Commissioners raise concern about pursuit of silica sand project

The North Branch mayor’s announcement last month that the city would continue to try to persuade Superior Silica Sands to build a trans-loading station in the city’s ESSBY Business Park led to county commissioners weighing in on the issue at the Chisago County Board meeting July 2.

Commissioner Lora Walker asked Nancy Hoffman, County HRA and EDA director, to give the board an update about any correspondence the Economic Development Authority had with Superior Silica Sands during the past few weeks.

She said there wasn’t much movement on that front, but she is aware that North Branch is still looking to bring the business to the city.

County Administrator Bruce Messelt said he wanted to make it clear that the county has been fielding questions about the potential business, but it has not taken a stance on the issue.

“We are resisting taking a lead in this project,” he said. “This is not our project. But we are asking that we be invited to meetings. As of this time, the ball is in the city of North Branch’s hands.”

He added: “To say that we are helping is not accurate. To say that we are opposing or supporting is not accurate. We are responding to requests for information, and we are asking to be a part of those conversations.”

Even though the county hasn’t taken an official position on the possible trans-loading station, commissioners expressed their concerns about the impact it could have countywide.

“I think there’s an inherent danger in having so many vehicles driving through your community,” Commissioner Ben Montzka said.

Montzka added that although the city of North Branch’s tax base could benefit from the business, other areas the trucks would drive through wouldn’t be seeing any of that positive tax impact.

Messelt said if negotiations do start again between North Branch and Superior Silica Sands, the county would suggest a route study be completed, as was the case when Tiller Corp., North Branch’s frac sand processing facility, came to town about two years ago.

Commissioner Mike Robinson said routes can be identified, but that doesn’t mean the truckers will always use them.

“When the (Tiller Corp.) trucks were coming from Grantsburg to North Branch, everybody told them to take the freeway from Rock Creek down to Harris into town,” he said. “That isn’t how they did it, and they wrecked Old Highway 61 from North Branch to the Pine County line. They just pounded the road; you can hardly drive on it now.”

Walker reiterated the concern that the impact of a trans-loading station and the subsequent hauling of sand via truck would impact more than just North Branch.

“This is a topic that way more people than just the folks who live in North Branch are concerned with,” she said. “It’s an economic discussion that’s both positive and detrimental, depending on your side of the issue. It is a safety issue. The economics of it fail to see that the rest of the county is impacted without any tax relief for that impact.”

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