Saturday, September 22, 2012

Vista Sand withdraws rail spur proposal in Menomonie

On Wednesday, September 19, Vista Sand withdrew its application to rezone property in the Town of Menomonie, ending its effort to build a transload facility for loading frac sand for shipment along the UP rail line. The sudden turn of events came as a surprise.

A week earlier the Planning, Resources and Development (PRD) Committee had recommended that the county deny Vista's request for the rezone (see Dunn County News).

The PRD had initially held a public hearing on Vista's request on August 28th, where Vista explained the proposed transload facility and made their case for rezoning property from agricultural to industrial to accommodate the project. Vista's presentation was followed by public comment. Dozens of community members spoke out against the project, highlighting environmental health concerns, traffic issues, economic impacts, and the apparent incompatibility of the proposed project with existing zoning and land use. The PRD then accepted public comment via letter for one more week, and reconvened on September 11 to hold a vote. The PRD voted unanimously to recommend denial of the rezone, citing four areas of concern: inconsistency with the county's comprehensive plan; the possibility that the project would constitute contractual or spot zoning; concern that the project would cast a wide shadow of negative economic impacts; and concern that the project threatened public health, safety, and welfare.

The full county board was to take up the Vista proposal on September 19. Community members opposed to the project were encouraged by the PRD's recommendation, but by no means felt confident that the full county board would reject the proposal.

Then, hours before the county board meeting, local news began to report that Vista Sand had withdrawn its proposal (see WQOW). Vista had sent a letter to the county that day (WQOW has posted a copy) to explain its decision. Among its rational, Vista claimed that it needed additional time to evaluate Dunn County's upcoming changes to its nonmetallic mining ordinance, as well as to address public comments made at the PRD meeting, and requested a 60 day extension. In their letter, Vista noted that it taken several months for their rezone request to work its way through local and county hearings, and therefore they should be afforded an extension, which was not granted. Vista also noted the "incredibly positive impact on the economy of Dunn County" that their project would have.

Since the rezone request was withdrawn, the county board removed the Vista Sand project from its agenda. Dozens of opponents still attended the board meeting, using the public comment period to commend the PRD and to raise broader concerns about industrial frac sand operations.

It remains unclear why Vista opted to pull the plug after investing several months of time and effort into this project. Vista indicates in their letter that they intend to reevaluate their options and pursue the project in the future. Some speculate that they anticipated the county board rejecting their rezone request. Presumably it would be more difficult to reactivate the project in the future, either in Dunn County or elsewhere, if it had already been rejected once before.

Vista Sand has also apparently withdrawn its applications in St. Croix County to develop a frac sand mine in Glenwood, which was to supply the transload facility (see WI Voices). The proposed mine had also elicited community opposition.

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