By LeAnn R. Ralph
GLENWOOD CITY — Even though R.J. Sikes, the managing partner and spokesperson for Vista Sand is now serving a four-year prison term in Texas for child sexual assault, Glenwood City Mayor John Larson says nothing has changed with Vista.
“(Because) of the issues and the controversy we’ve had on the sand, it’s an unfortunate happening. We don’t need any more controversy,” Mayor Larson said.
“That being said — what he did or did not do is his problem,” he said.
Sikes’ conviction has nothing to do with Glenwood City and it has nothing to do with Glenwood City’s agreement with Vista Sand, Mayor Larson said.
“Nothing has changed. The city will continue with Vista Sand,” he said.
According to the August 20 edition of the Tribune Press Reporter, a statement from Vista Sand indicated that Sikes “is on permanent leave from Vista Sand … (and) no longer has any decision-making role with Vista Sand.”
The statement from Vista Sand goes on to say that Joe McKie, Vista’s chief operating officer, will make the daily operational decisions for Vista Sand.
“R.J. Sikes is out, and McKie is in,” Mayor Larson said, noting that Sikes was only one of several owners in the Vista Sand operation.
Although Sikes was the spokesperson at all of the meetings pertaining to Vista Sand’s proposed frac sand mine in Glenwood City, McKie attended all of the meetings with Sikes, he said.
Anders Helquist, an attorney with the law firm of Weld, Riley, Prenn and Ricci who represents Vista Sand, has issued a news release stating that Sikes is no longer associated with the company and has no decision-making authority with the company, Mayor Larson said.
Sikes’ conviction “would be like if a principal or a superintendent of schools were convicted of a crime. It would not mean we should not trust the whole school board or the other employees,” he said.
When asked if Sikes had let Mayor Larson or the Glenwood City Council know that he had been indicted by a grand jury, Mayor Larson said the case “was part of a messy divorce.”
“Whatever he did, it’s his problem, and he has to deal with it. He’s no longer in the picture, and Mr. McKie is in,” Mayor Larson said.
In spite of Sikes’ conviction, the people of Glenwood City should not lose sight of the benefits of the frac sand mine, Mayor Larson said.
The sand mine will provide 40 to 60 jobs, will increase the city’s tax base and will provide $100,000 in royalty payments to the city, he said.
“From Glenwood City’s perspective, this is way bigger than R.J. Sikes or any one individual,” Mayor Larson said.
By the same token, Mayor Larson said he suspected that one or two city council members would try to “make an issue” out of Sikes’ conviction.
The Glenwood City Council’s Committee of the Whole met last Monday and had some discussion about the situation, he said.
Mayor Larson said he had met with two of the owners, along with McKie and Helquist, on Friday, August 15, to discuss the status of Vista Sand.
Mayor Larson said he had been assured that Sikes no longer had any capacity with the company.
“A certain element will try to make a big deal out of it. Not to minimize it, but it’s a non-event for the city,” Mayor Larson said.
“Am I happy this happened? No. But it does not change anything … it does not void the contract with Vista Sand,” he said.
Glenwood City’s contract is with Vista Sand and was not with R.J. Sikes, and at some point in the future, the city could be dealing with a different company and a different group of investors if Vista Sand is sold, Mayor Larson said.
When asked if he knew of any plans to sell Vista Sand to another company, Mayor Larson said he was not aware of any plans.
“They have not said anything about selling the company … (but) companies are bought and sold all of the time,” he said.
According to the news release from Vista Sand, McKie previously served as the interim head of operations and the chief financial officer of Texas-based Superior Silica Sands.
Superior Silica Sands operates a frac sand mine and wet processing plant in the Town of Auburn in Chippewa County and a dry processing plant in the Town of Dovre in Barron County that was annexed by the Village of New Auburn in April of 2013.
The Village of New Auburn straddles the line between Chippewa and Barron Counties.
Superior Silica Sands also operates a frac sand mine in the Town of Arland in Barron County and in the Town of Sioux Creek.
As of February of this year, Superior Silica Sands was considered to be the fourth-largest frac sand supplier in North America, according to a report made to the Barron County Board by Superior Silica Sands’ CEO Rick Shearer.
Superior Silica Sands was fined $4,192 in Chippewa County in the fall of 2011 when a berm failed and spilled wash water into Trout Creek.
A citizen reported the spill and said that Trout Creek had become cloudy.
The breach of the berm appeared to have occurred because the wash plant exceeded the design capacity of the ponds, according to Dan Masterpole of the Chippewa County land conservation office.
At the time of the spill, a company spokesperson said Superior Silica Sands planned to re-engineer the holding ponds to make sure the berms were structurally sound.
Superior Silica Sands applied for a reclamation permit in Chippewa County in February of 2013 to expand the mine site from 200 acres to 475 acres.
According to the public notice, Superior Silica Sands plans to establish a post-mining land use of wildlife habitat by planting native grasses and trees.