8/1/2014 12:41:00 PM Superior Silica Sands tells city officials to 'suspend' dealings
by DENISE MARTIN
The on, then off-and then on again Superior Silica Sands transloading project is off again. North Branch city council at Monday’s city council meeting announced that the company is pulling away from the negotiating table.
City Administrator Bridgitte Konrad reports the city received notice around mid-week last week from Superior Silica Sands officials that the permit process for a potential SSS facility in North Branch looks to be delayed until February 2015.
Konrad said SSS wants to “suspend” talks with the city on purchasing a sand loading facility site as well as the platting of the lot. Whenever North Branch hears back from SSS, then a new timeframe will be established for the project, Konrad explained. The earlier timeline distributed, calling for this facility to operational in late fall is “off the table.”
The issue, council said, is state Pollution Control Agency regulation of certain aspects of the project. The company claims to have been advised one thing when this 27 acre site development began and now says regulators are advising the company differently. Mayor Ron Lindquist said SSS was told by one state official the facility is only for transfer of product and it doesn’t need permits and then the company heard the use of the site does constitute “processing” and needs permits.
“That’s what they told us they were being told,” the mayor remarked.
Konrad said as meetings with state regulators are being scheduled somebody from the city will also attend in order to stay in-the-loop.
Council member Trent Jensen asked North Branch financial director Richard Hill what impact a delay in selling the city-owned site could present budgetwise.
North Branch has been anticipating good-sized debt payments starting to come on-line next year, to cover loans encumbered when the city bought and developed the ESSBY business and industrial park, where SSS wants to buy.
Hill responded that it depends on timing of the closing, as to where North Branch would apply the revenue. At least $230,000 was earlier calculated from this development as a 2015 “benefit” to the city based on SSS buying. Hill said, the city’s debt service increments are throughout the year with both infrastructure assessments and interest payments due for improving ESSBY. At the very least a sale to SSS can go into balloon payments due in a few years.
Council member Joyce Borchardt commented that she hopes the county-city traffic roue study continues whether there’s an imminent project or not.
Long term planning requires better understanding of how haulers or suppliers of any major ESSBY enterprise will enter and exit the city, she said.
The traffic study is continuing, staff advised.
When SSS first publicly declared its intentions this spring to haul sand product from aggregate mining sites in West Wisconsin to North Branch so sand can be loaded onto railcars for shipping to the Dakotas for hydraulic fracturing needs; the idea was that trucks would travel through Taylors Falls.
Residents lobbied against estimated hundreds of truck trips through the small, congested river town. Superior notified North Branch on May 30, by letter, that it would find another way to transport its fine sand granules to the Dakotas, and it was “truly sorry that this business partnership didn’t work out.” Shortly after this declaration, however, relations were rekindled as North Branch officials met privately with SSS company officials and then announced that talks had resumed and the traffic study would commence.