After a nearly two-hour appeal hearing last Tuesday, the Winona City Council, in the second silica sand hearing of the evening, voted for a second time to uphold the decision by the Winona Board of Adjustment (BOA) to allow the Port’s leaseholder to double the number of frac sand barges it can ship.
In early December 2012, the BOA initially approved two amendments to CD Corporation’s conditional use permit (CUP) that allowed the company to double the number of frac sand barges it can move from 24 to 48 in one month, and reduce the moisture level of stockpiled sand at the port from 4 percent to 1.5 percent.
However, members of the citizens’ group Winona Area Citizens Concerned About Silica Sand Mining (CASM) filed an appeal of the BOA’s decision.
The city council heard testimony in crowded chambers from concerned citizens during the public hearing Tuesday, which included a 20-minute presentation from three members of CASM.
“The specific request for doubling the number of barges that can be loaded from 24 to 48 per month was not sufficiently investigated,” CASM member Jane Cowgill argued. “This change will increase the number of trucks coming into the city, and the effects of the increased diesel exhaust pollution, rising noise levels, road safety, and effect on the general quality of life were insufficiently addressed.”
Also representing CASM, Winona residents James Johnson and Steven Schild questioned the legality of the Port’s exemption, but both agreed the bigger issue was government transparency.
“What is the legal rationale of exempting one existing frac sand operation while all others were not made exempt?” Johnson asked. “Understanding why the Port was exempt is pivotal for understanding the moratorium.”
CD Corp. owner Dan Nisbit weighed in during the public hearing and said while he doesn’t anticipate moving 48 farce sand barges in a month, the increase in barge numbers gives his company flexibility.
“If you look at the newspapers recently, they are talking about river levels being low. And, for people that know, that’s the nature of the barge business,” Nisbit said. “If the river were to ever shut down for one month or two months, you need to be able to catch up. Barging is not a steady business. [The added barge number] gives us flexibility to catch up.”
Nisbit restated information he provided during the first appeal hearing in June 2012, saying the Port handled more than two million tons of commodities 10 years ago. He said that equates to more than 200 truck trips more a day than the Port sees now.
BOA member Dave Kouba defended his original decision to grant the CUP amendments and urged the council to uphold the decision.
A brief discussion followed the public hearing, and city attorney Chris Hood reminded council members that the recent change to the moisture level of stockpiled material was amended during the first hearing of the evening from 1.5 percent to 2.5 percent. (See article that details all frac sand changes in this issue.)
Nisbit said he would adhere to the new moisture level regulation, simply asking “to be held to the standards that the city adopts.”
Newly elected city council member Paul Double initiated the motion to affirm the BOA’s decision and the council voted 5-1 in favor, with council member Gerry Krage casting the opposing vote.
“We are a port town, and we need to recognize that,” Double said. “It’s our ace. We are the only city in Southeast Minnesota with water, rail, air, and interstate.”