Wednesday, May 28, 2014 | NEWS
SCF enters frac traffic talk
Taylors Falls traffic
Greg Marsten | Staff writer
ST. CROIX FALLS – Admitting there is little they can technically do to impact the possibility of hundreds of frac sand hauling trucks through town, the city of St. Croix Falls Common Council entertained discussion on the issue at their regular monthly meeting Tuesday, May 27.
The frac sand hauling possibility is fueled by negotiations under way between the City of North Branch, Minn., and Superior Silica Sand’s interest in purchasing a 27-acre tract of land over the border near North Branch for a transfer station of sorts to get silica sand from silica sand operations in Chetek and Barron to North Dakota-bound rail lines.
Superior Silica is working to buy close to 30 acres of land near North Branch for the operation, which is likely to bring hundreds of sand-hauling trucks down Hwy. 8 through St. Croix Falls and Taylors Falls, Minn.
Taylors Falls Mayor Mike Buchite was on hand at the St. Croix Falls council meeting to address the issue and outlined his city’s concerns and options.
“Are we against it? Absolutely. It could devastate Taylors Falls,” Buchite told the council. “But what can we do? Not much, really, except to negotiate.”
Buchite reiterated that while it may seem futile, he is hoping mounting public pressure pushes the players involved to rethink the truck route, and possibly even the land sale.
“Sale of the property is not final yet,” Buchite said, adding that he hopes North Branch works the two river cities concerns into their negotiations for the sale. “That’s the strongest tool we have.”
St. Croix Falls officials shared Buchite’s traffic concerns and later discussed possible tools for action they may have, such as traffic law enforcement. The other discussion issues focused on the wear and tear on the roadways and other parts of the city infrastructure.
“One thing we can do is start documenting the impacts,” Alderman Bob
Kazmierski suggested, noting that without baseline levels for things like road conditions, air quality or even noise, future arguments may be considered baseless.
“We need to find a benchmark,”
Kazmierski added. “But one thing is that (frac sand mining and hauling) has finally inserted Wisconsin into the energy discussion.”
Alderman Jeff Huenink concurred on the need for baseline data, and noted that the money is being made on either end, “with us feeling the impact.”
Alderman Don Anderson said he thinks there will be an eventual realization that the processes of mining, fracking and the like will adversely affect things we now take for granted, like water quality.
“But our backs are against the wall,” Anderson said.
St. Croix Falls City Administrator Joel Peck noted that the additional trucks, which could be as few as 60 per day to as many as 200 daily, will definitely play into local road and bridge life.
“We currently have an aging infrastructure, as it is,” Peck said. “(Frac sand hauling) will only make it worse.”
Peck suggested that if anything, the hauling issue presses that planning for bridge replacement, which he said might come as soon as 15 years from now, should be addressed sooner than later.
Blesi noted that the issue of “jake braking,” where truck engine compression is used as a brake assist, may be loud and intrusive, it may also be a safety issue, going the other way.
“With a 9-percent grade (downhill on Hwy. 8) do we really want to decrease engine braking?” Blesi asked. “Brakes themselves create dust, possible fibrosis, from a particle stand-point.”
He reiterated the safety aspect of all those trucks relying on brakes only, as they approach the river bridge, and said that they need to research the jake-brake issue fully before immediately attempting to restrict the practice.
While the council took no action on the issue, they noted the importance of having local officials on hand at future public hearings and meetings to air their concerns about safety, noise and pollution, especially at those in North Branch.
In other council action:
• The council tabled a proposal by local artist Carissa Samaniego to build an artistic chimney swift house at an undetermined location.
The structure would be 12 feet tall, and while artistically adorned, would still follow an Audubon Society suggested plan to attract the swifts, which earned their names by nesting in chimneys.
Samaniego said the material cost would be about $1,800, and that she is not including her own costs in the estimate.
“It’s a just a project I really believe in,” she said.
Several locations were mentioned, including at Lions Park and also at the Gaylord Nelson Park along the riverway, and possibly even at the city library, but none were finalized.
In the end, it seemed that the lack of a planned location meant no action, and the issue was tabled until the city’s park and recreation department solidifies how the sculpture would fit into the desired location.
“We may need a more cohesive approach to selling, it,” Blesi said, noting possible maintenance and health concerns, as well as suggesting they also run the proposal past the tourism commission, for possible funding assistance.
• Danette Olson gave a brief preview of the upcoming Civic Auditorium Historic Structure Report, which is expected to be presented in early June, to use for funding and grant writing facilitation and information.
“There’s a lot of really good news in the report,” Olson said. “It’s still a really structurally strong building.”
Olson said some previously known issues remain, such as water infiltration from the roof edge, which they hope to address sooner rather than later.
“(The HSR) is a tool to update all the past studies,” Olson said. “It’s for investors and funders to know what’s going on with the building.”
• The council approved several changes to the city’s fair housing codes, to better meet the state standards and to assist with a Community Development Block Grant application.
That CDBG requires the city to have a number of changes in their housing laws, and the changes were to bring the code up to date on things like relocation and fair housing practices.
The council did approve a resolution guaranteeing that if they are approved for the CDBG, and accept the public facilities funding for Vincent Street upgrades, that they will pay the city’s portion of the match grant.
The Vincent project is estimated to cost $1.251 million, with the city committing half, if approved.
• The council denied a request to pay for furnace repairs at the St. Croix Falls Senior Center, which is in a city-owned building.
The council noted the lack of a true maintenance agreement, and also noted that the lease agreement is long out of date.
Peck noted that while the city owns the building as an asset, they often only realize that “when something goes wrong with it,” Peck said. “Then the bills go to us.”
Peck praised the senior center volunteers for covering all other costs, but said that other issues with the former Masonic Lodge building may surface later, and they need direction on how to address the requests and needs.
“The city is not in the property-management business,” Blesi stated, as he suggested that the furnace repairs be covered by the seniors in this case.
The council approved a motion to deny the payment.
“That’s a tough policy call,” Blesi said with a shrug.
• The council approved a request for a 95th-anniversary banner over Washington Street for the St. Croix Regional Medical Center this summer.