Wednesday, June 11, 2014 | NEWS
Still in negotiation?
Some North Branch officials hope to revive SSS plan for frac sand facility; bypass becomes key word
Gary King | Editor
NORTH BRANCH, Minn. - Mayor Ron Lindquist and administrator Brigitte Konrad will have an informal meeting with officials from Superior Silica Sands on Monday, June 16 to see if SSS is interested in reviving plans to construct a frac sand loading station in the city’s industrial park.
Konrad confirmed the meeting today, June 11.
SSS sent a letter to the city two weeks ago indicating it had withdrawn its offer to purchase approximately 40 acres in the city’s industrial park for construction of a frac sand trans-loading station.
No reason for dropping the project but the decision came in the wake of well-publicized protests from Taylors Falls, Minn. residents as well as others who were concerned of the potential impact the project would have on their city from a steady stream of trucks hauling frac sand through their city.
A petition with more than 3,000 signatures of those opposed to the project was presented to the North Branch city council from Taylors Falls residents.
The movement generated attention through Facebook and media coverage - from local news outlets to Twin Cities TV stations and websites.
Stories focused on the impact of potential traffic.
In a project fact sheet issued by SSS on June 9, SSS outlines Phase I of their proposed project and states it would pay for the City of North Branch to build a truck bypass with construction in 2015. It would pay for city road maintenance expense due to excess wear and they would make an annual contribution to a road maintenance reserve fund.
It does not mention Taylors Falls, where apparently the impact of frac trucks is being felt. Traffic from Tiller Corporation, which owns a facility in Grantsburg, is being monitored by contributors to the “Taylors Falls Say No” Facebook site. Information on the site says that after Tiller “ramped up” its operation this spring there has been a “significant upswing” in the number of trucks coming through Taylors Falls. Volunteers counted 60 frac atrucks in a 2 hour, 20-minute time period on Thursday, June 5. “Downtown Taylors Falls needs a Hwy. 95 bypass!!!” states the site.
Taylors Falls meeting
Taylors Falls Mayor Mike Buchite said he and vice mayor Ross Rivard hosted a meeting with the North Branch mayor, administrator and a council member on June 9. (Video clip of meeting here).
He said they emphasized the importance of the project financially to North Branch and also wanted to let Taylors Falls officials know they were thankful for the letter they had received from Taylors Falls.
“They said, “We are trying to deal with your concerns … and they didn’t ask for anything from us,’” Buchite said.
One of the items discussed was the possibility of a Hwy. 95 bypass for Taylors Falls.
“What’s been going through my mind for the past week is, ‘Is it time for a bypass?’,” Buchite said, during his opening comments at the June 9 meeting of the council, adding the city has been looking at a Hwy. 95 bypass for many years.
“If there were fewer trucks going through out city, we would probably see more tourists,” Buchite said. “I can’t prove that, but that’s what I believe.”
Buchite also referred to the projected six percent decrease in the levy for North Branch residents should the SSS project be approved - and the same amount levy increase should it not occur. He said residents in Taylors Falls - faced with a choice of raising their city tax by six percent or allowing the proposed SSS project in its city, would likely choose the increase in tax.
He thanked council members and community members for their show of concern over the issue.
But at a meeting of the North Branch Economic Development Association the previous week (June 5), comments were made by some committee members which were not as appreciative.
One member claimed the anti-frac truck movement had cost the City of North Branch considerable money by causing SSS to pull the plug on the project due to bad publicity.
EDA Comissioner Charles “Chuck” Sinn accused the group, moveon.org, which offered online petition services - as being very political - and not only "anti-business" but "anti-American."
“This was an emotional uprising,” said Joyce Borchart, another member of the committee, referring to the reaction by some Taylors Falls residents and the subsequent publicity. She said the situation got out of hand with statements being made before all the facts of the proposed project were known.
More employees, tax base
Noted by SSS on its latest fact sheet is the positive impact the project would have on North Branch and surrounding area by creating jobs and a bigger tax base for the city.
The trans load facility, the fact sheet states, would consist of a truck to rail car with a covered conveyor/transfer, with on-site air monitoring as required. There would be no on-site manufacturing or outdoor storage of sand. The plant would run from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. with possibility of extending the hours to 10 p.m. for weather and special events.
There would be seven employees on site. There would be 27 local trucking positions and three to five positions for St. Croix Valley Rail.
There would be 108 trips per day to the site or an average of 10 to 12 per hour.
SSS says its plant would have a net impact yearly (2016-2022) of 7.48 percent on the city tax levy, with interest, principal, and assessments on the SSS site in the industrial park.
There would be a net impact of 5.93 percent on the city’s 2015 levy of its residents.
Possible Phase II
SSS says an additional phase of the project may be possible three to five years out if the business warrants expansion. That portion of the project would increase the number of trucks traveling back and forth from the company’s plant near Barron, Wis. and North Branch.
Concerns over the affects on tourism - which Taylors Falls depends on economically - the potential health hazard of frac sand in the air and the physical danger of trying to drive or cross the street in downtown Taylors Falls have all been expressed.
Mayor Buchite said he understands and supports the concerns of those who are worried about the health affects of frac sand itself but he’s focusing on the hazards of too much traffic.
“I don’t care if it’s 112 trucks of dog food or 112 trucks of sand, it’s the volume of trucks going through our city - that’s my biggest concern - health, safety, welfare,” he said.
Buchite said he will continue to look into the issue - including the possibility of a bypass.
Note: This story will may be updated. A message left for an SSS representative had not been returned prior to publication of this story.
SSS project fact sheet