The Winona City Council made its final decision on traffic regulations for the frac sand industry on Monday night. All new frac sand facilities and new mines for extraction of any substance must now submit to a Traffic Impact Analysis (TIA). A 4-3 vote supported the proposed rule early last month; the same narrow majority backed an unchanged version of the ordinance amendment on Monday, ushering it into city code.
At the May meeting, several council members — and citizens who spoke during a public hearing — called for the traffic ordinance to be stronger. Conversely, other council members said the ordinance reached too far in targeting a single industry and that the city had already ruled on how it would regulate traffic from the frac sand industry.
Despite these differing sentiments, the council directed staff to research three issues of interest to supporters of broader regulation: how the city could verify the number of truck trips at a given facility, whether the city could include truck routes in TIAs, and how the city might account for the cumulative impact of traffic from a number of individual facilities. Requiring businesses to keep logs of trucks coming and going from their facilities was mentioned as one way to verify traffic. Currently, truck routes are exempt from TIA requirements and the city does not verify whether companies are producing more traffic than they are permitted by the city.
On Monday, city staff presented their report. The city could require truck traffic logs as part of CUP requirements and could include truck routes in TIA requirements, the report stated. However, staff advised the council against including truck routes and measures to address cumulative impact in the new regulations.
The council followed staff advice and did not amend the proposal before them. The council did not discuss the proposal before voting. Apparently, the council members who had supported strengthening the proposal in past meetings embraced it as is, while members who had previously opposed new regulations on sand truck traffic maintained their positions.
Staff advise no change
In his report, Assistant City Planner Carlos Espinosa advised the council against extending TIA requirements to truck routes, citing previous Planning Commission votes against the idea, the fact that truck routes are built for truck traffic, and that state funds help maintain truck routes.
Regarding verifying truck traffic, Espinosa told the council that new or expanding facilities applying for a Conditional Use Permit (CUP) could be required to keep logs of their truck traffic as a condition of the CUP. That would require the Board of Adjustment to require such a condition in each CUP granted. The city could not compel existing facilities to keep such a log, Espinosa said.
Espinosa also advised the council that the cumulative impact of traffic from the many individual facilities hauling frac sand through Winona was already addressed by CUPs, which put a cap on the number of truck trips at a given facility. In any case, he continued, a significant increase in truck traffic from the frac sand industry was unlikely.
Industry growth is primarily occurring across the Mississippi River, and Wisconsin mines are finding sites closer than Winona to process and load sand onto railcars, he stated. "We do have a capacity at the port, so we will probably continue to see trucks crossing the bridge for that, but in terms of everybody thinking that there are going to be thousands of trucks coming, that is most likely not going to happen just because of the way the industry is changing," Espinosa said.
The Winona port is the nearest barge-loading facility for area mines on both sides of river. The first of several frac sand mines proposed in Winona County was approved yesterday (see story page 1a). Whether other mine proposals in the county will move forward is unclear.
Another city staff member advised the council to avoid changes to the proposal. At the May 6 meeting, City Attorney Chris Hood warned council members that amending the ordinance to address the issues of enforcement, truck routes, and cumulative impact would be too substantial a change and would require that the ordinance begin the process again with the Planning Commission.
After hearing the staff's report, council members Pam Eyden, Gerry Krage, Allyn Thurley, and Mayor Mark Peterson supported the ordinance. Council members Michelle Alexander, George Borzyskowski, and Paul Double opposed it.
City to county: TIA, please
The city's first request that another governmental body require a TIA for a facility that would send trucks to Winona succeeded yesterday. Espinosa asked the Winona County Board to consider requiring a TIA to study the impact of trucks from the Nisbit mine proposal, a frac sand mine approved by the board on Tuesday, which is permitted for 280 truck trips per day. The western Winona County mine will ship sand along Highway 14 to the Hemker processing facility in Winona. A TIA for the route to Winona was completed, but that TIA ended at the city limits. City staff asked the County Board to require a TIA for traffic inside the city generated by the mine, which the board and the company agreed to. There is just over 1,000 feet of non-truck route local roadway that will be subject to the TIA. Traffic from the Hemker facility to transport facilities in Winona will not be subject to the TIA.
The request is the first of its kind, following an ordinance amendment approved at the May 6 City Council meeting, which spelled out that the city may make such a request. Though such requests have no legal authority, and though the city could make such requests with or without the language specifying them as an option, Espinosa and council members supported the clause, saying it was the city's best option for dealing with traffic originating from mines outside the city.
A TIA is a study of the impact of traffic generated by a given facility, including road wear, traffic congestion, and the quality of life of nearby neighborhoods. The city of Winona currently requires TIAs for any facility (frac sand or otherwise) that generates 200 truck trips or makes up 20 percent of traffic on a given road. The new rule approved on Monday requires TIAs for all frac sand facilities, both loading and processing facilities, and mines of any kind within the city, regardless of the quantity of traffic to be generated. TIAs are not required for truck routes. The city engineer may waive the TIA requirement for any site, though such a decision could be overturned by the City Council.