Wednesday, June 4, 2014 | NEWS
SSS withdraws proposal to build frac sand facility at North Branch
High-profile public opposition from Taylors Falls residents may have played a factor
Gary King | Editor
NORTH BRANCH, Minn. - Superior Silica Sands LLC has decided to discontinue any additional effort toward developing a frac sand transloading facility in North Branch’s industrial park.
In a letter dated May 30, SSS told the city, “It has been a pleasure to work with you. We are truly sorry that this business partnership did not work out.”
The letter was signed by Sharon J. Masek, the company’s manager of mine planning and industrial relations.
No reason was given by SSS as to why they dropped the proposal, however, public opposition to the company’s plan, which called for nonstop traffic of large trucks hauling sand through North Branch, Taylors Falls and St. Croix Falls while going back and forth to the company’s frac sand site near Barron, Wis., had grown in recent weeks.
“I’d like to think it was our purpose, pressure and people, but one never knows,” noted Kirsten Kennedy of North Branch, a mayoral candidate who has appeared at meetings of both the St. Croix Falls and North Branch city councils to help spearhead opposition to the SSS plan that would have increased truck traffic to at least 60 per day through both cities. A phase II of the plan by SSS called for possibly twice that much.
The letter from SSS was copied to city of Taylors Falls Mayor Mike Buchite and shared with members of a grassroots group which gathered a petition with more than 3,000 signatures in opposition to the plan. The petition was presented to the North Branch City Council last week.
Buchite told the Chisago County Press that he called SSS to verify what the letter meant and was told by a company official the company has decided not to expand into Minnesota and will try to find alternative transport for the sand product being extracted from pits in Wisconsin.
Buchite and council members signed off on a letter sent to the city of North Branch last month, asking officials there reconsider selling nearly 40 acres of land to to SSS for the transloading facility. It also asked that North Branch express the concerns of Taylors Falls residents during negotiations with SSS, which had signed a letter of intent to purchase the property. Those concerns included traffic safety, health concerns from potential dispersing of sand and how such traffic would hurt the tourism-based economy in Taylors Falls.
Last week it was noted that Chisago County officials had discussed the possibility of finding an alternative site for SSS, citing concerns over the impact a frac facility might have on future land sale in the industrial park, traffic, job creation and tax base.
Meanwhile, frac sand trucks from Tiller Corporation, the company operating frac plants near Grantsburg and North Branch, with pits in Scandia and other southern Minnesota locations, continue to ramble through both cities. Kennedy said she counted five trucks go by her home within 14 minutes one day in late May.
Tiller and Interstate Energy Partners, listed as Minnesota-based companies that process industrial sands for the petroleum and natural gas extraction industries, paid an $80,000 penalty as part of a settlement with the Wisconsin Attorney General’s Office for polluting the St. Croix River near Grantsburg in 2012, due to failure to contain dikes around settling ponds.
Last year, Tiller reached an agreement with the Minnesota Police Control Agency to resolve air-quality violations at the company’s sand-processing facility in North Branch.
Kennedy noted she’s determined to monitor the company as a citizen, and if elected, as a city official, saying Tiller has eyed expansion which includes more trucks and a larger operation. She said that operation was “pushed through our city council” under the guise of being a gravel company and construction began without proper permits, resulting in a fine.
“They are not a Minnesota company but another Wall Street venture capital money-maker,” she noted.
The frac truck issue was on the agenda for a special meeting Tuesday of this week but was canceled following the announcement by SSS. A special showing of “The Price of Sand,” a documentary about “silica mines, small towns and money” was still shown, according to Julie Hildebrand of Taylors Falls, the organizer of the petition against the SSS proposal.
Messages left for North Branch Mayor Ron Lindquist and SSS spokesperson Masek had not been responded to as of press time. Watch leadernewsroom.com for any updates to this story.