Cameron Rail gets permit extension

Those planning to open a new frac sand mine on 1,269 acres in Independence were granted a 90-extension on a city permit to allow them to solidify contracts with investors.

The four-to-one vote Monday to grant the extension to Cameron Rail for the city’s conditional use permit came after an appeal by mining company attorney Mark Radcliffe who said the project is “really close to the finish line.”

Cameron Rail representative Randy Spangler has predicted the project would get underway for each year since the agreement with the city was finalized in September 2018. Nearby residents have also promised they will file suit to stop the project.

Cameron Rail is proposing to mine 1,269 acres of land that includes the Guza Mine on River Valley Road. The property is included in 1,600 acres annexed by the city in 2014 for another mining proposal. It is estimated the area has 80 million tons of the valued silica sand.

It a letter seeking the extension, Radcliffe said the project needs the extra time because of a softening of the market for sand and the needs of would-be investors. Radcliffe said Cameron Rail will also be returning to the city to transfer the conditional use permit to a new party.

He said Parsons Energy in Washington is now interested in investing. Previously, Cameron Rail introduced Jim Parsons as an investor.

City attorney Laverne Michalak said the city permit that requires work to begin within a year lapsed in September 2019, but the city only alerted Cameron Rail to the expiration earlier this year. The 90-day extension began on Monday.

The council also moved to a meeting scheduled for Tuesday the decision on what to charge for lots in the Markham Addition residential project being developed under two tax incentive districts.

Mayor Robert Baecker has argued the lots should sell for about $1.25 per square foot to assure they are purchased and developed quickly, while council member Jason Ekern has maintained that a $2-a-squre-foot price tag would help cover the costs of the development more quickly.

Representatives of SEH engineering told the council Monday that building streets and extending sewer and water to the land on the city’s east side would cost an estimated $1.7 million.

Ekern argued that at $2 a square foot, land sales could cover 73 percent of that cost. Baecker noted that the purpose of tax incentive districts is to encourage development and thereby raise property taxes.

“Higher tax revenue is where we make our money back,” Baecker said. 

He then did a straw poll of council members who seemed inclined to charge between $1.50 and $2 a square foot.

“People are asking” about the lot prices, Baecker said.

The council is also expected to give its approval on Tuesday to the final plat, which has reduced the number of building lots to 43, adopt a final list of restrictions and consider an offer from Northern Investment Company to handle lot sales. An article in the Feb. 18 Times incorrectly said NIC had already been selected as the agent for the lots.

If the council authorizes bids in April and awards them in May, as proposed by SEH, development of the residential project could begin this year.

The council heard from Cletus Foegen, chair of the Arcadia Ambulance Service board, that the service is awaiting word on donations from Ashley Furniture Industries and Gunderson Health System on donations to fill the roughly $327,000 gap in what the service needs to begin construction of new headquarters.

Foegen also said the per-capita cost for the service will climb from $19.30 to $23.67 in the 2021 budget. The increase, Foegen said, covers the cost of a $500,000 building loan and higher operating costs, which will include the service being able to periodically offer paramedic-caliber treatment. 

If the donations are secured, Foegen said construction on the new facilities in Arcadia would begin yet this year.

Ben Sylla, chairman of the city utility commission, told the council the commission has opted to buy environmental credits as its strategy to meet new, stricter phosphorus standards.

Sylla said other methods proved too costly, and the credits allow the city to qualify for a 20- to 30-year, zero percent load from the Department of Natural Resources for the credits. The plan calls for a private company to improve up to 3,000 feet of streambank in Bruce Valley to control agricultural runoff, the major source of phosphorus. That company then would sell its credits to the city for about $1.25 million.

The council also awarded to Erickson Excavating a $98,707 contract to replace water and sewer lines and resurface Madison Street. Erickson was the low of six bidders for the project, which is expected to begin in April and be completed within 21 days.

At its April meeting, the council may consider hiring its own census worker to assure a better count of city residents. 

 

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