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Concerned citizens volunteer to pound the pavement in St. Charles


Fri, Dec 21st, 2012
Posted in All Government

Concerned Citizens of St. Charles have organized to prevent the building of a proposed industrial sand processing facility and rail spur on the east edge of their city. Also included in the plans is a six-mile underground pipeline to be used to transport some of the sand to the plant. The project has been proposed by Minnesota Proppant, Inc. who have suggested this will be the largest “frac” sand processing plant and facility for truck to rail transportation in the country. The dedicated volunteers have been walking house to house gathering signatures on petitions and keeping track of each resident’s position on the project.

The petition reads, proposing an ordinance to prohibit “the mining, loading, unloading, storage, transferring, washing, and processing of industrial silica sand (Frac Sand) within the city limits of St. Charles, Minnesota.”

Fred Troendle, who was standing in for Travis Lange who was home with the flu, explained to the group of near 40 volunteers gathered at Faith Lutheran Church on December 16 a plan to continue to collect signatures on petition forms. They intend to continue until 100 percent of the residences in St. Charles have been visited. As of December 4, they had collected 906 signatures on the petition. The signed petitions were laid out covering four long tables. These signatures represent 49 percent of the people who voted in the last city election. Volunteers have been to about 60 percent of the city’s residences so far. Of those residents, Troendle said 80 percent voiced concerns against having the facility in their community. Ten percent wanted the facility and ten percent didn’t care. He later said that he can’t believe the city council will vote against the concerns of 80 percent of the residents.

A letter from Lange maintained that the city charter, section 5.01 “Powers Reserved by the People” states that if a valid committee presents a measure and has a minimum of fifteen percent of the voter turnout at the last electoral election, “the measure must be acted on by the City Council or the measure is to be voted on by the citizens of St. Charles.” However, city administrator Nick Koverman in a letter to Lange said the Municipal Planning Act, Minnesota Statute 462.351-.364, has trumped the local charter. Therefore, the issue can not be presented for public vote.

The petitions and 906 signatures had been presented at the December 11 city council meeting. Due to the number of signatures the petitions will be an agenda item at the first council meeting in 2013. The Municipal Planning Act does not preempt the city council from taking action. The hope is that the city council will either adopt the proposed ordinance or allow a public vote on the issue, following the wishes of St. Charles citizens.

Troendle noted that St. Charles Township has twice voted against the processing plant project. Landowners then requested that the city annex the 300 acres on Cherokee Road, east of the city where the facility is to be constructed. If the city annexed the property and the proposed processing plant were to be built, the city would need to extend a water pipeline out to the plant at considerable expense to the city. The city council chose not to take action until an Environmental Assessment Worksheet (EAW) was completed, which is now in the process of being done.

Troendle related that many of the citizens of St. Charles see it as a “quality of life” issue. Forty percent of citizens are young families with kids. Sixty-nine percent are employed outside of St. Charles. People have chosen to live in this quiet, bedroom community. They are concerned about negative impacts the facility would generate for their health, safety and welfare, including heavy truck traffic and health concerns associated with silica dust and chemicals used in processing.

EIS

The Winona Post has reported that the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) had sent data to the Winona County Board (December 11) suggesting that they may have to require the proposed industrial sand mines near St. Charles (two in Saratoga Township) and the proposed processing plant near St. Charles to complete an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). They asked the county board to consider the “cumulative impacts.” An EIS is very expensive and time consuming and much more detailed than an EAW. It could take a year or more to prepare and would provide significant detail as to the environmental consequences of the combined impact of both the mines and the plant in Winona County and possibly in the region.

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