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By Kevin Bonham, Forum Communications Co., Published December 15 2010

Grain dust, noise at issue

GRAND FORKS – Larry Kuznia remembers working for the Argyle Co-op Elevator back in the early 1990s, when the elevator installed a new machine designed to reduce grain dust.

“It worked. It was like day and night,” said Kuznia, who now is operations manager at MarKit County Grain, a mile north of Argyle.

So, he was happy that MarKit installed a grain dust filter system when it was built in 2006.

Bumper crops and bigger trains to haul the harvest to market might be good for the economy, but there are residual, sometimes annoying, effects, chiefly grain dust and the noise that accompanies 110-car unit trains.

City Council members in Mayville, N.D., met recently with the board of directors of the Mayville Farmers Co-op Elevator to talk about complaints about noise and grain dust – or “bee’s wings,” a term used for the pick-colored chaff from corn kernels – that coats vehicles, is tracked into houses and even clogs ventilation systems.

“Dust in the elevator business is a given,” said Richard Moen, president of the elevator board. He said the elevator is located in a commercial or light-industrial zone.

“We’re zoned for our operation, but over the years, things have changed. Instead of loading 11 or 12 cars at a time, it’s 110 cars,” Moen said.

The North Dakota Department of Health has told Mayville officials that grain dust is not a pollutant, so there are no regulations.

As for noise, especially at night, Moen said that can’t be controlled. BNSF Railway requires that trains be loaded within 15 hours of arrival.

“If they deliver at 3 a.m., the crews are generally loading by 4 a.m.,” he said.

Moen said the board will work with Mayville officials to try to find a solution. They agree on one thing – easy answers are difficult to find.

Residents of tiny Arvilla, N.D., know that all too well.

They’ve been complaining for the past five years about grain dust and noise from trains that sometimes load all night long at the Columbia Grain Co. elevator in Arvilla.

In 2005, a group of Arvilla residents presented the Grand Forks County Commission with a petition with 17 signatures. It demanded that the Columbia Grain elevator in Arvilla install sound-absorbing barriers to block the noise.

They presented evidence that decibel levels were 70 at 25 yards and 58 at 150 yards.

“That’s higher than 1,710 cars per hour doing 65 mph 100 feet away,” Arvilla resident Michael Anson wrote, citing the CRC Handbook of Tables for Applied Engineering Science. “Residential areas along highways have sound barrier walls for that level.”

Roger Thompson, Columbia Grain manager in Arvilla, said the elevator has taken action.

It planted trees and built a wall on the south side of the elevator.

It also spent about $250,000 this fall to install a new bag filter system, which is designed to reduce grain dust.

“It cleaned up a lot of the issues,” Thompson said. “It’s like a big, giant muffler. I don’t know if you’re ever going to get away from the dust. It’s as quiet and clean as can be expected from a grain elevator.”

Bonham writes for the Grand Forks Herald