HARRIS, Minn. - The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency is investigating a company that did not have the necessary permits when it started construction on a silica sand processing plant in Harris. The building is now almost completed.
The plant, which is owned by Tiller Corporation, got the okay from the City of North Branch last year to build the plant, but did not have the proper environmental paper work to move forward. The company says it was an honest mistake.
Tiller Corporation spokesperson Mike Caron says the company stopped construction in May after finding out it did not apply for the right permit back in February.
"We made a mistake. It sure would have been nice for them to work with us to figure out how to get that corrected back in February," said Caron.
Ralph Pribble, a spokesman with the MPCA said he was prohibited from commenting about the open investigation, but says other companies have made honest mistakes during the permit process in the past.
Pribble says depending on the outcome of the investigation, Tiller Corporation could face fines or worse.
Caron says they will most likely have to pay a few thousand dollars in fines. But it does not appear this will block the plant from opening early next year.
That has not stopped neighbors and even a Harris council member from voicing opposition.
"Our city isn't built to handle this kind of traffic," said council member Rod Larson."It was kind of sprung on us a couple weeks ago."
Larson says at a city council meeting about two weeks ago, the MPCA estimated there could be 200 to 300 trucks hauling sand a day and maybe even more rail cars moving through the small town. He worries about safety.
"Nobody thought of this before that plant was built. They should have come to Harris and made us aware of what was happening," said Larson.
But Caron disputes MPCA's numbers. He is expecting 72 to 120 truck loads per day, but he admits Tiller has applied for a permit that allows the company to double those numbers in the future. He doesn't anticipate demand will be high enough for that to happen.
"We operate several sand and gravel mines and asphalt plants throughout the metropolitan area, and we're concerned about safe truck traffic also," he said.
Neighbors in Harris are not convinced.
"Whether it be the noise or the pollution from the trucks, it's going to be crazy," said Penny Corcoran who is leading a petition drive to stop the plant from opening.
She lives about three miles from the processing plant. And her house is a few yards from the rail line. She's concerned train traffic will overtake her neighborhood.
Caron claims current rail traffic will not increase, but Corcoran disputes that, telling KARE 11 traffic will only increase because it is already next to nothing.
"Three trains a year, three cars. It's kind of a novelty," she said. "If the grandkids are here and they hear the train blow they go out to see if a train goes by."
Besides safety concerns, Corcoran also worries property values will decrease, and she isn't the only one.
"The values will just plummet because obviously no one wants a house on the tracks where there is consistent railway traffic," said realtor Cathy Carchedi who's been selling homes in the area for two decades.
Tiller Corporation says some of the sand processed at the North Branch facility will be used out of state for hydraulic fracturing, which is a method to extract oil from the ground.
A public hearing is scheduled for November 12 in Harris. Tiller Corporation officials plan to be there in hopes of calming fears.
Neighbors on the other hand plan to keep fighting.
"David and Goliath. We're David, they're Goliath," said Corcoran.