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Frac-sand loading facility proposed for Wabasha

Frac-sand loading facility proposed for Wabasha
A Canadian company is proposing to build a large facility along these tracks in Wabasha to store silica sand and then load it into rail cars. It would be to the left in this picture.

WABASHA — A Calgary, Canada, firm plans to build a facility along the Canadian Pacific railroad tracks on the northwest side of Wabasha to load rail cars with silica sand mined in Wisconsin.

According to its conditional-use permit application filed with the city on Sept. 5, Superior Sand Systems predicts about 200 hopper trucks, each loaded with 25 tons of sand, would cross the Mississippi River bridge in Wabasha, travel about 10 blocks to the facility and be loaded into large storage tanks. The trucks would return to Wisconsin by the same route.

The sand, which energy companies use in the hydro-fracturing process to extract oil and natural gas out of wells in North Dakota and other parts of the country, would come from Buffalo County, Wis., at first, according to the application. But mines in Pepin County, Wis., and Wabasha County could be future sources.

No sand processing would be done in Wabasha, according to the application. Hours of operation would be 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. weekdays, 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. weekends.

The plan is to build three railroad tracks about 3,000 feet long near the other tracks. Trucks would dump the sand into a below-grade bin, and the sand would be moved by covered conveyor belt to one of four storage tanks that can hold a total of about 10,000 tons of sand. When enough sand was collected, railroad cars would be brought in and the sand would be moved by another covered conveyor belt to a smaller tank that would be loaded onto rail cars.


The area where the storage area is proposed is zoned so extraction and processing are allowed with an interim-use permit and storage/distribution is permitted with a conditional-use permit.

The entire process, from trucks to storage to rail, would keep the sand under cover to protect it from moisture because it has already been processed in Wisconsin, City Planner Molly Patterson-Lundgren said.

Wabasha already has a smaller facility to load silica sand, but it's not being used right now, she said.

Superior Sand Systems' plan has created a lot of talk in the city, she said. Most of the discussion concerns the planned 200 trucks.

The city has not yet begun holding hearings or doing any formal work on the application, Patterson-Lundgren said. Instead, it's still gathering information and is also looking at ways to educate the public about frac sand mining, processing and transportation.

Wabasha was already revisiting its ordinances before Superior came in, she said, because "it was probably just time before it would hit us." But unlike Wabasha County and Red Wing, Wabasha doesn't have a moratorium. The city believes its existing land-use ordinance "really has us covered," she said.

The city would like to conduct a public meeting to tell people about silica-sand operations, she said.

The local Izaak Walton League would be interested in helping, said Claire Abbott, who's a member and also on the city planning commission. From what she's seen so far, "I don't like all the road traffic," she said. She would like to find the best ways to control all the traffic, such as setting routes and hours of operation.

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