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Controversial proposal for sand transfer rail site voted down

By: Jenny You, Aaron Dimick Email
By: Jenny You, Aaron Dimick Email

EAU CLAIRE, Wis. (WEAU) -- The Eau Claire City Council has voted down a controversial proposal on a sand transfer rail site.

By a vote of 9 to 1, the council voted against the proposal

Muskie Proppant wanted to use the site to transfer sand from trucks to trains on the north side of town near Lake Hallie.

Muskie Proppant's representatives were present at Tuesday night's decision meeting. They wanted to postpone the vote for two weeks so that they could talk to neighbors about the project, but council members votest against that.

Neighbors spoke out at a meeting Monday night saying it's too close to home and may cause noise, traffic, dust and brings up health concerns.
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EAU CLAIRE, Wis. (WEAU) – A controversial proposal on a sand transfer rail site is up for vote in Eau Claire Tuesday.

The city council listened to dozens community members sound their concerns at a meeting that lasted late into the night Monday.

Council president Kerry Kincaid told people at the meeting that the concerns voiced Monday night would be considered as the council meets to vote at 4 p.m. Tuesday.

The issue at stake: A sand transfer rail site on the northeast side of Eau Claire, specifically on the 4400 block of Anderson Drive.

Representatives from the company with the proposal, Muskie Proppant, say covered trucks filled with processed and washed sand would drive in from its Pierce County plant to the railway in Eau Claire.

It would then be transferred onto rail cars and taken to its next destination.

Among the proposal requests, an extension on existing rail spur, expanding the track and a driveway for the trucks to enter the site.

The Planning Commision already passed a conditional use permit for Muskie Proppant which lists several conditions that the company must follow in the already industrial zone, including specific items like the decibel level within 21 feet of the conveyer.

Representative for Muskie Proppant Brian Nodolf told the council that people shouldn’t be concerned about the amount of dust or the noise level because they have limits.

The permit limits five to ten rail cars per day which would be up to 50 trucks that can load per day, according Nodolf.

Still, dozens of concerned citizens packed the council room, saying they have health concerns on what silica sand and dust can do or wondering how the city could benefit from having the sand transport railway.

Nodolf says the city could benefit from some tax revenue from the railway, but some say that's not enough reason to approve the proposal. Some asking the council to “look into their soul” when they make the decision Tuesday.

Those that spoke out say among their biggest concern is the “dishonesty” of Muskie Proppant, when it seemed to them the company wasn’t being full frontal about the sand being used for frac.

“I know what it does to my lung. The scale they’re moving the sand there is a huge amount of sand and the meters they use show this,” said Bob Andruszkiewicz who added taxpayers will be the one to pay in the end.

Meanwhile, Nodolf defended his client, saying the railway would benefit the city in the end and that the proposal has nothing to do with mining sand.

“Just so everyone is clear, there is no mining obviously going on this site and there is no processing. The processing comes in a couple of formats and that won’t happen here,” said Nodolf.

The council will meet and discuss what happened at Monday’s night meeting come Tuesday and make the final decision.

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EAU CLAIRE, Wis. (WEAU) -- A sand storm is brewing in a local neighborhood.

Neighbors are now speaking out, trying to prevent a sand transfer operation from moving in right next door.

The neighbors are beginning to speak up as the Eau Claire City Council plans to vote on approving details of the site this week.

Muskie Proppant LLC wants to build a sand transferring operation on the north side of Eau Claire on the border of Lake Hallie.

The sand site would be constructed at an undeveloped piece of land next to a residential area at Anderson Drive and Sundet Road, raising noise and health concerns.

Instead of mining for sand in this wooded lot, the space is being primed to be the point where freshly-mined sand is brought in with trucks, and then transferred to trains.

But last month the project hit a snag when a vote from the city council prevented it from moving forward.

City Council Member Dave Duax said he voted against it because of many unanswered questions.

“Is it clean? Does it have silica dust in it? Does it pose a health danger?” Duax said.

This week the city council will take up the controversial plan again with a hearing on Monday and a vote on Tuesday.

Duax said if the council shoots the development agreement down a second time, the project could derail all together.

“This does not create jobs in Eau Claire. It basically does not bring tax base. What's the benefit to Eau Claire and its citizens?” Duax said.

City Council Member Kathy Mitchell said she voted yes on the sand site because of its approval from the Planning Commission.

“They held a public hearing, they voted unanimously. To me, that’s a very strong recommendation to the council,” Mitchell said.

Mitchell said she doesn't know how she'll vote yet, wanting to learn more at Monday’s meeting.

Taking a drive down Sundet Road, it's not hard to figure out which side of the fence people are on.

Neighbors said they’ve been getting the word out about the sand operation.

Some have even placed signs in their yards protesting the transfer site.
The area has already seen an increase in train activity from the recent frac sand boom.

“We just bought our house in July and we already hear the trains. Now we don't want more noise,” said Kyle Polenz, who placed a sign in his yard last week.

Considering the site would set up shop just feet from homes, noise and increased truck traffic are some of the biggest concerns.

Property values being another worry, some are wondering if this is the ideal spot for a sand transfer site.

“It's a concern that this seems to be the last place to go to stop this situation. Most of the neighborhoods up to say 12-14 days ago weren’t aware of this at all. It's a bit unnerving,” said Dale Luthy, who lives near the proposed site.

WEAU tried to reach Muskie Proppant to see what it had to say but hasn’t heard back.

The hearing on Monday will start at 7 p.m. with a vote taking place on Tuesday at 4 p.m.


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