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Laurie Solberg, Published September 07 2013

Letter: A zoning fast shuffle in Stark

I attended the Stark County, N.D., planning and zoning meeting Aug. 29. The board was supposed to decide whether to rezone approximately 440 acres three miles east of Belfield along Highway 10 to industrial. The proposed site will become the location of a rail spur/terminal and a ceramic proppant plant that uses coal fly ash to produce fracking sand.

The company representative from Washington state had a lengthy 15- to 20-minute presentation and the Epropp Co. representative did his presentation and video.

Keep it short?

The board then asked if there was anyone opposed. I spoke in opposition for approximately five to 10 minutes; four other concerned citizens spoke for two to three minutes. The board asked if anyone else would like to speak, and we were told to keep our comments brief. I did not hear anyone from the board tell the corporate presenters to keep their presentation brief, and I am sure the board heard all their info prior to the meeting.

As concerned citizens and people who live adjacent to the site, we voiced our worries about the noise level, amount of dust and contaminants, traffic and why this location. We were told the rail facility will use (no definite number given) acres, while the proppant plant will use 50 acres. No clear plan on what the remaining acres will be used for, other than there has been interest from several companies.

Truck traffic

You may say, “What’s the big deal?” It will be a big deal when they add the first of three-unit trains operating 24 hours a day, seven days a week; train cars slamming together to hook up. Freight will be unloaded three times a week, with an average of 3.5 trucks every hour coming out of the facility. We were told that after all three are operational, there will be about 1,800 trucks coming out of there each and every week. They will be driving to Belfield or South Heart to get on the interstate. You think the traffic is bad now, wait and see what is coming.

Fly ash dangers

The thing that scares me most is the ceramic proppant plant; you hear ceramic, you think – oh, not so bad. When they use coal fly ash, loaded with contaminants, to make the frac sand, it is awful. Just Google what coal fly ash contains. Yet more interesting still is the Epropp Co. from Australia – they have never produced, tested or used their frac sand product anywhere but in the lab. They plan to build a massive plant that, as part of the process, will hammer the material and operate 24/7. Again, constant noise.

Literally, this is directly behind our house. When asked about the noise from the rail and plant and how they plan to mask it, we were told: “It is what it is.” Does that sound like an answer from a company that cares about Stark County and its residents?

Stark County has a comprehensive plan that states: “Land uses – Strive to protect the agricultural integrity of rural areas and avoid conflict between land uses.” I ask you: Do you see any industrial in that area? Not to mention the fact the zoning board denied a 148-acre plot to be zoned industrial back in June 2013, stating uses that are generally not comparable to uses found in vicinity.

Root of evil

We now learn another 686 acres east and south will be up before the zoning board in September – a request from Great Northern Properties, which is the largest private holder of coal reserves in the U.S. This leaves our property right in the middle. How’s that for a conflict between land uses?

The Stark County planner made a recommendation to the board with 10 points why the request should be denied, yet the board questioned why a PUD (planned unit development) was not applied for. The company did not want it. This company had ample time to do the research they needed before the meeting, but now since the board tabled the request, they have another month to prepare so they can make the plan sound even rosier. From what I heard at the meeting, there is no way this should be considered. What is going on?

Money is the root of all evil. Here is your proof.

Solberg lives in rural Belfield, N.D.