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St. Charles group seeks silica sand ban

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ST. CHARLES — In a city council chamber packed with men, women and children, several St. Charles residents pleaded with the board to immediately ban all silica sand mining, processing and transportation within the town.

"We are not asking for due diligence," said Dan Hursh, a local resident. "We are asking for action."

Hursh said he had hoped the council would not just vote to keep Minnesota Proppant's silica sand processing and transportation project from becoming a reality. He also hoped the council would vote to stop any future silica sand projects within the city. "I am amazingly disappointed."

Instead of banning all silica projects, the council voted to take no action until it has all the information it needs and for the city's planning and zoning board to review all ordinances regarding mining operations in the city.

Minnesota Proppant LLC is proposing to mine the sand about 6 miles south of St. Charles, send it through slurry pipe to a plant just east of St. Charles, which would process it by washing and sorting it into sizes. It would fill more than 100 train cars each day with the sand.

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The $70 million plant would process 3 million tons of frac sand annually, serving as a rail transportation hub for the sand mined from Winona, Fillmore and Houston counties.

Last month, a group of citizens presented a petition to the council asking the body to ban any silica sand operations within the city and, specifically, Minnesota Proppant's proposed rail yard.

Travis Lange of Concerned Citizens of St. Charles said his group has collected 939 signatures, which represents 51 percent of the turnout in St. Charles from November's election. Lange said responses from those signing the petition show 80 percent of residents don't want the project.

The problem with the group's request, Mayor William Spitzer said, is there is no proposal before the city. The Minnesota Proppant project would be built in St. Charles Township, meaning the township and Winona County have jurisdiction over the project. "We're monitoring the situation at this point," Spitzer said. "I still think we need a lot of questions answered."

In other actions, the council approved two new curbside student pickup spots at 466 W. 5th St. and 215 Northern Hills Trail.

The council also approved spending on two projects: the city's $23,000 cost-share portion of an upgrade to the railroad crossing on Richland Avenue and a $51,000 allocation for sewer lining on Whitewater and Bluff avenues.

Finally, the city council voted to take steps to finding a new police chief. The city's police chief was let go last month. Spitzer said the city would look at both external and internal candidates. The city also will look at the option of contracting with the county for police services.

Sites near St. Charles could mine 2 million tons of sand annually

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Cumulative effect of sand mines creates issue

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