Private ownership lost out to public policy on Tuesday morning.
The Planning, Resources and Development Committee unanimously recommended that the county board deny a sand company’s request to rezone a parcel of land in the Town of Menomonie from agricultural to industrial.
R.J. Sikes, operating partner for Vista Sand of Granbury, Texas, wants to build a railroad spur and sand loading facility on a site north of the Union Pacific railroad line that runs parallel to State Highway 12 between County Highway K and 330th Street. The company plans to ship sand to its plant in Texas, where it would be dried and sold for hydraulic fracturing, a process used to extract underground oil and natural gas.
“This is one of those areas that highlights the tension between private ownership and public policy,” said PRD committee member Robert Walter. “We apparently have some people who want to sell their real estate, and we have people who want to use their real estate for a purpose that is not currently permitted in the public policy of Dunn County.”
Casting a shadow
Around 90 percent of those who spoke during a recent public hearing or wrote to the committee, Walter pointed out, were opposed to the plan. Among the concerns they cited were noise, dust, water, and increased traffic from Vista Sand’s proposed mine in St. Croix County to the transload facility in the Town of Menomonie.
According to PRD member Kitz Cleary, the impact of Vista Sand’s request to rezone 168 acres of agricultural land isn’t confined to the immediate neighborhood.
“The purposes and uses of the rezone cast a broad shadow, one that touches communities and residents along nearly 40 miles of roads ... potentially more depending upon Vista’s future development,” she said. “Those spillover costs will harm property values, endanger public health and safety, and erode economic stability of the region if this rezone is approved.”
For Walter, however, the relevant issue is how the rezoning request fits the county’s comprehensive plan.
“Our state law requires that we make a finding that if we rezone, we actually must be consistent with our comprehensive plan,” he said.
Fellow committee member Gary Bjork pointed out that zoning is in place to keep conflicting land uses separate. “Here we’re being asked to do just the opposite,” he said, “and also sacrificing some prime Dunn County ag land for an industry that might destroy some of our landscape.”
The number of jobs created at the transload facility are estimated at around 13, while about 40 truck drivers, Sikes said, would be hired to transport sand from the mine in St. Croix County.
He told the committee that in the last three weeks, Vista has received more than 60 applications to work for the company.
“I think this is the right time for this project, to help the area,” Sikes said. “I think it brings a lot of value for a lot of folks.”
PRD member Tom Quinn disagreed. “The applicant has made a fairly narrow case for economic benefits, primarily based on jobs,” he said. “A rezone of this nature needs to meet a higher standard of larger economic benefits.”
PRD Chair Joe Plouff said that while he believes Vista Sand is a quality company, “I never heard in the presentations a good justification to move from ag to industrial.”
He noted that if Vista decided not for some reason to build the transload facility, “If zoned industrial, anything could be done with the land.”
The Town of Menomonie board supports the rezone. In a developer’s agreement with Vista, the town would receive a fee for each ton of sand loaded into the rail cars on the spur off the Union Pacific rail line.
In approving Vista’s petition, Town of Menomonie Board Chair Frank Bammert said, “The town board did what we thought was appropriate. We covered and addressed as many issues as we could. We knew it was going to be a controversial thing when it went through, but we did what felt we were required to do.”
Sikes declined to talk about the committee’s decision, saying only, “On to the county board.”
For Lisa Pelnar who lives across the road from the proposed facility, it’s a step in the right direction.
“I’m quite happy,” she said after meeting. “I think they hit a lot of the points that we brought up.”