Harris residents concerned about sand fracking operation

Editor’s note: Incorrect information was printed in the original version of this article. This article has since been edited to address those inaccuracies.

Twenty-three residents attended the Oct. 15 meeting of the Harris City Council to hear representatives from the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency talk about a permit request form Tiller Corporation to operate a silica sand plant in North Branch, and how that plant cold affect Harris.

The PCA will set the rules and regulations that the plant can operate under and monitor the operation at the location to make sure the correct standards are met.

The PCA was in Harris to inform the public how much sand will be hauled into and shipped out of the plant, which is just to the south of the city.

Currently, Tiller has sand stored in Sunrise.  This sand will have to be trucked from Sunrise to North Branch.  Independent truckers that are hired by Tiller Corp will determine the route used, and the route through Harris is likely the most direct route.

Even though the operation at Sunrise can no longer take in product, the product that is there has to be trucked to North Branch.  Once that location is devoid of sand, unless circumstances change, the Sunrise operation will no longer be an issue.

Another source of sand for the plant is being processed in Grantsburg, Wis.

Currently, the sand is being washed before it is shipped.

It is estimated that there is 20 years of available sand at the Grantsburg location.

The PCA would permit 325 trucks per week hauling from Tiller Corp, but Tiller Corp does not have the capacity to fill that many trucks per week.

The PCA would also allow 400 rail cars of sand moving through Harris each week.

Those figures are based on the allowable amount of emissions and do not directly correlate to the actual volume of traffic that would be heading into and out of Tiller Corp.

At its current size, Tiller Corp would not be able to handle the volume of sand moving allowed by the MPCA.

The PCA is only reviewing the permit for air quality standards at the plant.

Steven Gorg and Don Smith from the PCA said that issue could be addressed if the plant was large enough to mandate an Environmental Assessment Worksheet.

At this point, the operation is not large enough to require an EAW, so the residents of Harris or the Harris City Council would be required to prepare a petition to the PCA in order to have an EAW performed.  The PCA gave the council members the necessary steps to create a petition that would force an EAW.

When questioned about why the plant was built before the permit had been approved, the PCA said that Tiller “jumped the gun,” and should have gotten the permit first, as the operation in Shakopee is doing.  But now that the plant is built and the permit has been applied for, the PCA is mandated to review the application and set up standards to have the plant operate.  Once in operation, it is very unlikely that it will be shut down.  Should it not meet the standards set, changes will be made to the plant to bring it into compliance, but very seldom is an operation just shut down.

Next public hearing

The PCA let those in attendance know that there will be another public hearing in approximately 30 days, in North Branch, before the permit is issued.  But if everything goes smoothly, the permit could be issued and the plant in operation by January of next year.  Should the EAW be obtained, it could slow down that process.

Process for EAW discussed

After the PCA had completed their presentation, Chuck Schwartz, the City engineer, let the council know that his firm could be a resource for them to help prepare the petition for the EAW.  Although Schwartz had not prepared a petition for an EAW himself, there were personnel in his office that had.  The petition requires more than just signatures.  There are specific requirements that have to be met. The reasons for the EAW have to be researched, concerns identified, and evidence to support those concerns have to be included.  If the petition does not follow the required format and include everything that is required, it will be denied.  When asked the cost for Stantec – Schwartz’s firm – to prepare the petition, Schwartz said it would take at least eight hours at an estimated cost of $1,000.

Council member Judy Hammerstrom said the city was “not going to spend  $1,000.”

She noted the council could prepare the petition.

‘Too important to not be done correctly’

Dee Dee Still informed the council that as a resident and a business owner, she thought this was too important not to be done correctly, and encouraged the council to make sure it was done right.  Councilman John Rossini made the motion, which the council passed, to authorize Stantec to prepare the petition, and have it done by the end of the month, so the council and city staff could recruit residents to get sufficient signatures to present the EAW.

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