A frac sand transport facility is requesting permission to build rail yards closer to a residential district than allowed under city code. Mikrut Properties, LLLP, is seeking a variance from the Winona Board of Adjustment in order to construct two rail spurs at its Seven Rivers freight transportation facility. Those spurs would be within 135 feet of a residential district at North and Fairfax Streets near the Pelzer Street overpass. City zoning rules require railroad yards be 200 feet from residential districts.
Owner Rich Mikrut said that if allowed, the spurs would be constructed adjacent to existing tracks and provide storage space for rail cars. "There is very little car storage in town," Mikrut said. Providing storage at that location would allow for increased business at his transport facility and decrease the blockage of streets due to trains elsewhere in the city, he explained.
Joel and Marilyn Bjorlo, long-time residents of the adjacent neighborhood, are very unhappy with the transport facility that was recently constructed behind their backyard and do not want to see it grow.
"Our neighborhood was once a quiet and peaceful place but now it has been changed forever," Marilyn Bjorlo said.
There is heavy truck traffic on McConnon Road—the only entrance to the facility—and lots of noise, dust, dirt, and diesel fumes, the Bjorlos explained. They are concerned about the health impact of the diesel fumes, and the lack of privacy in their backyard. They fear there will be increased truck traffic near their home and increased activity at the transport facility if the additional rail spurs are allowed to be constructed. "It's going to make a mess of our neighborhood with noise and dust and diesel fumes," Joel Bjorlo said.
When asked if he had any plans to mitigate the impact of the rail spurs on the adjacent homes on Fairfax Street, Mikrut said he planned on planting trees to screen the homes from the rail yard. He said dust will not be an issue and that the rail yards would not represent any increase in noise levels over the existing through rail line there.
There is a small wetland in the path of the proposed rail spurs, explained Assistant City Planner Carlos Espinosa. Minnesota law prohibits developing wetlands when there is a "prudent and feasible alternative," and requires that wetlands that are developed be replaced by the restoration or creation of a wetland elsewhere. Espinosa said that Mikrut is considering that issue. Mikrut said the proposed location is the only place additional rail car storage could be situated.
The Board of Adjustment will hold a public hearing and consider Mikrut's request at 5 p.m. on Wednesday, March 20.