DC PR&D to decide on Vista Sand rezone Sept. 11
By LeAnn R. Ralph
MENOMONIE — Of the 20 people who testified before the Dunn County Planning, Resources and Development Committee on the proposed rezone to industrial for Vista Sand, 19 were opposed and only one was in favor.
About 50 people attended a public hearing on the proposed rezone held at the Dunn County Judicial Center August 28.
Vista Sand is proposing to operate a frac sand loading facility on 190 acres between county Highway K and 330th Street in the Town of Menomonie along U.S. Highway 12 between state Highway 79 and Knapp.
Frank Bammert, chair of the Town of Menomonie, was the only person to speak in favor of the rezone. Bammert reminded the PR&D committee that the Menomonie Town Board had approved the rezone from Agricultural 3 to Industrial.
Cleo Herrick, Dunn County zoning administrator, reported that she had received a number of letters about the proposed rezone and that she had already — or would — provide copies to the PR&D committee.
Herrick also noted that she had received an e-mail from the state Department of Natural Resources that, in part, contained a reminder to the PR&D committee to be aware of the shoreland zoning ordinance because of the intermittent stream in the area.
The intermittent stream means that Dunn County’s newly-enacted shoreland-wetland zoning ordinance applies, Herrick said.
The first half of the three-hour public hearing was devoted to representatives from Vista Sand describing the proposal for a loading facility.
One gentleman said during the public comments portion of the meeting that the representatives for Vista Sand talked about their proposal but did not make a case for reasons why a rezone from Agricultural 3 to Industrial should be granted.
R.J. Sikes of Vista Sand told the PR&D committee that no other parcels of sufficient size were available in Dunn County for the sand loading facility.
Vista Sand plans to mine sand in St. Croix County just south of Glenwood City and haul the sand on state Highway 170 through Downing and Boyceville to state Highway 79 to U.S. Highway 12.
The company plans to haul sand 24 hours a day, six days a week because of the unit train rules with Union Pacific, Sikes said.
The railroad requires the 100-car unit trains to be loaded and to leave the facility within 24 hours, he said.
Vista will haul sand eight or nine months out of the year, Sikes said.
“With my limited experience in the last couple of years, (the company) will stop shipping sand in mid-December, Sikes said.
Sikes said the company plans to haul and ship one million tons of sand per year. The sand will be shipped to Texas.
During a variety of previous meetings about the Vista Sand proposal, one area of concern for the general public has been the amount of truck traffic that will be traveling between the mine and the loading facility.
Instead of a third-party trucking company, Vista Sand will operate the trucking, Sikes said, noting that the entire route is about 35 miles and that the company plans to use between 35 and 40 trucks.
“We’re hiring local guys. We’re hiring your neighbors,” he said.
The average number of trucks per day will be about 200, Sikes said.
According to the developer’s agreement with the Town of Menomonie, Vista Sand has agreed to suspend trucking operations for two hours in the morning and again in the afternoon during school bus hours, Sikes said.
Trucking will begin at 5 a.m. on Monday mornings and will continue until 8 p.m. Saturday evenings, he said.
At 200 trucks per day, that works out to be one truck every six minutes.
About 15,000 tons of sand will be stockpiled on the site at all times, Sikes said.
Each rail car holds 100 tons of sand, so the stockpile would be the equivalent of 150 rail cars.
The loading facility is not a processing or drying facility but is intended only for loading, Sikes said.
The proposed transloading facility could handle up to a total of four to six more unit trains per week in addition to Vista Sand’s two to four unit trains per week, he said.
Joe Plouff, county board supervisor and chair of the PR&D committee, wondered about the amount of property tax the transloading facility would generate.
Sikes said it was his understanding that the $12 million facility would not increase the tax base in the Town of Menomonie but that it would lower the taxes for other property owners.
Sikes noted that the developer’s agreement with the Town of Menomonie would generate $7 per rail car for the township.
During the public comments portion of the meeting, Stephanie May, Town of Stanton, said she was opposed to the rezone.
She also said that the $7 per rail car user fee promised to the Town of Menomonie was not fair to the Town of Stanton and for the villages of Boyceville, Knapp and Downing.
The Vista Sand trucks will be affecting other townships and villages but there is no way for the other municipalities to obtain a user fee, May said.
The frac sand facility is not compatible with surrounding uses, she said.
May urged the PR&D committee to keep the “economic bust” of the facility in mind for future planning.
Glenn Stoddard of Eau Claire, an attorney representing a group of property owners in the area of the proposed loading facility, said that because the area is zoned A3, changing the zoning to industrial would be “spot zoning” and would only be for the benefit of Vista Sand and not to benefit the broader public interest.
An industrial zone would be inconsistent with the existing land use and with the land use plan, Stoddard said.
State law stipulates that as of January 1, 2010, zoning must be consistent with the comprehensive plan, he said.
The sand loading facility would impact the health, safety and welfare of nearby residents, and the facility also would affect natural resources, property values, the social character of the neighborhood and would not be a compatible use.
“I believe this should be denied,” Stoddard said.
Barb Flom, a resident in the Town of Lucas, said the Lucas Town Board had adopted a resolution opposing the rail spur.
Glacier Sand has approached people in the Knapp area about frac sand mining, and there is “heavy prospecting” taking place, she said.
Neighbors have been offered money as a “personal bribe,” Flom said.
The loading facility would open the Knapp Hills to looking like the sand mine areas in Chippewa County, she said.
With all due respect to Neil Koch, Menomonie Town Board member who said he was not concerned about silica dust from the Vista Sand facility, the Centers for Disease Control and National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) have issued statements saying that wherever sand is moved, silica dust is a problem, Flom said.
Paula Danovsky, also a Town of Lucas resident, lives one mile from the proposed Vista Sand facility.
The 2010 Dunn County comprehensive zoning ordinance states that the goal is to protect and conserve the social character and the property values, she said.
The 2010 to 2030 preferred land use map shows farmland and residential, not industrial, Danovsky said.
Housing prices are already declining, and the rail spur would be “a death sentence” for property values, she said.
Danovsky said she has been up in the middle of the night recently and has seen only a couple of cars going by.
With sand trucks running 24 hours a day, “I don’t know how we’re going to sleep. They say we’ll get used to it,” she said.
Along the haul route, there are 240 houses with direct driveway access to the highway, along with 30 businesses, five cemeteries, and two parks; and the haul route covers four school districts, Danovsky said.
Richard Harnisch said his property overlooks the proposed Vista Sand loading site and that a berm will not stop dust and light pollution.
The wind constantly blows down the valley, he said.
Water from the facility will run into a nearby trout stream, and a ten degree or 20 degree increase in water temperature from water running off sand heated by the sun will ruin the trout stream, Harnisch said.
Todd Cockeram, who also lives near the proposed rail spur, noted that U.S. Highway 12 is an alternate route for Interstate 94.
I-94 has been rerouted onto Highway 12 maybe three or four times, he said.
When I-94 is routed onto Highway 12, sometimes traffic is backed up from the city limits of Menomonie to past his place, Cockeram said.
The Dunn County Planning, Resources and Development Committee will meet at 9 a.m. on Tuesday, September 11, to consider the Vista Sand proposal.
The PR&D committee will meet in the Government Center on Wilson Avenue in downtown Menomonie in the county board room on the first floor.