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Some neighbors oppose proposed St. Charles frac-sand facility

Some neighbors oppose proposed St. Charles frac-sand facility
Fred Troendel, at podium, served as mediator at a community meeting in St. Charles, Minn. Wednesday evening at Faith Lutheran Church to inform St. Charles residents about a proposed sand washing and grain processing plant to be built on the east side their town by Farm2Rail Inc.
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ST. CHARLES — What struck Barb Johnson when she saw the sand processing center in Chippewa Falls, Wis., was the monstrosity of the operation and the constant "high-pitched hum."

"It wasn't ear-piercing, but it certainly was annoying," she told a group of nearly 100 people who had gathered Wednesday night to learn more about how traffic and noise levels would be affected by a proposed railhead frac-sand processing center and industrial park near St. Charles.

The company Farm2Rail hopes to build two 8,000-foot double loop rail tracks on the western two-thirds of the 300-acre property near Cherokee Road and Olmsted County Road 37, said Geoff Griffin, a civil engineer and Farm2Rail representative. He said they would designate the other third as industrial lots, some of which would have a rail connection. Farm2Rail declined to comment directly.

For Johnson, a neighbor to the proposed facility on Cherokee Road, the biggest concern is dust. For neighbor Dr. Wayne Feyereisn, the biggest concern is silicosis, a lung condition developed over time from inhaling the fine dust washed out of silica sand.

"It's the fine (sands) that are left behind that are actually the problem," he said.

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The fine sand is the waste product of the proposed "wet" processing center that washes, sorts and ships silica sand, Griffin said. The sand would then be shipped to use in the hydraulic fracturing process, used to extract natural gas and oil from the ground. Train cars would have tarp on both sides and all conveyors would be sealed, he said.

"Our entire facility is going to be sealed and under (a) roof," he said.

Each day a maximum of about 500 trucks bringing frac sand and another 400 bringing grain would come to the facility, St. Charles Mayor Bill Spitzer said.

It would be open about 6 a.m. to 9 p.m., six days a week. After that time, the highest noise level allowed at the boundary of the property would be 60 decibels, Griffin said, about the sound of a normal conversation.

But a group of neighbors on Cherokee Road oppose the project, voicing concerns about declining home values, as well as possible traffic delays, health problems and environmental effects such as sand spills.

Spitzer said the city council approved an environmental assessment worksheet Tuesday night, which will look at the facility's impact on traffic and the environment. The next step would be to annex Farm2Rail's property into the city so it would have the benefits of sewer, water and police services like any St. Charles resident, Spitzer said.

He said the city will look at all options and alternatives for the project, which could generate about 50 jobs for St. Charles.

"We're not going to jeopardize neighbors for economic development," Spitzer said.

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