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Katherine Lymn, Forum News Service, Published September 07 2013

Residents oppose proposed Belfield rail facility

BELFIELD — Residents in properties adjacent to a proposed Belfield rail facility and frac sand plant strongly oppose the plant, citing the 24/7 noise, traffic and possible health effects as reasons.

Stu Stiles and Jim Hereford applied for a rezoning of the land from agricultural to industrial and have also faced some pushback from the Stark County Zoning Board — the county planner recommended denying the application because the land use would be inconsistent with what is in the area now. The board tabled the request at its Aug. 29 meeting.

Since then, developers have been working with the board to alter the proposal and zoning application to better mitigate environmental impacts of the project. The facility would include a rail spur to connect to the Burlington Northern Santa Fe railroad, a facility to produce frac sand and other tenants that are yet to be determined.

“We were asked just to take a look at questions around just noise abatement, dust abatement, certainly weed control,” Stiles said, “all three issues that were top of mind for residents and people in the county.”

Stiles said he and Hereford are looking at a tree line to provide a “natural barrier,” and they’re putting dust abatement provisions in land use agreements.

But area residents are still strongly opposed to the project itself and say with this and others that could come in the future, they feel “pushed out” of a community of multi-generation farms.

“We were astonished to find out” about the proposal, said Laurie Solberg, whose property is adjacent to the site along U.S. Highway 10, just east of Belfield.

“The scary thing is they’re talking about using fly ash,” said Rocky Solberg, Laurie’s husband.

In a statement, Quinn Cheney, a spokeswoman for Epropp, which would run the frac sand plant, said the process is similar to common concrete — “Epropp will use dampened, nontoxic fly ash — the same product that is currently used in common concrete. The transport of fly ash from the power plant to our facility will be in fully sealed vessels.” And the plant will “have a baghouse filtering system installed to control any particulates,” she said.

The Solbergs and Cindy and Curt Buckman, who live on the other side of the proposed site, say they’re also worried that if the developers get an industrial zoning, they can store potentially dangerous chemicals there.

Cheney said Epropp “will work closely with state officials to ensure that Epropp meets or exceeds applicable environmental and health regulations.”

The Buckmans and the Solbergs are also concerned with the anticipated 24/7 noise, and a projected increase of 1,800 trucks a day on a road that now gets sparse truck traffic.

The Buckmans said they are worried about their five kids with such a jump in traffic, and for the community’s children in general.

The facility would bring in materials for oil production but also for the grain, construction and refrigerated materials and goods industries, Stiles said.

County Planner Steve Josephson recommended denying the request at the first zoning meeting because the facility wouldn’t fit in with the agriculture zoning that makes up most of the vicinity, and because the uses allowed in industrial zoning that are “not compatible” with the uses allowed under agricultural.

“The development pattern out there, so far it’s remained agricultural,” Josephson said.

But Stiles said he and the other developers “felt like there was a real need for that kind of facility.” He added that BNSF has expressed interest in it. A rail spur off the existing BNSF railroad would be constructed.

The developers have said the plant will be a boon to the local economy, as upon completion it would employ 200 people.

Epropp is in talks with Meyer Real Estate Group about possible housing accommodations for the workers, as Belfield is stretched thin for housing as it is.

In developers’ response to Josephson’s questions, they said Epropp’s Zigfried Koenig will address the possible negative impacts of the project for neighboring properties at this month’s Stark County zoning meeting. Stiles said there aren’t concerns or questions about health problems on his end.

The Solbergs and the Buckmans both said they’re feeling squeezed out by the projects proposed for the area.

Rocky Solberg has stopped investing in the house in case they move.

“How will we have a choice?” Laurie Solberg said. “It feels like we’re all being pushed out.”