Town of Colfax residents express concern to village board about frac sand trains

By LeAnn R. Ralph

COLFAX  —  Town of Colfax residents Margaret Wolfe and Karen Wagner believe an increase in frac sand trains through Colfax could create problems for the Colfax Community Fire Department, the Colfax Rescue Squad and the Colfax School District.

Wolfe and Wagner spoke to the Colfax Village Board about their concerns at the February 23 meeting.

At issue is a proposed 1,300-acre frac sand mine, wet processing plant, dry processing plant and rail loading facility in the Town of Howard in Chippewa County a few miles east of Colfax.

At a recent Howard Town Board meeting, Vernon Schindler, Town Chair, seemed to indicate that he did not care about the problems a frac sand facility would cause to residents in Dunn County because the Town of Howard is in Chippewa County, Wolfe said.

The school buses do not stop at the county line. Cedar Country Cooperative does not stop at the county line. The trains do not stop at the county line. What happens in the Town of Howard will have an impact on people in Dunn County, Wolfe said.

“We are a community … the Town of Howard is in our community,” she said.

Wolfe also expressed concern about the railroad crossings in and around Colfax.

Red Flint Group filed an application for a reclamation permit with Chippewa County in January for the proposed 1,300 acre frac sand facility in the Town of Howard.

At a Howard Town Board meeting, it was reported that the processing plant would cost $50 million to build.

The frac sand processing facility in Chippewa Falls has a valuation of $35 million.

At this point, it is unknown how many train cars would ship out of the facility every day or in which direction they would travel.

The rule is that railroad crossings can only be blocked for seven minutes, Wolfe said.

Three minutes of time can make a big difference to someone suffering a heart attack, and if the Colfax Rescue Squad is delayed or prevented from responding to a call, it could be a matter of life or death, she said.

Wisconsin state statute 192.292 states that trains cannot block a highway or street crossing for more than ten minutes, except in the case of an accident.

Delays at the railroad crossing for the Colfax Fire Department also could cause additional problems for area residents, Wolfe said.

A week ago, a 250-car frac sand train blocked the crossing in Ladysmith for more than a half hour, causing traffic to back up on either side of the crossing, Wolfe said.

With frac sand rail cars 60 feet in length, a 250-car train would stretch for three miles. A 100-car train would stretch out for a little more than a mile.

Wolfe urged Colfax Village Board members to ask how many frac sand mines would be using the wet and dry processing plants in Howard.

Sand from the mine in Cooks Valley currently is hauled by truck to Woodbury, Minnesota, she noted.

Wolfe said the proposed mine would be a half mile away from where she lives in the Town of Howard and that she suffers from environmental asthma.

People probably will not worry much about the potential delays from blocked railroad crossings “until a loved one dies of a heart attack,” Wagner said.

Wolfe and Wagner said they also were concerned about school buses and bus routes being delayed by blocked crossings.

Scott Gunnufson, Village President, wondered why the trains would be stopping in Colfax if the proposed frac sand mine is located several miles outside of Colfax.

Other trains will be traveling in both directions, so one of them would have to stop and wait, Wolfe and Wagner said.

In addition, a train that is 100 cars long or 250 cars long will take a while to pass through the crossings in and around Colfax, they said.

According to the Chippewa County Land Conservation Office website, a mine reclamation permit application has been filed for the 1,310-acre Albertville Valley Mine in the Town of Howard but a public notice for a public hearing on the application has not yet been published.