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October 1, 2022

10/30/2014 4:06:00 PM
City council votes 5-0 to accommodate sand plant sale

As long as operations at the sand processing facility continue the same as they have been-- and changes are not made to state air quality permits regulating the site-- the North Branch City Council Monday night was okay allowing Tiller and Lansing Trade Group new permit language so the sand plant can be sold to Lansing.

Lansing Trade Group is a consortium based in Kansas. It got its start in commodities and grain movement and storage;  but business periodicals and its own website describe it as getting deeper into transport and storage of industrial sand,  one of the terms used for silica used in hydro-fracking.

Lansing is in the process of purchasing the Tiller sand plant on the north end of North Branch.   To facilitate this acquisition Lansing asked council to re-write the existing Conditional Use Permit issued by the city to Tiller.  Most importantly,  the permit was effective specifically for Tiller Corp. and usually a Conditional Use Permit gets attached to an actual site.  

The Tiller-owned condition was eliminated.

Tiller company, which also owns numerous gravel and sand pits locally as “Barton Sand & Gravel”  continues to run the plant. Spokesperson Mike Caron also assured the city council that “...as it runs today,  it (the North Branch plant) is in total compliance.”  

Council was concerned the city would find itself  out-of-the- loop if Lansing pursued operational changes,  or if product input and output regulated through state air quality permits,  were to change.  

The action that council took requires that if Lansing ever applies for state regulatory changes, Lansing/Tiller must also notify the city.

Caron did say the North Branch baghouse and dryer are being enclosed,  and the city shouldn’t be concerned to see structural building activities on the sand plant site.  

Caron said the state permits 360 tons of silica sand per hour to be processed, and that isn’t changing.  Quantity and moisture content of the silica sand (to control dust) are regulated in the state permit.  Opacity of the air on site is also to be monitored.

The discussion about operations stemmed from Council member Kathy Blomquist requesting there be a new condition put on the revised city permit limiting sand storage to 1.25 acres.  

While Council member Theresa Furman agreed,  and even made a motion for a new CUP limiting the sand holding footprint as a condition, the other council members held back. Furman’s motion died for lack of a second.

Caron explained outdoor storage acreage doesn’t equate to production and that if the city wants to control future production it would be through requiring notification of any state air quality permit revisions that is the best route. So, Council member Trent Jensen made the new motion that passed 5-0.

Council also  heard from citizens commenting during this Conditional Use Permit revision process.  

Gil Randolph advised council this was their chance to re-draft permit conditions because the old Tiller-based CUP was being repealed. He called on council to write a permit “...that will stand on its own, not just as one being transferred.”  

He also cautioned that hydro-fracking has become a major environmental hot potato and banning it is beginning to be questioned in some states. What happens to North Branch when this now-booming silica sand demand dies off?

Joe Scaramell, who lives near the sand plant, agreed with four others who spoke about the fine sand particles being cleaned, processed and shipped out of the North Branch site and their potential for health impacts.  They all asked for more restrictions on  operations.  He commented “...mesothelioma wasn’t an issue 30 years ago either.”

Scaramell said the air quality monitoring stations aren’t positioned correctly to collect samples where the prevailing winds travel. He also said the rail tracks are capturing silica dust and kids play there.

Jeff Burnoski added, when big winds come from the west, having a “big naked pile of sand” despite state rules for what the moisture content is... “I don’t think it’s a safe thing.”

Tessa Hill added the city “...let Tiller come in way too quickly” and also had concerns about lack of local control over operations.

A geologist accompanying Caron explained that,  “there is little to none” of the product at Tiller’s plant that is “respireable” or of the PM4 size fraction.  She said the quartz sand used in hydro-fracking is extremely hard and well-rounded.  It is ideal for industrial (fracking) with “high quartz content.”  Industrial sand is relatively easy to mine in the geologic make-up of Wisconsin and Minnesota,  and that’s why silica sand has become an issue here.  

Caron observed that the silica sand industry is working with health and environmental regulators as standards get written and re-written. And, he said the MN Pollution Control Agency approved the locations of the North Branch plant’s air quality monitoring stations.


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