Another “From the Comments” – Truck Routes, Permitting, and Rail Spurs

A conversation between Mike O’Connor and Katherine Goodman on truck routes, the permitting process, and the current information about permits for rail spurs along Hwy 35 near Cochrane

Katherine Goodman

On Friday I formally asked the City Council of Alma to address haul routes for sand frac materials through our City. It appears that the approval of the permit referenced below happened without participation by our local legislative representatives from the County Commissioner to our City Council & Mayor. In fact everyone was shocked that there was going to be a haul route through Alma.

A Conditional Use Permit was granted to the Klevgard Mine with a haul route up State Highway 88 North and down State Highway 37 to State Highway 35. This route will travel through both Alma & Fountain City. It also will pass the entrance to the Cochrane/Fountain City Complex, with no condition addressing school buses. There are also no conditions addressing the impact on the Buffalo River.

At the February 6th meeting of the County Zoning Committee the agenda focused on the operating practices of the Board of Adjustment. Commissioner Claire Waters stressed that the haul routes should be the shortest distance possible and should only utilize State highways.

After that meeting I listened to your posted audio from the on-site visit to the proposed R & J Acres site where they asked if they could change their proposed haul route south on State Highway 88 and use the same haul route as the Klevgard Mine. As you know there is a meeting on March 8th where a final decision will be made on their conditional use permit and the haul route.

Just looking at the “shortest distance possible” request from Claire Waters, I took a road trip yesterday and found that there are approximately 12 additional miles to travel along the Klevgard Mine haul route if you head North on State Highway 88 to 37 & 35 instead of heading South on State Highway 88 to 35. I’m not supporting either route at this time, I just wanted to know which was the most direct route.

12 miles isn’t bad if you’re out for a drive, but the overall impact from such a small number was staggering:

– Each day this would equal 3 thousand miles (125 trucks times 2 trips times the 12 mile difference)

– Each week this would equal 15 thousand miles (5 days a week, operating Monday through Friday from 6am to 8pm)

– Each year this would equal 780 thousand miles (52 weeks a year)

– For the lifetime of the Klevgard permit this would equal 3.9 million miles (5 years)

This makes the “shortest distance possible” request much more substantial and difficult for all of us as we address the growing interest in sand frac mining in Buffalo County and how to manage the haul routes equitably for all of our county’s citizens.


  • Hi Kathy,

    I just wanted to thank you and add an apology in reply to your very thoughtful comment. It’s hard to tell from the transcript, but the person lobbying the hardest for that change in the haul route was… me. Ugh. There I am, on audio posted to the world wide Internet, throwing everybody else under the bus. Double ugh. So before I go any further with this note I need to say to you and everybody else that I really regret doing that. Fortunately, my lobbying made no difference.

    Let me describe the scene and how I was feeling when I tried so hard to throw that traffic down a different route. Here we are out on a farm road on a winter day, people are crowded into a small circle so that they can hear what’s being said. People are tired — they’ve been in tense hearings (run pretty much by the mining company representatives) all morning. People are fearful on both sides (pro or con). Everybody is improvising. The mine applicant is increasing his request for trucks and haul hours even higher than the surprise request he made at the public hearing. Chad (the zoning administrator) is conducting what turns out to be the final negotiation for the conditions on the mine — on the fly, right there at the site. The 50-100 people who turned out to testify in favor of declining the application are gone, there are only four of us left. Those four of us remaining are frightened and upset by the process that is going on.

    In the midst of that horrible process, I improvised too and threw out those arguments for taking the traffic over to 37. Big mistake. Bad mistake. I proved to myself that day that I’m a terrible “in person” advocate in these hearings (I didn’t know it at the time, but the zoning administrator had earlier brought the sheriff forward while I was testifying at the courthouse). I think I hurt more than I help when I do “live action” testimony so I’m going to stop doing that.

    So what’s going on here anyway? This whole process is improvised. Claire was improvising when she talked about the “shortest route” idea. I find it almost impossible to believe that she could find a traffic engineer who would support that idea and I would be astonished if there’s any law or regulation that calls for that. Why did she say it? Because she’s improvising too — and “shortest route to a state highway” takes this traffic off of county and town roads. Good for the people on county/town those roads, but again she’s throwing other people under the bus by doing that.

    What this boils down to is that because of this horrible rushed process, we’re locked into a win/lose negotiation right now. Somebody wins, somebody else loses. What I’d love to see is a process that allowed enough time to put together a win/win solution.

    There’s no way that I’m going to oppose sand mining. I’m a capitalist and think capitalism is about the best thing since sliced bread — I made my money starting and selling several companies. I think it’s fine that there’s a huge source of money and jobs coming to our county and region (although I’m skeptical that much of the money or jobs will really benefit local people). I don’t want a solution where the landowners who want to become miners lose and the rest of us win. At the same time I live here because of the natural beauty and recreational opportunities of the southwest half of the county and I don’t want to see a solution where much of that is lost as that 15 mile deep band of coulees next to the river becomes the transportation corridor for sand mines.

    We need a process that gives us ALL time to figure out, and build, that win/win solution. This pellmell zoning process is the exact opposite of that. Under the pressure of that terribly broken process I panicked and threw you under the bus. Again, I’m sorry I did that. I’m trying to never do that again. Thanks ever so much for your comment.


Thank you for clarifying what actually happened and don’t feel bad … it was a lesson learned and now Alma is more aware. We have a citizen working group just forming and there may be recourse due to the lack of public hearing on the haul route decision and your comment on the audio tape actually “placed in evidence” information we need to proceed. Kathy


This week I’ve learned of 4 parties contacted by a speculator to purchase their properties adjacent to Wisconsin State Highway 35 (Great River Road & National Scenic Byway) below Cochrane and Nelson. The intended use for the rail spur would be a transfer station for frac sand mined from our county and maybe neighboring counties. To understand what this means travel to Winona, their transfer station is located on the Mississippi River by the Minnesota Marine Art Museum.

This is critical … all 4 parties declined to sell their properties and we owe them a great deal of thanks, but there is a property owner out there who will sell. We need to be informed and start preparing for this issue now. Below are just a few advantages and disadvantages:

• Profit increased by shortening the haul route and attached costs
• Decreased road impact if haul routes can be shortened
• Centralization of haul routes to one end point in the county, preparing for the day when Winona says “enough” to frac sand from Wisconsin
• Additional jobs for the county’s workforce

• Increased environmental issues from sand pollution at the transfer point
• Industrial site within easy viewing distance
• Increased train traffic
• Proximity to the Great River Road (GRR) where a large percentage of tourists are there to drive the GRR
• Proximity to the Mississippi River
• Location will greatly impact haul routes as they centralize

By contacting landowners south of Cochrane and Nelson, the land speculators have given us an idea of where they believe a rail spur could best be located for their convenience. It is not clear who they represent.


Good resource to understand the process for a bulk rail spur that was used for a salt mine point function in New York State. However the rail spur went to the mine, so it does not discuss the impact of the transfer site.

• Rail spur was legislatively approved by the state of New York and state funded
• Right of way for the railroad spur through land purchases eventually caved under New York state’s eminent domain law
• Embankments for the rail spur were built to raise it above the flood plain
• 12 foot glare screen was built next to the road because the location increased the effect of the train’s headlight on road traffic
• Permitting process took several years

On Wednesday, February 15th, I will be at a Great River Road committee meeting on another subject but I will let them know that this issue is coming and ask for their input and where to reach out for support. They have regulations that would come into play in this situation.

  • Hi Katherine,

    Here’s a little more info about that site. There’s been a fair amount of conversation about it on the mailing list (do sign up for that list if you haven’t already, it’s pretty active and a great source of up to the minute info — click HERE to go to the sign-up page).

    It’s our understanding that the Starkeys (John and Patricia Starkey, section 23) have a signed purchase agreement to sell their land at the intersection of 88 and 35 with the promoters of that rail-spur site (who are ALSO the promoters of the R&J mine site that’s coming up for approval on March 8th). A good project for somebody would be to head over to the courthouse and get a copy of that agreement as soon as it’s added to their deed, we’re not sure whether it has been yet as the agreement was just signed last week. The reason that agreement is important is because it has a bunch of contingencies — the sale will only go through if all of those contingencies are met — so that’s a really good picture of the promoter’s plans for the rest of that siding project.

    I’d add one more item to your list of DISADVANTAGES — the Starkey’s land is directly across Highway 35 from the School District. So all the traffic, dust, etc. will be right there where the kids go to school and their school-buses come in and out. The superintendent has testified at lots of hearings about the traffic trouble already, but so far the Board of Adjustments has ignored that testimony.

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