Members of Hinckley’s township spoke frankly at July’s monthly meeting about the proposed propane gas distribution facility, where an estimated 720,000 gallons of propane could be housed.
With a previously reported July construction date that was then pushed back to starting in August, property owners and township board members alike have heard nothing within the past month regarding the construction of the facility. At the special meeting June 7, real estate developer Reggie Fraley pegged construction to begin in August and the facility to be operational by October. Township board member George Gimpl called the timeline “not realistic,” especially given the level of inactivity since the last meeting.
As far as the members are concerned, the facility has once again become a non-entity. Township clerk Paul Marudas said at the recent meeting, “I don’t feel it’s going to happen.”
It all feels like an extended “Groundhog Day” for the township board. The facility was first introduced to them in January 2016 after the county made delineation on the surrounding wetlands in December 2015. After that initial presentation at the regular township meeting, the plans for the facility fell of the face of the earth — or so the township board thought.
Owner Pat Wenner fell ill summer of 2016, preventing any further developments from going forward, and the township was out of the loop. For all they knew, as Chairman Larry Sederstrom previously said, it was “a dead issue.”
Fast forward to May 2017, when the facility is reintroduced. After the long period of silence, the township board was surprised to hear of it again. Fraley decided to host an information night, which was held June 7 and open to the community. At that meeting, Fraley went into details regarding the construction, maintenance and security of the facility. Little progress has been made since the meeting.
If inactive is too strong a word, perhaps “dormant” is better suited. No purchase agreements have been reached and nothing is in writing as of the township meeting. A representative from St. Croix Valley Railroad in Rush City said if any negotiations are ongoing between Fraley and the company they are unaware of them. He had “no information out of this office,” adding that they “are usually the last to know” about these kinds of negotiations. The new facility would require some new tracks to be hooked up to the Burlington Northern Santa Fe line.
Many of the board members expressed doubt over the facility’s funding. Gimpl, who works for Federated Co-op said, “There’s no money in propane” right now and conjectured that the changing landscape of the business has affected the financing to build and maintain.
Money aside, township residents also attended the meetings in June and July, reiterating concerns they have expressed all along.
Leah Ness is one such resident. As she understands it, the facility would be operating a mere 800 feet from her the nearest building on her property. With adjacent property lines, Ness shared in an email that the trains would be directly north of her home; to the south, the facility would also make use of the road she lives on, where semis would be toting supplies in and out.
Fraley told Ness that the facility would maintain the road. It would be leveled and covered with asphalt, but these are offers that do not interest Ness. She considers the noise and traffic levels to be of especial concern, and the perks of a privately maintained road do not outweigh the cons of bright lights and noise from trains. “The noise from the freeway is enough for me,” she said.
Questions around property value also couldn’t be directly answered either at the meeting in June. After talking to her realtor, she discovered her property value would go down. Fraley disagreed with the statement, saying each realtor “could say something different,” but it remains a point of concern for Ness.
Since that meeting, Fraley and Wenner have remained silent. Contact with the township has plateaued into virtually nothing; homeowners potentially affected by the construction are unsure of the next move. Board member Kevin Klar sees the parallels between last year’s proposal falling off the deep end and this year’s furor followed by silence. He thinks the quiet on Wenner and Fraley’s end will continue and fade away altogether.
Multiple attempts were made to contact Fraley for comment, but no response was made in time of publication.