Tempers flared at the Dec. 5, 2012 Winona Board of Adjustment meeting when the Winona Port Authority’s lease holder was permitted to move twice as many frac sand barges as previously allowed. Threats of an appeal have been realized, forcing the Winona City Council to evaluate the approved expansion at its own port.
An appeal filed by Winona resident and member of Winona Area Citizens Concerned About Silica Mining (CASM) Jane Cowgill was prompted by the board’s approval of the amended conditional use permit (CUP) request submitted by CD Corporation to double the number of frac sand barges the company can move in a season from 24 to 48. The approval also allowed CD Corp. to reduce the required moisture level of stockpiled material from 4 percent to 1.5 percent.
During the initial CUP variance hearing in early December 2012, concerned citizens raised questions about added truck traffic, inadequate air quality monitoring, and even accused city officials and board members of being involved in a conflict of interest.
The Winona Post reported last month that through its Port Authority, the city would profit from CD Corp.’s expanded CUP. Tonnage fees from the increased number of sand barges at the dock would allow the authority to collect more than $160,000 in the upcoming season. However, City Manager Judy Bodway said she did not see a conflict of interest, even though the city regulates and profits from the activities at the port.
While the December 5 Board of Adjustment hearing was specific to the CUP variance request, citizens expressed their concern for an exemption they felt was linked to a conflict of interest. Assistant City Planner Carlos Espinosa, and Economic Development Director and Port Authority Assistant Executive Secretary Lucy McMartin reminded citizens to speak only on the issues related to the variance request, but that only inflamed audience members.
“We are repeatedly denied transparency and I don’t know what it is going to take to get a concrete answer,” Winona citizen James Johnson said.
After a uniformed police officer was called, the situation was diffused, but CASM member Marie Kovecsi said an appeal would be filed.
During its meeting Monday, the City Council will discuss finalizing an appeal hearing date, which has been tentatively listed as Tuesday, January 22 at 6:30 p.m.
If the council approves of an appeal date, it will be the second time CASM members have appealed a Board of Adjustment decision that benefited CD Corp., and the city Port’s coffers.