5/29/2014 11:31:00 AM Officials informed Superior Silica Sand LLC is no longer pursuing North Branch facility
The Taylors Falls mayor has received word that the Superior Silica Sands proposed facility in North Branch has been halted. The facility would have necessitated a haul route for trucks bringing silica sand product from mines in Wisconsin to the potential transloading site in North Branch, where the trucks would off-load onto the shortline rail line.
Mayor Mike Buchite said he got a letter in his personal mail Saturday, May 31, sent from Superior Silica Sands LLC, that is a copy of a letter addressed to the city of North Branch. The manager of mine planning and industrial relations states the company has “decided to discontinue any additional efforts towards developing a trans-loading facility in the ESSBY industrial park in North Branch.”
Mayor Buchite called to verify what the letter meant and get clarification on what happened to derail the Minnesota site. He said he 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.
The silica is used in hydraulic fracturing in the Dakotas. Buchite added that he appreciates the citizens who became involved in the issue and their passion about protecting Taylors Falls-- which was looking at hundreds of truck trips hauling from mines through town, to the ESSBY facility.
Council member Joyce Borchardt made a motion to re-open public comment for all, and the motion passed with Trent Jensen opposed; allowing many more from Sunrise Township, Taylors Falls and elsewhere to stand at the microphone. Kirsten Kennedy submitted a petition she said contained 1,400 names opposed to the sand facility and use of the Highway 95 haul route from Wisconsin through Taylors Falls, to the proposed sand transloading facility on the rail line in North Branch. She said the petition is going to MnDOT and Governor Dayton and asked North Branch officials to reconsider a decision that could “devastate” the entire area. She asked council to work with Chisago County on what is a very tentative plan at this point, that would have the county providing funding for North Branch to meet financial obligations related to debt it took on in developing the city industrial park. The concept also involves assisting North Branch in finding an alternative location for a Superior Sands facility, ideally better equipped to handle massive amounts of truck transport and fewer people living nearby who could potentially be affected by environmental fallout.
Tessa Hill promised council that this level of opposition will only grow, adding that organizers “will see to it.” Julie Solle asked council to visit sand mining facilities in Wisconsin and view the impact hundreds of trucks, noise, dust and related frac sand processing activities have had-- which she said are ruining small towns like Chetek, etc. Gil Randolph warned the council that if the Superior Silica Sands facility comes into North Branch’s industrial/business park “nobody will want to be a part of that,” locating a business next to a sand facility. “What will you do with the balance of ESSBY?” he asked. (ESSBY is what the North Branch industrial park is known by.) Tom Chaklos added that if the council should agree to allow the Superior plant in North Branch, then officials must prepare for fewer businesses in town and fewer people coming there for the small town quality of life. “Another 100 mines are in the works in Wisconsin,” he promised. Jim McCarthy asked council to reopen the recently updated AUAR study of ESSBY because sand processing and transfer facilities are not part of the newly-updated review.
Anne Turner added that the council must not make a hasty decision based on the city’s upcoming (debt payments)financial constraints, and that council needs to continue to look for alternatives to resolving its problems set in motion by “bad decisions” other councils made in the past. North Branch is setting up a town hall session for the public and all the parties involved, probably to be held at the high school auditorium. City Administrator Bridgitte Konrad said the information and details have to be compiled first and guessed the issue could be ready to be aired in late June or early July.