Restaurant owners would need to provide their own barricades, with some discussion of the city either selling or leasing the big orange barricades.

City Engineer Craig Gray had an issue with the language stating that barricades would need to be approved by public works staff, citing that as an engineer, he would have difficulty approving anything that wasn’t to the same parameters as the orange and white barricades used in the past.

The new amendments add language that would permit alcohol in the outdoor areas, which was not allowed after the emergency orders from the governor ended.

The ordinance would go through the three readings in formal council meetings, starting as soon as the first regular meeting of 2022 in January.

The Bemidji City Council also signaled support to sign on to the opioid settlement.

The city is not eligible to receive a direct payment due to the city being less than 30,000 in population, and by signing, would not be able to independently sue Johnson & Johnson.

But, by signing on, along with counties and other cities, the city may be able to apply for grants relating to the opioid epidemic response.

Bemidji Police Chief Mike Mastin offered grim statistics on his department’s responses to the opioid epidemic locally.

In the last five years, the BPD has responded to 179 overdoses, with 17 of those being fatal.

The funding from the settlement, however, will largely be directed toward public health response to drug addiction, likely not law enforcement response.

Larissa Donovan is the News Director for the stations of Paul Bunyan Broadcasting and has been, almost without interruption, since Election Day 2016. She covers all the beats in north-central Minnesota, such as local government, crime, education, environment and social issues. She studied communications at Bemidji State University. You can follow along with Larissa's live tweets of meetings and events on Twitter!

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