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.

  • Anonymous

    Shame on the residents of Harris and the Harris City Council! Did anyone even think to check with Tiller Corp to verify any of this information? Way to jump the gun and spend a Grand on something you didn’t even fact check…Wasteful spending once again Harris! !

  • Heidi McNeally

    This whole deal has always seemed a little shady. How fast Besta moved out. How fast it went up. The general public knowing nothing. Why was all this not done before construction began? Fracking is going on in other places with a lot of protest. I’m not going to claim I understand the whole process of fracking. I just want to understand why all permits and impact studies were not done before construction. I think that people who live in the area deserve to be aware of a possible issue or hazard.

    Signed, Need more info.

    • anonymous

      If you look back at past articles in the Post Review, you will see that Tiller shared information as far back as January of 2012. You not being aware of this information does not constitute “shady” business on their part.

      • another anonymous

        They may have started sharing info in January 2012, but it was already built at that time. They had the majority of the facility built by fall of last year, 2011. Tiller Corp should have been in communication with the City of Harris, (and all the other cities on the route between Grantsburg & North Branch) informing them of the amount of traffic that would be flowing thru the city. I live right next to it, I will say my biggest concern is the amount of traffic and the destruction to the Hwy 30. And of course who will be responsible for re-paving the road when it’s trashed within the first year of use…tax payers or Tiller Corp? If they do 120 trucks/day (and this is before they submit their request for a permit to double that amount) that would be a truck every 6 minutes during that 12 hour time period – that is a lot more use than the road is getting today.
        I also find it intersting as to how this was all done – North Branch gets the taxes from the corporation and fees, but Harris, Rush City, Rock Creek all have to pay for it…

        • Anna Larson

          Its a PUBLIC road. They did go to the local road authoirty which is the county to get their approvals to use the road. Do you really expect FedEx to stop at every city which their trucks drive and ask permission. That’s nuts. Its 6 to 10 trucks an hour – no big deal.

          • Diane Olson

            I don’t know where you live Anna but we live on Highway 70 and we have seen 20 or more trucks hauling sand going by an hour one way. They have to go back and get more too!!! Talk about a road that can not take much more before it is gone, its bad enough now no one along the road from Grantsburg to Highway 35 knew about this. They don’t stop because its dark either they go 12 to 16 hrs a day, the gentleman above is not nuts.

  • Bert Johnson

    The MPCA lied to the CIty Council about the traffic counts and they trying to make this project look bad. Neither the paper nor the City Council tried to get TIller’s version of the story before spending our tax dollars. Shame on you. We need these job and the businesses of Harris need these sales. Nice job smearing the name of the company and killing jobs. The PCA should be ashhamed for their lies.

  • Anna Larson

    I’m so tired of the drama. Someone wants to open a good business next to out town and our CIty tries to slow the process. I thought traffic is what the road and rail road track are for. Our town is a ghost town for business because of this maddness. The county road is a BIG – COUNTY – road that is built for this type of traffic. The TRACK are there for business to conduct business. Get over it. You complain that we are loosing manufacturing jobs, but when someone comes and invest millions in our community we act like they are a villian. What did you expect…. a Microsoft factory. As far as who pays for the road… I’m guessing their 20 million dollar facility is paying a lot more in taxes than any of our houses.