By LeAnn R. Ralph
MENOMONIE — Only a few hours before the Dunn County Board was scheduled to vote, Vista Sand withdrew the application for a rezone to industrial for building a rail spur near Knapp.
Steve Rasmussen, county board supervisor from Boyceville and chair of the Dunn County Board, announced at the beginning of the September 19 county board meeting that the county had received a letter from Vista Sand at noon on Wednesday withdrawing the application.
“That matter will not be addressed this evening. There’s nothing to consider,” Rasmussen told the county board of supervisors.
The resolution recommending that the rezone be denied was included in the packet for the county board meeting, but the item was taken off the agenda.
Vista planned to mine frac sand south of Glenwood City in St. Croix County and then planned to truck the sand through Downing and Boyceville to state Highway 79 to U.S. Highway 12 where the rail spur would be located between 330th Street and County Highway K. The return route would be Highway 12 back to state Highway 128 to Glenwood City.
The Dunn County Planning, Resources and Development Committee held a public hearing on the proposed rezone on August 28, and on September 11 the PR&D committee made a recommendation that the county board deny the request for a rezone from agricultural to industrial for four reasons:
•The rezone would not be consistent with the county’s comprehensive plan.
According to state law, the zoning must be consistent with the comprehensive plan.
Rezoning a parcel to industrial in an area identified in the comprehensive plan as agricultural with a preferred land use as agricultural would not be consistent.
• The economic impact of the proposed rezone would not be sufficient to offset the increased cost to the municipalities.
One example is that representatives for Vista Sand were unable to tell the PR&D committee how much property tax or fuel tax the operation would generate or how that would compare to a potential loss in property values near the rail spur and along the haul route. And even though the trucks are operating on state and federal highways, road maintenance is still paid by the taxpayers.
• The rezone may constitute spot zoning or contractual zoning.
Spot zoning is defined as a zoning change that benefits a particular property owner but does not extend the same benefits of the rezone to surrounding properties. According to the state Supreme Court and other court rulings, spot zoning should be for a public purpose with a public benefit and not just for the benefit of the property owner. Examples of a “public purpose” would include a park or a publicly owned building such as a courthouse or village hall.
• The proposed rezone is not in the best interest of public health, safety and welfare.
Residents living near the proposed site expressed a variety of concerns about the proposal, including impact on their property values. Residents along the 35-mile haul route, as well as the village boards in Downing and Boyceville, also were concerned about increased truck traffic. Vista had planned to ship out one million tons of sand per year.
Residents were concerned, too, about flocculants since sand would be stockpiled at the site. Flocculants are chemicals used to settle fine materials out of the sand.
There was also concern about a trout stream located within 300 feet of the proposed rail spur. Dunn County adopted a shoreland wetland zoning ordinance earlier this summer that would apply to the proposed rezone area.
According to the letter dated September 19 from R.J. Sikes of Vista Sand, “Vista Sand has been working on a proposal to develop a transload facility adjacent to the established rail corridor owned and operated by Union Pacific Railroad Company since late 2011. Prior to submitting its application, Vista Sand completed a thorough review of the land adjacent to the Union Pacific rail corridor running through Dunn County. Unfortunately, no site was both correctly zoned and allowed for the minimum operational characteristics required for the Vista Sand transload use. The formal zoning application was submitted to Dunn County in May 2012.”
The letter goes on to say, “During the months of February to May 2012, Vista Sand worked with representatives of Menomonie Township to establish a suitable framework for considering and then approving Vista Sand’s proposed zoning amendment application. As part of this approval process, Vista Sand agreed to certain site operating conditions and offsite protections, as required by Menomonie Township, including financial guarantees to directly adjacent residential landowners. The recommendation of approval was adopted by the Township Board of Supervisors at its meeting on June 14, 2012.”
Adjoining landowners said the “financial guarantees” amounted to “hush money” because if they accepted the money and signed the agreement, they could not publicly voice concerns about the rail spur.
The letter continues by noting the timeframe for submitting documents to Dunn County.
“It has taken approximately 8 months for Vista Sand’s application to advance through proceedings required by Menomonie Township and Dunn County, respectively. This extended timeframe was not due to any request by Vista Sand, but, rather deemed necessary by township or County representatives. As the applicant for the zoning change, Vista Sand respectfully believes it should be entitled to some deference in asking for an extension of time before the County Board acts on its application, especially given the concurrent timing of a major ordinance change that bears directly on Vista Sand and its proposed use. Under these circumstances, it is difficult to understand the rationale for the County Board to reject this request and assert that is compelled to take ‘timely action’ on the Vista Sand application.”
The Visa letter goes on to talk about creating “roughly 100 jobs in the area” and “$20 to $25 million to the local economy.”
According to information Vista provided to the PR&D committee at the August 28 public hearing, the transloading facility in Dunn County would create 13 jobs with an annual payroll of $618,552. The mine site in St. Croix County would create 40 jobs, including equipment operators and yard loaders with an annual payroll of $1.8 million.
The information Vista provided to the PR&D committee notes that the employment totals do not include the 30 to 40 truck drivers needed to haul the sand.
At the letter’s conclusion, Sikes writes, “We plan to resubmit our application at a later date following an economic study of the area and further consultation with the County and its residents.”
Vista Sand had previously submitted an application to St. Croix County for operating the sand mine near Glenwood City.
The Glenwood City Town Board approved the proposal in July, and the Vista Sand application was scheduled to be on the St. Croix County Zoning Board of Adjustment’s agenda for July 26.
At the Glenwood Town Board meeting in July, Alex Blackburn of the St. Croix County zoning office, said Vista Sand’s engineering firm, Short Elliott Hendrickson (SEH), withdrew the application after zoning officials said they needed additional information.
According to the St. Croix County Planning and Zoning office, as of September 21, the Vista Sand application had not yet been rescheduled as an agenda item for the St. Croix County Zoning Board of Adjustment.