St. Charles rejects major frac sand facility

The St. Charles City Council on Tuesday rejected a land annexation request that could have made way for a major frac sand processing facility within city limits.

A local township had already rejected Minnesota Proppant's plans, so three landowners working with the company tried to get the St. Charles City Council to annex their land.

The council voted 5-0 to reject the plan.

"It just comes to a point where you have to look at what's in the best interest for the community," Mayor Bill Spitzer said. "It was a very tough decision, and one of the things that we looked long and hard at was what's the total picture? We just felt at this time that it would be best to just step away and resolve the situation that way."

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Citizen concerns included increased truck traffic, exposure to silica dust and potential environmental impacts to land and water.

Minnesota Proppant officials did not immediately return a message seeking comment.

Travis Lange, who led a group of concerned citizens opposed to the annexation, said the council's vote was significant. Minnesota Proppant had said the facility would be the largest in the U.S.

"I think it sends that message regionally as well as maybe statewide that, you know, things are going to be taken a little differently than they were in Wisconsin," Lange said.

Wisconsin's silica sand industry has become robust, and some of that activity has been moving into southeastern Minnesota. But local citizen groups and several local government bodies have said the mining and processing needs more study to protect people's health and the environment.

The St. Charles City Council's decision followed St. Charles Township's rejection of the company's plans for the processing facility. Spitzer said the city values its relationships with surrounding townships.

"I understand the full impact of relationships, and that's one of the important things about being a leader," he said.

Several state lawmakers are working on bills aimed at addressing those concerns. Spitzer said he hopes state lawmakers will pass legislation that would create a regional board to help deal with the silica sand mining boom in southeastern Minnesota.

While Spitzer didn't rule out the city working with silica sand developers in the future, he said he hopes the concerned citizens who urged the council to reject the plan will work with the city to explore other opportunities for economic development.