A city of Winona Board of Adjustment hearing grew so heated and out of control Monday that officials called the police on one frac sand opponent.
At the two-hour hearing, in which the board eventually approved changes to a company’s permit to allow it to ship more frac sand out of Winona’s port, the board struggled to keep speakers on topic and several people repeatedly violated hearing guidelines.
Tensions escalated when James Johnson of Winona continued to ask general questions about the city’s moratorium, which was not the topic of discussion, after being asked repeatedly to keep his comments to the issue at hand. City building official Steve Carson told Johnson he would push the button under the council table that summons the police if Johnson didn’t finish his comments and then sit quietly.
Winona resident Jim Gurley at one point also refused to keep his comments directed to the proposed changes to the permit, and assistant city planner Carlos Espinosa asked him several times to stick to the subject.
“We’re getting way off topic here,” Espinosa said. “You need to be done.”
“This is the topic!” Gurley said.
“Hit the button, get him out of here,” Espinosa said to Carson.
An officer arrived at city hall, but no citations were issued.
Speakers who opposed altering the permit expressed concerns about dust, health, truck traffic and environmental factors. Speakers in favor of the changes pointed to the potential economic growth the expansion could create.
Many of the 30 or so attendees continued to interrupt the board after the public hearing was closed, shouting “Can’t hear!” and other comments at staff and board members. By the end of the meeting, about half of the attendees had left city hall.
The amended conditional-use permit will allow CD Corp. to double the number of barges hauling sand each month, from 24 to 48, and decrease sand moisture content requirements from 4 percent to 1.5 percent. According to CD Corp. co-owner Dan Nisbit, the company won’t necessarily use the maximum number of barges. Nisbit said the changes will give his company more flexibility if the shipping demand exists.
“It’s our job to change with the times or fall behind other cities that are up and down the Mississippi River,” Nisbit said.
According to city staff, the port has already handled higher traffic than CD Corp.’s increase in the past. In 2002, 1,647 barges shipped product through the port, and staff estimates that if CD Corp. used 48 barges each month, the annual total would be about 1,403 barges. In 2002, traffic to the port resulted in an increase in about 515 trucks per day on Riverview Drive. CD Corp.’s increase, at maximum, would bring about 438 trucks per day.
The board voted 4-0 to approve the new permit, with chairman Chris Sanchez abstaining. Board member Jeremy O’Laughlin was not present, and there is one vacancy on the board.
The board’s decision can be appealed until Dec. 17.