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Council turns down objection to increase in frac sand barge loading

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The Winona City Council turned down a citizens group’s objection late Tuesday night to increasing frac sand barge loading at the Port Authority dock.

Members of Winona Citizens Against Sand Mining had appealed a December ruling by the city’s Board of Adjustment to increase the number of barges CD Corp. is allowed to load each month, from 24 to 48.

Speaking for CASM, Jane Cowgill told council members the change meant a potential doubling of truck traffic to the Port Authority dock — traffic that could put a semi truck in or out the driveway every three minutes. The resulting increase in noise, diesel exhaust, traffic congestion and silica sand dust would be a detriment to the quality of life enjoyed by city residents and visitors and had not been adequately addressed, she said.

She also raised the question of a possible conflict of interest — that the chair of the board of adjustment, Chris Sanchez, had a business relationship with Dan Nisbit, co-owner of CD Corp.

Nesbit pointed out that the number of barges loaded and the associated truck traffic is well below what had been accommodated in previous years — a level that would not be approached even if frac sand loadings were doubled. He said he did not anticipate ever loading 48 barges in a month, but, due to the variability of river levels and barge availability, his company needed the flexibility given by the amended permit.

Nesbit said Sanchez managed two rental properties he owned, and that was the extent of their business dealings, and when the issue came to a vote, Sanchez had abstained.

“Winona is a small town,” he said, and people’s relationships and responsibilities often, inevitably, overlap.

On a 6-1 vote, with council member Gerry Krage casting the lone vote against, the proposal was approved, along with a provision that reduced the required moisture content of sand handled at the dock from 4 percent to 2.5 percent.

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