Frac sand transload company sues Wabasha

The owners of a facility used to load frac sand into rail cars are suing the city of Wabasha.

Jim and Mary Roemer claim in a complaint filed Monday in U.S. District Court that the city doesn't have the authority to require Jim Roemer Transport to have a conditional use permit or follow the city's limits on truck traffic. The lawsuit argues that the facility is exempt from those rules because railroads are regulated by the federal government.

Thad Lightfoot, Roemer's attorney, said the lawsuit seeks clarification from a federal judge.

"Mr. Roemer is not seeking any damages or any financial recovery from the city. The goal is to get a federal court to articulate what law applies and to allow Mr. Roemer to continue to operate this facility as he has since 2003," he said Tuesday in an interview.

Groups of local residents in southeastern Minnesota oppose silica sand mining, and some local governments have been addressing their concerns about the environment and increased truck traffic by placing restrictions on the companies that mine and transport the sand.

Wabasha city officials say they haven't yet seen the lawsuit. But the city's attorney, Peter Ekstrand, says a previous decision by the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals backs up the city's position. He said the U.S. Supreme Court has never clarified whether federal authority over railroads preempts city ordinances.

Ekstrand said he wasn't aware of any court decisions settling such disputes in Minnesota, so he said the case will likely cite decisions in other jurisdictions.

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